To Make Eye Contact or To Not Make Eye Contact

Eye contact

I am smack dab in the middle of moving.

Our new house is only about 20 minutes away from where we used to live, but with a newly mobile 14-month-old, it has been quite the challenge!

Despite having moving boxes everywhere and a missing charger cable for my computer, I just had get this blog post out. It’s something I’ve been itching to discuss with you:

To make eye contact or to not make eye contact. That is the question.

Do you ever hear teachers or parents prompt children with autism to look someone in the eyes when they’re speaking to them?

I have.

I’ve also read objectives that sounds something like this: “Client A. will make eye contact with a peer for 20 consecutive seconds.”

20 seconds?!

If I made eye contact you for 20 consecutive seconds, we would both be extremely uncomfortable.

But, I’ve supervised practicum students and interns for seven years and I’ve read many objectives that sound like that.

Don’t misunderstand – I wholeheartedly believe that social skills are an area that we should be addressing with our clients who are on the autism spectrum.

However, I don’t believe eye contact should be one of them.

I’ve heard from individuals with autism with whom I work that it is often extremely uncomfortable for them to look at someone’s face, make eye contact, say hello and shake hands.

I’ve heard Temple Grandin say this as well.

Why would we force our clients to do this behavior if it is uncomfortable and overwhelming for them?

As I mentioned, social skills are a primary focus during many of my sessions. However, I try to focus on asking the client just to look in the direction of the person they’re speaking to or to look at the other person’s forehead if it’s too uncomfortable to look them in the eyes.

During my sessions we also focus on other social skills like greetings (saying hello and shaking hands), turn taking with instruments, and what to do in specific social situations (if you bump into someone for example).

I would love to hear your perspective on this.

What is your take on prompting a client to make eye contact with someone or to make this an objective addressed in your sessions?

Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.


Image courtesy of [stockimages] at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Comments (8)

  • CJ Shiloh

    Yes yes yes. I’m so glad to hear you share this!!

    • Amy

      Hi CJ! I knew I could count on you to chime in 🙂

      • CJ Shiloh

        Oh yeah, with an email subject as good as that, you KNOW I opened it immediately. 🙂
        Ps, if you’d ever like Sunny and I to guest lecture for any of your college classes, or staff training, etc, just let us know. We recently did some videos on topics like this, for Blythe LaGasse’s online graduate course and it turned out quite well!

        • Amy

          Ooooo thank you for that offer! You are the perfect person for a guest lecture on a topic like this!

  • Tarsha

    I have heard this and always thought it was weird because no matter how I asked my son to do it he never would

    • Amy

      Hi Tarsha, I agree. Maybe it is something that’s uncomfortable for him and that is fine!

  • Carrie

    Great topic. I think about this too. In a private in home session with a three year old, I was allowing him room to move around during a shared activity to observe his level of engagement. His mom who was watching from a video camera (another long story) called me concerned that he was not making a lot of eye contact. I explained what I was doing and told her that if this was a concern, I’d continue to assess it. Personally, sometimes I have found myself talking to the clerk at the grocery story, while I’m loading groceries on the cash register belt and getting out my credit card to pay, and then walk away realizing I didn’t even look the clerk in the face! I appreciate your approach to social situations where a brief eye contact is appropriate such as hello, goodbye and acknowledging the nearest person. Thank you!

    • Amy

      Hi Carrie, I’ve often thought the same thing about not always making direct and continuous eye contact in our day to day encounters. We definitely shouldn’t be pushing this on our clients if we find it’s making us uncomfortable!


Give a Reply

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.