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Poor eye contact


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Some time ago I read on the forum that we should not 'expect/encourage' children to give eye contact because it could make them feel 'threatened'. Does anyone know whether there is any truth in this and, if so, is there any evidence/academic source to back up this 'theory'?

 

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I can't give you an academic study but I know a lot of children and adults with autism and I can tell you for sure that being forced to make eye contact can cause some of them significant discomfort.

If you have to work hard and fight your instincts in order to maintain eye contact, it can be very hard to concentrate on anything else at the same time, e.g. what that person is actually saying to you. For some children there is a choice; look at you or listen to you. They cannot do both.

Some people manage to make a kind of pseudo eye contact by looking elsewhere on the speaker's face or slightly over their shoulder and you often can't tell it is happening until it is pointed out to you.

So, yes, there is definitely a lot of truth in the fact that it is not a good idea to insist that children offer eye contact when you want them to listen to you. However, it does no harm to let them know that some people may think they aren't listening so they can make an informed decision about whether it is worth putting up with the discomfort or perhaps explain to people why they need to look elsewhere a lot of the time.

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Thank you Upsy Daisy - that's really helpful. We have a child in the local pre-school with suspected autism; his key person wanted to make this a 'target' to work on - I said she needed to change the target as he might feel threatened, but just wanted to have some 'evidence' to back up this recommendation.

Thanks again.

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You could direct her to the National Autistic Society website which has some good information for professionals working with people with ASDs.

http://www.autism.org.uk/working-with/education/educational-professionals-in-schools/pupils-with-autism-in-your-school/autism-spectrum-disorders-a-resource-pack-for-school-staff.aspx

 

This is a good explanation

http://asensorylife.com/eye-contact-is-way-overrated.html

 

I'm glad you will be able to save this little one from being made to make eye contact that could make him feel stressed and uncomfortable.

Edited by Upsy Daisy
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We use strategies to encourage eye contact with our ASD children such as bubbles when child catches your eye gaze you blow bubbles then as time goes on they can become aware that eye contact is ok but it's a long process and must start off with something really broken down as I've suggested. We have had many children who have had eye contact as their target but it's about being realistic not expecting a child to look at you directly for more than a second, judging if it's an appropriate target for now and the possible behavioural outcomes after you have got eye contact. Try wearing glasses of different colours to see If that helps also as a starting point, each target is unique to each child and it cannot be said that this target isn't appropriate in a generalised way, the only people to judge this is the people that know and work with him. If you have concerns over this being appropriate then it may not be so try looking at it again in a few months. Good luck :)

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