Autism can be compared to a complex puzzle with many unique pieces. If you’re a parent, you’ve likely observed that your child’s puzzle piece is somewhat distinct, especially when it comes to making eye contact. This might leave you wondering why they find it challenging.
You might be wondering why your child with Autism has a tough time looking directly at things or people. Well, the reason is because of the way their special brain is wired. It’s like a mystery we can solve, an adventure to understand them better, and a path to connect their world with ours.
Picture this: You’re in a place with lots of noisy voices, many bright colors, and a mix of different feelings all around. This is how things often seem to a child with Autism. In the middle of all this commotion, trying to make eye contact can feel like trying to sing one clear note while everyone else is making a jumbled noise.
As a parent, it’s normal to want to understand why your child acts the way they do and to help them with social situations. In this article, we’ll take a close look at Autism and explain why making eye contact can be hard for your child. Even more importantly, we’ll give you tips and ideas to assist your child in handling this aspect of their journey to connect with others and communicate better.
Why is eye contact difficult and distressing for individuals with autism?
1. Looking down at someone’s eyes makes their brains react more
Research has discovered some interesting things about how people with Autism respond to eye contact compared to those without Autism. Scientists at Yale University used brain scans and found that when it comes to eye contact, the brains of autistic people and non-autistic people work differently. Another test called an electroencephalogram (EEG) also showed this difference. Here’s the scoop:
Normally, when kids who don’t have Autism look into someone’s eyes directly, their brains react strongly. But for kids with Autism, looking down at someone’s eyes makes their brains react more. What does this mean? Well, it could mean a few things:
- Your child with Autism might not feel the same urge to make eye contact as other kids do.
- It can be really tough for them to both listen to what’s being said and look into someone’s eyes at the same time.
- Your child might not realize that looking at someone’s eyes gives important clues, unlike watching their mouth or hands.
- For many autistic individuals, making eye contact can be really intense and overwhelming.
2. Looking down at someone’s eyes is painful for them
Some adults with Autism experience physical discomfort when they make eye contact. They might feel dizzy, get headaches, have a faster heartbeat, feel nauseous, or even have pain and shaking. For many, making eye contact feels invasive, distracting, and confusing. They might only feel comfortable doing it with people they’re really close to.
Also, it can be hard for them to focus on what someone is saying when they’re trying to keep eye contact. So, even if they’re not looking into your eyes, it doesn’t mean they’re not paying attention. In fact, making them look into your eyes might make it even harder for them to listen.
Most people with Autism understand that society thinks eye contact is important, but they’re not always sure how much is enough. Some use a trick where they look just above the eyes to deal with these social situations more comfortably.
How to sensitively encourage eye contact?
1. The Gentle Approach
Patience is Key
The first step in encouraging eye contact for your child with autism is patience. Understand that they might find it uncomfortable or overwhelming. Rushing them will only add stress.
Pressure can backfire. Instead of demanding eye contact, focus on making it a positive experience for your child.
Recognizing Sensory Overload
Children with autism may experience sensory overload. Be aware of their sensory sensitivities and create a comfortable environment.
2. Building Trust and Connection
Creating Safe Spaces
Create a safe, familiar space where your child feels secure. This will make them more likely to engage in eye contact.
Using Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement, like praise or rewards, can encourage your child to make eye contact willingly.
Incorporating Special Interests
Children with autism often have special interests. Use these interests as a way to connect and encourage eye contact.
3. Utilizing Visual Supports
Social Stories and Visual Schedules
Visual tools like social stories and schedules can help your child understand when and why eye contact is important.
Visual Cues and Prompts
Subtle visual cues or prompts can remind your child to make eye contact without pressure.
4. Modeling Behavior
Leading by Example
Model the behavior you want to see. Show your child that eye contact is a natural part of communication.
Encourage your child to imitate you when you make eye contact during conversations or play.
5. Playful Techniques
Games and Activities
Incorporate games and activities that make eye contact fun, like “eye spy” or storytelling.
Playtime for Eye Contact
During playtime, make it a point to engage in short bursts of eye contact. This can normalize the behavior.
6. Professional Guidance
Consulting with Therapists
Consult with therapists experienced in autism to develop strategies tailored to your child’s needs.
Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapy
Consider ABA therapy, which includes techniques to improve eye contact and social skills.
7. Celebrating Progress
Recognizing Small Steps
Celebrate even small improvements in your child’s eye contact skills to boost their confidence.
Help your child build self-esteem and self-acceptance as they navigate this journey.
8. Overcoming Setbacks
Regression can happen. Be prepared to adapt your strategies and be patient during setbacks.
If a strategy isn’t working, don’t be afraid to adjust it. Every child is unique.
Making eye contact with others can be a useful skill in daily life, but it’s not always necessary. Don’t pressure your child into doing it if they’re not comfortable. Consider your child’s preferences, needs, and what will help them learn to make eye contact at their own pace. Even if it takes a while, it’s essential to celebrate any small improvements. Be patient with your child, show them lots of love, and try to understand how they feel as they learn about eye contact and talking to others.
If you require assistance in teaching your child vital skills, such as making eye contact and others, reach out to Nurture Pods. We understand that autism can present unique challenges, and we’re here to support your child.
Our team of experts genuinely cares about helping children grow and learn. We will tailor our approach to your child’s needs, ensuring that they receive the best possible assistance. You don’t have to tackle this journey on your own. We’re here to partner with you, ensuring that your child’s growth and learning occur in a compassionate and understanding environment.
Written by: Alex Liau
Published on 21 September 2023