Background Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may require interventions for communication difficulties. One type of intervention is picture communication symbols which are proposed to improve comprehension of linguistic input for children with ASD. However, atypical attention to faces and objects is widely reported across the autism spectrum for several types of stimuli. Method In this study we used eye-tracking methodology to explore fixation duration and time taken to fixate on the object and face areas within picture communication symbols. Twenty-one children with ASD were compared with typically developing matched groups. Results Children with ASD were shown to have similar fixation patterns on face and object areas compared with typically developing matched groups. Conclusions It is proposed that children with ASD attend to the images in a manner that does not differentiate them from typically developing individuals. Therefore children with and without autism have the same opportunity to encode the available information. We discuss what this may imply for interventions using picture symbols.