Monday, June 2, 2008

Is Eye Contact Really Painful or Just an Unexpected Treat?

One of the big "symptoms" of Autism is lack of eye contact. I've heard this one since Case was a tiny Autistic being. It drives my hubby crazy when his son won't look him in the eye (I think Case knows that). I personally can relate to not giving eye contact although I don't believe I'm on the spectrum (if you know me and think otherwise, leave me a comment). I almost get hypnotized when having a conversation with someone while trying to stare them directly in the eye simply so they think I'm listening. I often feel that if I could just look down or away, I would get so much more out of what is being said, but this is socially unacceptable.

I have to wonder if lack of eye contact is really bad, if one isn't looking at it from social perspective. And, I have to wonder if people with Autism are better listeners on some level because they don't make eye contact.

Oddly, I have really never had an eye contact issue with Casey. Tonight was a great example of this. We were at the pool, and usually he is in his own little world moving through the water, self-talking, and just loving the aquatic life. Fortunately for me, it seems he is much easier to engage in the pool, perhaps because of the movement, his relaxation level, who knows. Tonight, he took it upon himself to engage me.

For some reason, he suddenly wanted me to go under the water. Usually, we are at the pool at the end of the day, and I still have my makeup on so I don't want racoon eyes, and I don't want my hair all wet and goofy. So, I never go under, and usually he doesn't mind, but tonight, he was quite certain this was something I had to do.

We moved about the pool, debating on why I should and shouldn't go under, he saying "It will change your life!" (who knows where he got that one), and me saying "No, I don't want to look gross!". All the while, he stared directly into my eyes, so much so that it was almost uncomfortable, I wasn't used to it. But I suppose he felt so strongly about what he wanted, that in his mind, eye contact lent to the seriousness of his request. It was bizarre and awesome at the same time, almost like having a wild animal that would never come near a human take a piece of food out of your hand. I felt sorta privaleged to get so much eye contact, I savored it, and I tried to stretch out getting it as long as possible. Finally, I returned the gift with allowing him to "dunk" me. Mission accomplished, he was happy.

I was happy too, because I have to start believing lack of eye contact isn't a symptom of Autism, but the choice of an Autistic person.


Maddy said...


Marla said...

Very well said. I won't force eye contact. I remember teachers doing that with M and my skin would crawl. If she trusts and likes someone she will sometimes make the eye contact. If she does not she won't. It is her choice to make.

I can't wait to go swimming with M! Sounds like you had a wonderful time.

Rebecca said...

Great entry! Your descriptions really made me feel like I was there with you guys while I read it.

I noticed Casey giving me more eye contact when we were over last weekend--fleeting but wonderful.

Carly M said...

I understand where you are coming from however, in the early years, if your child is not prompted to give eye contact, this history of reinforcement of avoiding eye contact will only make it harder for the child in older life. Think 10 years down the road from now, will your child be hired if he doesnt look at the interviewer? I think its important to think big picture when we are teaching skills. Yes, when one is young, eye contact is not a crucial part of communication and you can still have some enjoyable engagement. But think later on in life when your child is alone during lunch and recess because s/he cannot engage in a conversation, or initiate a play date with a peer. Eye contact is such a pivotal social skill and it opens the doors for so many other social interactions. Giving up on teaching a child how to look in someones eyes is giving them an escape. Think about something you do not like to do. Lets say eat healthy foods. If your parents just let you eat chips and candy all day, your health would be greatly effected. It's the same thing with eye contact. And the longer you go without working on that skill, the harder the battle will be when it comes time that it is neccesary.