4 Ways to Help People with Autism Improve Eye Contact
Though it is unnatural for some people with autism, we should encourage and expect eye contact from them. Eye contact is crucial as all other social interactions stem from it. It sets the basic social foundation to ensure attention to the conversation or interaction. Eye contact signals that the person is present, engaged, and connected with others because our face - especially our eyes - embodies who we are as a person.
Research shows that most communication is expressed nonverbally through facial expressions and body language. While it is true that the spoken word is important, true feelings and intentions can only be seen when one looks at another’s face and body. Nonverbal communication enhances, clarifies, and reinforces the spoken word and deeply impacts social development.
Many people with autism do make eye contact, but it may be fleeting or occur at inappropriate times. Below are four ways to help your child improve eye contact. The frequency, duration, and under which circumstances will determine which methods will be best for you to utilize.
These INDIRECT METHODS stimulate active thought processes to occur:
Indirect verbal methods
Explain that eye contact is necessary: “I can’t see your eyes.” “I want to see your eyes.” “I can’t answer you because I don’t see your eyes.” “I’m over here.” “You can’t see my face, so you don’t know how I feel.”
Give vague commands using vague, general terms to incite confusion and possible eye contact for clarification: “Put it over by that.” “Bring something there.” “Close this over here, please.” As you would in any circumstance where you are not aware of being personally addressed, withhold your response, or cue with: “Who are you talking with? Are you talking with someone over there?” “I guess you’re not talking with me because you’re not looking at me.”
Indirect nonverbal methods
Physically bring the child toward you in close proximity.
Allure the child to catch her eye with outrageous paraphernalia on your head or face (e.g., a clown nose, fake mustache, huge sunglasses, a weird wig). Along with this very instance, it is possible that in the future she will might look at you again to assess whether you are wearing other odd items. This method should be used sparingly because it is highly unnatural and unreasonable to constantly repeat.
DIRECT METHODS are explicit, passive, and do not require active thought processes:
Direct verbal methods
Directly tell or indicate your child to make eye contact with you. For example, call his name with an expectant intonation in your voice: “Look at me.” “Look at my eyes.” “You have to look at me if you want me to talk with you.”
Go toward her eyes and say: “Now I can see your eyes, and you can see my eyes.” *This method should be used with caution because the adult, as opposed to the child, is the one making the effort to do this action.
Direct nonverbal method
Physically move a desired item, or simply your finger, from his eyes toward your eyes. Whichever method above that you utilize, be sure to encourage, acknowledge and reward your child for looking at you. Do things like widen your eyes, smile, and praise such as, “I’m glad you are looking at me” or “Oh, good! Now I can see your eyes.” The more your child sees the nonverbal cues which dominate social interactions, the stronger social bonds will be with others. -KKS