Project information 

Examining the influence of eye contact in fragile X syndrome

Supported by the Fragile X Society

The Fragile X Society logo Background

Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is the most common inherited cause of intellectual and developmental disability and many studies have described the cognitive and behavioural characteristics associated with the syndrome. Despite the advances made by this work, we continue to know surprisingly little about how environments can be altered to better support a child with FXS.

Previous research has shown that many boys with FXS have difficulties in establishing and maintaining eye contact. It has been suggested that boys with FXS find eye contact, in certain situations, unpleasant. These studies have shown that boys with FXS experience the most difficulty with eye contact when in situations characterised by high social and performance-related demands. Children with FXS may also engage in challenging behaviours when in such situations.

These findings are important as they suggest that eye contact may be an important environmental factor to consider when asking children with FXS to complete tasks at home or at school. This is something we wish to examine in greater detail in the current study.


This study aims to find out more about boys with FXS. Eventually we hope that our results will help to improve the quality of life of individuals with FXS and their families. Specifically, we aim to determine whether reducing the level of eye contact during individualised classroom teaching is a helpful strategy to employ when working with boys with FXS.


In the eye contact assessment, conducted over three separate visits, we shall ask boys with FXS to complete a classroom task. This will last for approximately ten minutes and we will repeat this on several occasions across each visit. On some occasions, we will regularly deliver prompts for eye contact during the task. On other occasions, we shall attempt to minimise any eye contact when presenting the same task. Regular breaks and access to toys shall be provided between teaching sessions.

Afterwards we will be able to measure a number of different outcome variables to see whether minimising eye contact has any positive impact on each child’s behaviour and ability to complete the task they have been asked to do. This will include looking at the amount of time each child spends engaged completing their work and how much time is spent engaging in behaviours that interfere with their learning.

We will also seek to meet with parents prior to beginning the study in order to collect background information on each child.

We are looking for boys with FXS aged 5-15 years old, who have moderate to severe intellectual disabilities and have difficulties in initiating and/or sustaining eye contact and their parents/caregivers to take part in this study.

Progress to date

Data collection for the project began in September 2011.

Contact details

Paul Langthorne
Tel: 0121 414 7206