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.


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