Background Previous research suggests that individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have a reduced preference for viewing social stimuli in the environment and impaired facial identity recognition. Methods Here, we directly tested a link between these two phenomena in 13 ASD children and 13 age-matched typically developing (TD) controls. Eye movements were recorded while participants passively viewed visual scenes containing people and objects. Participants also completed independent matching tasks for faces and objects. Results and Conclusions Behavioural data showed that participants with ASD were impaired on both face- and object-matching tasks relative to TD controls. Eye-tracking data revealed that both groups showed a strong bias to orient towards people. TD children spent proportionally more time looking at people than objects; however, there was no difference in viewing times between people and objects in the ASD group. In the ASD group, an individual's preference for looking first at the people in scenes was associated with level of face recognition ability. Further research is required to determine whether a causal relationship exists between these factors.