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Rett Syndrome: Basic Features of Visual Processing—A Pilot Study of Eye-Tracking

      Abstract

      Consistently observed “strong eye gaze” has not been validated as a means of communication in girls with Rett syndrome, ubiquitously affected by apraxia, unable to reply either verbally or manually to questions during formal psychologic assessment. We examined nonverbal cognitive abilities and basic features of visual processing (visual discrimination attention/memory) by analyzing patterns of visual fixation in 44 girls with Rett syndrome, compared with typical control subjects. To determine features of visual fixation patterns, multiple pictures (with the location of the salient and presence/absence of novel stimuli as variables) were presented on the screen of a TS120 eye-tracker. Of the 44, 35 (80%) calibrated and exhibited meaningful patterns of visual fixation. They looked longer at salient stimuli (cartoon, 2.8 ± 2 seconds S.D., vs shape, 0.9 ± 1.2 seconds S.D.; P = 0.02), regardless of their position on the screen. They recognized novel stimuli, decreasing the fixation time on the central image when another image appeared on the periphery of the slide (2.7 ± 1 seconds S.D. vs 1.8 ± 1 seconds S.D., P = 0.002). Eye-tracking provides a feasible method for cognitive assessment and new insights into the “hidden” abilities of individuals with Rett syndrome.
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