Considerable research effort has been dedicated to exploring how well children with autistic spectrum disorders infer eye gaze direction from the face of an actor. Here we combine task performance (accuracy to correctly label a target item) and eye movement information ('where' the participant fixates when completing the task) to understand more about the components involved in completing eye direction detection tasks. Fifteen participants with autism were significantly less accurate at interpreting eye direction and detecting a target item (array sizes 4 and 6 items) than typically developing participants of comparable nonverbal ability. Eye movement data revealed subtly different fixation patterns for participants with and without autism that might contribute to differences in overall task performance. Although the amount of time spent fixating on the target item did not differ across groups, participants with autism took significantly longer to complete several components of the task and fixate upon the regions of the picture required for task completion (e.g. face or target). The data have implications for the design of tasks for individuals with autism and provide insights into the usefulness of including measures of visual attention in understanding task performance.