Inability To Make Eye Contact: Autism Or Social Anxiety
My husband and I had a hilarious conversation this week where he asked me , Do I have Autism?
I say that he was mostly joking because a little piece of him was seriously wondering if his social anxiety symptoms meant that he was Autistic. They dont, but a lot of the signs overlap so it was a valid question.
My husband and oldest daughter both have social anxiety, and, for the most part, their anxieties manifest in similar ways.
For both of them, eye contact is painfully uncomfortable with people they dont know and terribly distracting with people they do know. I mentioned to my husband that Id recently read the statement, Children with Autism can either give you their eye contact or they can give you their attention, but they cant do both.
He nodded his head emphatically and said, Yes! Thats me!
To which I responded, But youre giving me your eye contact right now.
He said, I am, and its not uncomfortable because youre my wife, but you dont have my full attention.
So much of his mental energy was focusing on not looking away from me, in order to be respectful in our conversation, that he didnt have much mental energy left to really hear what I was saying.
And I realized in that moment why my husband says, Huh? four hundred times a day, even though hes looking right at me. Or why he doesnt remember me telling him about plans weve made, even though he said okay after I told him.
One is more logical. One is more emotional.
Happy parenting, friends.
Alternative Ways To Indicate Interest
It may be that eye contact is so stressful for your son that he pays less attention when you ask for it. In this case, its appropriate to look for alternative ways for your son to indicate to others that he is interested and paying attention to them.
For example, you might explain the importance of indicating his interest in some nonverbal way and then offer some of these options:
- Suggest that your son show his interest by fully facing the person and staying within a conversational distance. This includes working on any tendency to wander away in the middle of a conversation.
- Help your son learn some socially appropriate comments that he can use to indicate his attention. For example: saying yes or okay or even hmm-hmm. Its important to help him understand that these little comments should come when the other person pauses not while they are speaking. The two of you can practice the timing together.
- Your son might even tell someone I am paying attention even though Im not looking at you.
Why Is Eye Contact Difficult And Distressing For Individuals With Autism
The question why individuals with autism avoid or have reduced eye contact has been asked for a long time. Studies debunked the theory that lack of eye contact indicates an indifference and lack of empathy.
Since children with autism cannot convey what they want or feel through making eye contact, it is difficult to engage with them. Some of the research did not suggest uncomfortable sensation in children with autism when they were subjected to eye contact.
However, the results of the studies are enough to rethink the consequences of coercing them to practice the behavior.
During their therapies, sometimes children with autism are forced to look into someones eye so as to complete their task. However, forcing children with ASD into making eye contact may create a lot of anxiety for them.
Instead of forcing children with autism into making eye contact, it has to be a slow process of getting used to the concept. This may be a more appropriate manner to help them handle the process of eye contact without causing stress.
In this way, the impact that avoiding eye contact has on the social brain can also be avoided.
Society should also understand the reasons for avoiding eye contact by individuals on the autism spectrum. Understanding that eye contact can actually create physical and psychological discomfort would help other people see the complexities of facial expressions for such individuals.
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Your Childs Not Making Eye Contact Should You Do Anything
When Lucas first started ABA in 1999, I was surprised to see that some programs included Look At Me. Our consultant didnt recommend this program back then. Im not sure if she didnt like the program or if she didnt think Lucas eye contact was bad enough to work on. Even today, there are Behavior Analysts who are using some variation of Look At Me. I think its actually a bad idea to focus so heavily on teaching this, especially to children with autism who have delayed language skills.
Eye contact as well as pointing and gesturing are considered nonverbal language skills that develop naturally in typically-developing kids. But, for 2-year-olds who cant speak at all, or even a 6 or 16-year-old who is not conversational, teaching eye contact should be the least of our worries. Unlike pointing or other hand gestures that you can model and prompt, eye contact cant be prompted. Even if you take a childs chin and move it, the childs eyes dont have to follow the chin. I would never recommend this but have seen people do it.
In essence, there is no way to physically prompt eye contact.
