Why Eye Contact is More Important Than You Realize
Eye contact is a precursor to speech, it can also be a way of connecting with people. Most relationships are built beginning in infancy with eye contact, language is taught by eye contact and gestures using joint attention. In children with autism, both joint attention and eye contact are lacking. To begin to progress toward both joint attention and language we need to make progress on eye contact.
Culturally it is often taught that looking at someone when they are talking to you is a sign of respect. As adults, we tell children to look at us because eye contact is important, but it isn't always right.
Looking at people, especially in the eyes is often very uncomfortable for people with autism. Working with children who have autism and insisting they look at someone, especially in the eyes, when it makes them uncomfortable is wrong. Sometimes it happens before we even realize it and that child experiences discomfort in a way that they should not be put through.
Making Eye Contact Positive
As parents, as educators, therapists and advocates we need to ensure that the people who interact with our children understand that forcing a child to look at them does not improve things it forces the child to be defensive. We want people to be aware that this does not promote relationship building.
Forcing a child with autism to look in your eyes does not reinforce a pleasant feeling to be associated with the event. Instead, use fun eye contact building games to build that feeling and awareness. It is a long process but builds a permanent foundation to build on.
We must take care not to insist that a child with autism look people in the eye. Being proactive and addressing this in IEP's and with close friends and family who the child regularly interacts with can help.
Believe me, it isn't that I don't think that eye contact is important. It is. The key to building a relationship with a child with autism is respecting their boundaries and doing it on their terms. There are many things we can do to overcome this issue and the earlier we start the better! The relationship you build with your child is the foundation for improvement in all areas. It will increase their success in life.
Naturally Improving Eye Contact
Eye contact can be improved upon significantly and progress made to the point that your child will willingly look at you when you are speaking to them frequently. IF you get their attention first and if you follow the guidelines to teach them that who they are and how they feel is important. Making your child's progress, true progress where they enjoy social interaction a priority can work. You are the key!
When a child with autism is ready they will connect. They want connections with people, they just need help getting there. All children need to have teachers who work with them using patience and acceptance. Children with autism are no different. Their needs require more understanding, patience, and acceptance. In a world that is often overwhelming, we need to figure out how to make it comfortable.
Here is a Start
- Never demand eye contact.
- Do not let your child's teacher, therapist or school staff demand it.
- Use fun activities to build eye contact and joint attention.
- Get our Guide for more ways to improve eye contact here
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- Check out our other post's on parenting- Trust Your Instincts.
Children with autism give eye contact as a mark of trust and it needs to be cherished as such.
If you want eye contact with a child with autism, earn it. It is worth it!
Have a Beautiful Day!