I’ve had a lot of questions in regards to eye contact and understandably so since eye contact is an important part of communication and socialisation. It demonstrates an awareness of and interest in the other people. However, for children with ASD it doesn’t come naturally and has even been reported as ‘painful’ by people with ASD to look at people’s eyes. In many cases when children are not looking at people’s eyes /faces, people assume the child is not paying attention or listening. However, we must be cautious not to assume that not looking means not listening, in fact many children report listening best with their eyes closed or when they look away.
Teaching eye contact is very difficult, as in society when we communicate we actually use an ‘eye gaze’ rather than eye contact (staring into eyes). I’ve had students who have been taught eye contact rather than eye gaze, they then tend to stare deep into your eyes, which people generally find very uncomfortable too. I prefer to teach Eye gaze through looking at people’s faces rather than directly at the eyes. Some children are best if you choose a specific part of the face, like ears, eyebrows, mouth or nose. It is an important skill to teach students to look in the direction of the speaker and at their face if possible.
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