Even though I dont recommend focusing on, pushing, or forcing eye contact, there are a few strategies that will increase social communication skills with eye contact improvements that you can try.
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Lack Of Eye Contact: A Possible Early Indicator Of Asd
Autism can be formally diagnosed between the ages of 18 and 24 months. While the diagnosis is typically not considered stable until age 2, parents may notice symptoms of autism in babies as young as 6 months old.
Babies often start out making eye contact, but research shows that babies who are later diagnosed with autism regularly lose interest in making eye contact. This interest often declines between 2 and 6 months.
A lack of eye contact in babies as young as 6 months old can be an indicator of autism. It is not the only indicator, however. It needs to occur along with other signs.
Can Autistic People Make Eye Contact
Hi, humans on the internet NeuroRebel here and this week, were going to talk about eye contact.
Whats the deal with eye contact? Oh, I sounded like Jerry Springer and that is not what I was going for there.
Okay. Lets get serious for a minute. There is a rumor that autistic people cannot or never give eye contact and that may be true for some autistic people, but that is not always the case. So lets dive in and talk about this.
So yes, there are some autistic people who can not do not, will not and never give eye contact, but this is not how it is for every autistic person. A lot of us, myself included can give situational eye contact depending on the person that they are interacting with. For example, I can and do give eye contact to certain people who I feel very, very comfortable with.
But eye contact feels like a very intimate experience for me. It is a bit like making out with someone or it just makes me feel really naked if we are staring into each others eyes. So really, even though I can give eye contact with some people, I dont give eye contact with all people. And there are actually people I literally cannot give eye contact to.
So let me know in the comments below, if you can give situational eye contact with certain people and you are autistic because I love to test this theory because Ive had, Ive heard a few of you say this already. And so is there anybody else who can do that? Um, let me know.
I will talk to you guys next week. Bye .
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Continue Learning About Autism
Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.
How To Sensitively Encourage Eye Contact
It is important to teach a new skill in small, manageable steps. Expectations should advance slowly based on the childs progress. Overwhelming the child into making eye contact at once would only bring about negative impact.
Positive reinforcement on natural and spontaneous eye contact could be one of the methods to be used while teaching the practice.
This could be a private and casual situation where not much is demanded from the child in terms of their attention. In addition, the duration of the eye contact can be increased during conversations.
However, while practicing, you should always keep an eye out for your childs comfort. There is no point in forcing the practice if it is not helping make any improvement.
In order to get your child to get used to making eye contact, you could try pausing before responding to their requests. For instance, if your child asks you a question or asks for something, pause before responding or offering the thing they want.
This may cause them to glance in your direction to see if you heard them. You can then respond immediately and praise them for making eye contact.After that, you can work on the length of the eye contact.
You can tell your child how making eye contact encourages people to respond to their requests. You can integrate your childs favorite subjects into these practices. If they like to talk about a topic, bring it up to get their attention and make eye contact.
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Autism And Eye Contact
In summary, I would never try to force eye contact or focus on it with structured programming. But there are some autism and eye contact strategies that would encourage eye contact. Be more fun. Be a giver, not a taker. Pair up table time. And get in front of and down at the childs level when talking or playing.
If you liked this video blog, I would love it if you would leave me a comment, give me a thumbs up wherever youre watching it, and share the video with others who might benefit. To learn more about increasing language in children with autism and decreasing problem behaviors, , and Ill see you right here next week.
Want to get started on the right path and start making a difference for your child or client with autism?
When Eye Contact Is Stressful
On the other hand, the act of making eye contact is extremely stressful for some people affected by autism. There are many books and articles written by adults with autism who describe the terrible stress they felt when well-meaning parents and teachers tried to force them to make eye contact during conversations. In many cases, they describe being further distracted and unable to focus on the conversation because of this insistence.
Weve also learned from these wonderful individuals that when others give them leeway to communicate in a more-comfortable manner they can engage in conversations and participate in school, work, and social interactions just fine.
