Researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine recently completed an interesting study on autism. They found that a specific region of the brain is linked to reduced eye contact in children and adults with autism.
Keep reading to learn more about the effect of eye contact on children with autism and ways to establish eye contact.
Autism and Eye Contact
If you have a child with autism, you will notice that they have difficulty making eye contact with you. Scientists now believe that people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) show less dorsal parietal cortex activity when making eye contact.
They discovered this by analyzing the brain activity of 17 adults with ASD and 19 adults without ASD during their interactions.
What the Study Revealed
Researchers used innovative technology to create images of these interactions. They did this by placing a cap on the study volunteers. This cap helped to focus a single light into the brain to record activity during eye contact.
Those with a severe ASD diagnosis showed even less dorsal parietal cortex activity when compared to those with a mild diagnosis.
The study is necessary to understand the lack of eye contact behavior in infants. It also showed that a lack of eye contact doesn’t always mean autism.
However, eye contact behavior is important to observe while your child is still young.
Why Is Eye Contact Important?
As your child grows and develops, they learn language and communication skills. As a parent, making eye contact with your baby or infant helps them to vocalize and engage with you. Eye contact is a crucial part of teaching your child to communicate.
Adults understand the rules of eye contact with one another. It is an easy way to express interest and attention to a conversational partner and pick up social cues.
However, eye contact is often stressful for children with autism, especially when forced by one or both parents.
When Eye Contact Is Stressful
Don’t try to force your child to make eye contact with you. Children with ASD become stressed when forced to communicate in a way that is uncomfortable for them.
If your child focuses on another object while you are speaking to them, let them be. It is not wrong for them to communicate with you in a way they are comfortable with.
It may also be helpful to read some of the books written by adults diagnosed with ASD. In it, they explain how stressful it is when they’re forced to make eye contact with others.
A lack of eye contact also doesn’t mean your child is not listening to you. As soon as you notice that eye contact is difficult for them, try to engage them in other ways.
Other Ways To Show Interest
You must be patient when teaching your child to indicate that they’re interested in a conversation without making eye contact.
When it is clear that they cannot pay attention while looking someone in the eyes, help them to follow these steps:
- Allow them to face you without making eye contact.
- Teach them to comment on a conversation to show that they are listening.
- Help them to communicate their interest by teaching them to say, “I’m listening, even though I’m not looking at you.”
Even if your child continues to struggle with eye contact, these steps will help them be more comfortable expressing interest in a conversation.
There are also several ways to encourage eye contact if your child is trying to do so but struggling.
Encouraging Eye Contact With Sensitivity
You should approach eye contact with your child with the utmost sensitivity. Remember that ASD is a developmental disorder. It affects your child’s communication, and symptoms often intensify with age.
Your child will likely face challenges at home, school, and any other place they need to communicate.
You may want to use the following techniques to encourage eye contact. But, if you don’t have the patience to see these techniques through, call in the help of an expert instead.
First, instead of always sitting or standing while talking to your child, ensure you are at a face-to-face level with them. If your child can see your face, it is easier to look at you.
You can also set up a fun activity like blowing soap bubbles or planting flowers. After digging the holes for the seeds, pause for a second. Your child will likely look at you to see what to do next.
Don’t treat a lack of eye contact as an offense. Instead, encourage a spontaneous connection between yourself and your child by doing something playful.
For instance, you could build a puzzle with them and put one piece in the wrong place. Or put their boots out to wear in summer. This is likely to get a reaction, but not always the first time.
You must also consider your child’s nature when putting together activities. If they find it difficult to shift their attention between you and the activity, you should play simple games like hide and seek and tag.
When you succeed and your child makes occasional eye contact with you, encourage them to keep making eye contact.
Signs That You Should Encourage Eye Contact
You may notice that your child is more inclined to listen to you speak when he’s looking at you. There are several ways to encourage more eye contact:
Asking for a Glance
You may be able to elicit a glance from your child by pausing when they ask you for something. Your child may give you a quick look to see if you’re listening to what they’re saying.
If they do make eye contact with you, use positive reinforcement by praising them. Next, aim to lengthen the duration of the eye contact. You can prolong eye contact by waiting a few moments before handing your child what he wants.
You should also set an example by always making eye contact with other people in the presence of your child.
Children with ASD pick up on adult behavior – if they see that you’re not interested in looking at the people you’re speaking to, they won’t be either.
Use Your Child’s Interest
One of the best ways to keep your child engaged and to encourage him to look at you is to talk about their favorite topic.
If your child loves movies or toys, keep the conversation going about upcoming blockbusters or new action figures. You might find that the more interest you show in the things your child loves, the easier it will be for them to make eye contact with you.
As soon as your child is more comfortable making eye contact while talking to you, you can use visual supports to encourage them.
Instead of pausing and waiting for a reaction, you can use your hands to direct your child’s eyes in your direction. For instance, if they’re looking away, try to point out a path from your child’s eyes to yours to guide them.
While it’s good to encourage eye contact in children with ASD, it is crucial to remember that they don’t interpret eye contact the same way as others.
Through practice and patience, you can help your child overcome some of their aversion to eye contact. If you’ve tried for a long time without success, consult your doctor and seek the help of a psychologist or therapist if needed.
If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.
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