Eye Contact on The Spectrum
Updated: Mar 4, 2022
Do our eyes tell so much about ourselves?
Eye contact is a form of non-speaking communication between people by demonstrating emotions. Poor or lack of eye contact is one of the signs/symptoms of Autism. My parents shared with me that I lacked eye contact for a very long time. It took me a long time to look at people face to face. The main reason eye contact is hard for Autistic children and adults is due to brain development:
Connection of nerves not working together in the brain!
· Massachusetts General Hospital (2017) explains that imbalance of networks in the brain creates abnormal, delayed development of social interactions, including reaction of eye contact. Therefore, there could be underconnectivity of networks in the brain, which can demonstrate underlying causes of eye-avoidance.
· Stewart (n.d.) describes sensory, language, and social difficulties of Autistic children and adults due to sources and networks not working together in the brain. For example, it can be difficult for Autistic children and adults to read body language, such as messages conveyed from the eyes. The visual and language networks with sensory input may be not working well together, which explain difficulties of social context.
Eye contact should not be forced and should occur naturally. Eye contact is important for attention and reasons of communication. Here are some ways to teach Autistic children and adults eye contact naturally:
Special interests! Do not tell directly to Autistic children and adults to look at them. This will make them not comfortable. Develop conservations or activities based on the their interests and interests you both have in common. Benefits are relationship building and working on an Autistic child/adult's skills more naturally.
Be surprising and unexpecting. Give a good reason for an Autistic child or adult to look at you. By doing something surprising or something not right in the environment, this will gain their attention and eye contact.
Choose the right activity. Activities, such as games, are a great way of developing various skills not just for Autistics, but for anybody. Here are examples of games that focuses on developing eye contact: hide and seek, pass the ball, playing puppets, under the blanket game (great for sensory input!), and etc.
The way to help Autistics develop on their eye contact is by using natural teaching procedures. Everytime you see an Autistic child or adult look at you or others, reinforce them! It is so encouraging for Autistics to hear how well they are doing, and they get attention themselves. Reinforce consistently because it helps in the long run!
So, do you think eye contact should be taught naturally? Share your thoughts in the comments section!
Massachusetts General Hospital. (2017, June 15). Why do those with autism avoid eye contact? Imaging studies reveal overactivation of subcortical brain structures in response to direct gaze. ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170615213252.htm
Stewart, R. (n.d). Should we insist on eye contact with people who have Autism Spectrum disorders. Indiana Resource Center for Autism. https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/irca/articles/should-we-insist-on-eye-contact-with-people-who-have-autism-spectrum-disorders.html