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Autism Eye Contact: Its Not Easy For Asd Kids
Eye contact avoidance is an issue that troubles many parents with children on the spectrum. Should your child with autism be encouraged to make eye contact and how should the childs avoidance be managed without inducing anxiety or stress? These and other controversial questions are sometimes answered with a narrow, neurotypical view.
Neurotypical society puts enormous value on eye contact. Eye contact is used to connect, to show interest, facilitate communication, and is often encouraged as a sign of respect. For many individuals with autism spectrum disorder , eye contact is troublesome, possibly because they dont perceive the eyes as socially engaging or significant. The subject is further complicated by the vast difference between individuals on the spectrum.
People with autism give a wide range of answers when asked why they find eye contact tough some say it makes them extremely uncomfortable or distressed, some say they avoid it because its just not that important to them, and others say they find eye contact distractingespecially when competing sensory inputs are present during social interactions.
Its little wonder then that author John Elder Robison decided to call his memoir: Look Me in the Eye My Life with Aspergers. In his touching recount he describes how his unique habits, including an avoidance of eye contact earned him the label of social deviant.
Why Eye Contact Is So Distressing For People With Autism
When Xolie Morra Cogley greets clients at her dog grooming business in Seattle, she struggles to make eye contact, a common trait among people with autism. Once the customers leave, eye contact with the dogs is much easier and essential.
Cogley, 37, who describes herself as an autistic woman of all trades, said shes trained herself to keep eye contact with her four-legged charges to establish the essential leadership role in order to avoid aggression and bites.
People are a different story. But Cogley said they are understanding of her eye shifts when she explains why.
I choose to tell them when I get the feeling that they are having a hard time understanding my different expression of anxiety, she added.
Cogley, who has performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live with her band, Xolie Morra and the Strange Kind, stresses that she has made a conscious choice to educate others about her autism. However, she said she respects the feelings of those who choose not to discuss their diagnosis.
Sometimes, people start to treat me differently, because they think Im not paying attention, she said. Or understand some of the things that I do, like hand-flapping, when Im overwhelmed.
However, findings in a new study appear to debunk this theory.
Then again, perspective is everything.
I taught my kiddo to look between peoples eyebrows, she said. People register it as eye contact and it doesnt make them feel as on the spot.
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Why Toddlers With Autism Avoid Eye Contact
Science has long debated whether meeting anothers gaze feels unpleasant or just uninteresting
Toddlers with autism are oblivious to the social information in the eyes, but dont actively avoid meeting another persons gaze, according to a new study.
The findings support one side of a long-standing debate: Do children with autism tend not to look others in the eye because they are uninterested or because they find eye contact unpleasant?
This question about why do we see reduced eye contact in autism has been around for a long time, says study leader Warren Jones, director of research at the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Its important for how we understand autism, and its important for how we treat autism.
If children with autism dislike making eye contact, treatments could incorporate ways to alleviate the discomfort. But if eye contact is merely unimportant to the children, parents and therapists could help them understand why it is important in typical social interactions.
The work also has implications for whether scientists who study eye contact should focus on social brain regions rather than those involved in fear and anxiety.
Lack of eye contact is among the earliest signs of autism, and its assessment is part of autism screening and diagnostic tools. Yet researchers have long debated the underlying mechanism.
Autism & Eye Contact: Why Autistic People Find It So Hard To Look Someone In The Eyes
Autism and eye contact or, should I say, lack of eye contact, is often rolled out as a correlation you need to know for spotting early signs of autism. For some, this has made eye contact a definitive tell-tale of being on the spectrum, while others view the relationship as somewhat of a symptom something to be treated through therapy or counterbalanced by a coping technique.
As such, its safe to say that, when someone with autism cant look directly at you, its not just because you have something on your face that is gross, grim or yucky . Instead, these differences exist because, when it comes to autistic people and our vision, there is often more at play here than might first meet the eye.
To better understand these differences, today, I will be discussing: the role eyes play in the autistic experience, how lack of eye contact can be improved in autistic people, as well as when lack of eye contact is and isnt autism-related.
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