One of the most known characteristics of the autism spectrum disorder is lack of eye contact, which presents in the first years of the life of these children, with some professionals suggesting that it can start on the first months. This lack of social interaction is not by any means a sign or rudeness from them, but actually, it’s a way to feel more comfortable among people. Children with ASD can get highly anxious with eye contact, especially if the other person responds to it.
As every characteristic within the spectrum, avoiding eye contact can manifest in multiple ways:
- Some actively seem to avoid eye contact because they feel uncomfortable with it, as with every social interaction.
- Others can make eye contact in familiar environments, with well-known people.
- And others can look at you in strange ways, staring either at you or at a specific object.
Why does this happen?
There are two major reasons that explain why children and adults alike avoid this action. First, they feel indifference toward eye contact; they think that it isn’t important to establish it. Remember, they often don’t have the same instincts about social interactions as neurotypical people, so they cannot fully comprehend why it is necessary to make direct contact. This normally happens during childhood.
However, when they grow up, teenagers and adults with ASD feel eye contact in an uncomfortable way that can trigger anxiety episodes and other adverse reactions or behaviors. Some completely hate it, especially if they are pushed to do it, so never pressure them; instead, you should encourage them to improve their social abilities but never to the point of generating the opposite reaction. Professionals haven’t found the reason behind this change from children to teenagers because children can learn how to make eye contact without rejecting it, but while growing up, they feel it as a burden.
There are still many questions about this, and many ongoing studies exploring possible reasons; but meanwhile, working with these kids to develop their social skills is the best way to change these behaviors, with patience and hard work.
Can lack of eye contact be treated?
With the autism spectrum disorder, there are usually more questions than answers, and that leaving aside the controversy in many studies and therapies. In that regard, eye contact is no the exception; however, therapists now believe that there’s no symptomatic answer, instead, it can depend on every individual and the way they feel towards it. Instead of trying to fix this, we as educators, parents, and facilitators should listen to their own voice in that regard, accept that they don’t like it, and teach them to communicate it by simply saying something like “I’m listening but i won’t look at you directly.” The most important thing we have to do is understand that this preference is totally fine, that making eye contact isn’t essential for communication and that we must accept this preference, instead of trying to force a change.
Remember eye contact isn’t the most important skill when dealing with a person with autism; if they are more comfortable without looking at you, but are still listening and can have a satisfying conversation with you on many different topics, then that’s all that should matter. Come to Autism Soccer, where we offer excellent programs for the development of your children and a place for them to be comfortable and happy.
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