What is the Big Deal about Eye Contact? - Mothering Forums
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#1 of 16 Old 07-22-2013, 11:21 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I have a 17 YO son on the autism spectrum, and I have been reading and learning about autism for many years. But something I have never understood, in all my reading and researching, is why is eye contact so important? I don't make much eye contact myself - I find the mouth or the whole face or even the whole body to be a better indicator of a person's emotions. I am not especially uncomfortable with making eye contact, but would certainly feel awkward if it was forced on me. Why do we demand this of our autistic children? And why is lack of eye contact seen as such a huge symptom? And it seems that eye contact is a cultural thing - in some cultures, direct eye contact is seen as aggressive or disrespectful, especially children to elders. But in our culture I guess it is expected. I honestly don't know if my kids, ASD or neurotypical, make frequent eye contact, because that is not something that has ever been important to me. I feel a little bit defensive even asking this question. I don't really seek to challenge anyone's values. I sincerely am trying to understand. And I know I am a little bit on the spectrum myself - I have always had a few quirks could be called symptoms. Nothing life-altering; just enough to help me understand my boy's differences.

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#2 of 16 Old 07-23-2013, 07:14 AM
 
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My completely NT DS (now 13) has always had trouble with eye contact. He was/is a very shy kid and I never pushed him to look at people if he did not want to. However, he always made eye contact with people he was comfortable with. Is that perhaps where the difference lies?


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#3 of 16 Old 07-23-2013, 10:42 AM
 
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I personally don't think there is anything wrong with it, but it is a helpful symptom when trying to diagnose autism, I think. 

 

Funny thing is I never really noticed it, and of course the kids are more able to make eye contact with me than others, but until it was pointed out to me I didn't even think about it. I notice it now, of course, but it doesn't bother me in the slightest. 

 

While making eye contact can send good social vibes to other people, I find that if a child is really uncomfortable with that they can use other skills. DD, for example, will hold out her hand and introduce herself, which makes up for the fact that she may not be looking right at the person. DS doesn't like to make physical contact like that, so he will wave and say hello, all the while looking elsewhere. 


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#4 of 16 Old 07-23-2013, 01:08 PM
 
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As an anthropologist I laugh every time someone talks about "low eye contact" with ASD kids because in many parts of the world eye contact is seen as profoundly rude or something you only do regularly with family.

 

I also feel very strongly that the focus on eye contact is focusing on the symptom, not the "cause."  I mean, low eye contact is used as a way to diagnose Autism, which makes sense, but low eye contact is a RESULT of low joint attention.  Whenever I see people pushing eye contact on kids I cringe, because forcing someone to look into you eyes is fairly aggressive.  Developing joint-attention skills is what I feel people should actually be working on instead.  More,"hey lets look at this AWESOME thing together," or "hey look at how much I'm smiling because you made me feel happy!" kind of things. 

 

Just my 2 cents, especially since I am neurotypical, extroverted, very social, and generally hate eye contact with people I don't know well.

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#5 of 16 Old 07-23-2013, 02:20 PM
 
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Fizgig, I get what you are saying but as an American, I find it very unsettling when someone I interact with NEVER meets my gaze. It makes me think they are shifty or worse.
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#6 of 16 Old 07-23-2013, 03:03 PM
 
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Not long ago I read about a band/bracelet developed to help kids with autism express emotion and when I went to the site for the band because it as a side benefit can catch seizures, they had a second product. A computer program to help those with autism learn to interrupt facial cues to understand whether moods/interest. I would guess in some ways it seems they process visual information differently. I do not think it is cultural. I also read an article that indicated that kids with autism have better peripheral vision and that when tested with objects in their line of sight, they had more recognition/ brain activity when it was in their periphery.
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#7 of 16 Old 07-23-2013, 05:47 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fizgig View Post

As an anthropologist I laugh every time someone talks about "low eye contact" with ASD kids because in many parts of the world eye contact is seen as profoundly rude or something you only do regularly with family.

 

I also feel very strongly that the focus on eye contact is focusing on the symptom, not the "cause."  I mean, low eye contact is used as a way to diagnose Autism, which makes sense, but low eye contact is a RESULT of low joint attention.  Whenever I see people pushing eye contact on kids I cringe, because forcing someone to look into you eyes is fairly aggressive.  Developing joint-attention skills is what I feel people should actually be working on instead.  More,"hey lets look at this AWESOME thing together," or "hey look at how much I'm smiling because you made me feel happy!" kind of things. 

 

Just my 2 cents, especially since I am neurotypical, extroverted, very social, and generally hate eye contact with people I don't know well.


This is pretty much how I feel. I never did get why it was such as issue. I can see it as a useful symptom, for diagnostic purposes, but not why the focus on changing it.


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#8 of 16 Old 07-24-2013, 07:39 AM
 
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melissa, I totally agree that people on the spectrum interpret visual data differently, what I was saying is that the intense focus on increasing eye contact is cultural.  philomom, yes, unfortunately we live in a culture that attributes negative things to low eye contact. 

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#9 of 16 Old 07-24-2013, 11:46 AM
 
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I think there are different reasons why it is deal.  First, lack of eye contact can be an early indication that something is going on with a child, and that some intervention might be helpful. It's just a flag, and that figuring out what whether or not it means anything for a specific child really depends on all sorts of other things. But it is something that we can easily check in a non-invasive way, so its kind of nice as a reference point. I don't think, however,  that it is necessarily a "big deal," depending, of course, on what else is going on with the child. I think it can indicate a lack of desire to connect with other humans to the degree that is generally considered "typical."

 

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Originally Posted by fizgig View Post

 

I also feel very strongly that the focus on eye contact is focusing on the symptom, not the "cause."  I mean, low eye contact is used as a way to diagnose Autism, which makes sense, but low eye contact is a RESULT of low joint attention.  Whenever I see people pushing eye contact on kids I cringe, because forcing someone to look into you eyes is fairly aggressive.  Developing joint-attention skills is what I feel people should actually be working on instead.  More,"hey lets look at this AWESOME thing together," or "hey look at how much I'm smiling because you made me feel happy!" kind of things. 

 

Totally agree. I see it as a possible symptom, but not something that directly working on, especially with a young child, is helpful.

 

My DD was 12 before the idea of intentionally making eye contact because that is how our society prefers things came up. She was in a social skills class, and they were taught that most people enjoy conversations more when the other person is looking at them, that it is considered more polite. They were told that if they found it uncomfortable to look in someone's eyes, they could focus on their mouths, ears, etc., but that conversations would mostly likely go better for them if they looked in the general direction of the person's face. This wasn't presented as the *right* way to do it, just as the way that tends to work better in our culture because it is what the other person is expecting. Looking down at something like your feet was especially discouraged because of the meanings that people tend to attach to that. Sometimes, it was the like social skills class was teaching a class to foreigners about how we do things in our culture.

 

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Originally Posted by philomom View Post

Fizgig, I get what you are saying but as an American, I find it very unsettling when someone I interact with NEVER meets my gaze. It makes me think they are shifty or worse.

 

yes, one of the funny outcomes of social skills training for my DD is that afterwards, when she was lying to me or my DH, she would STARE IN OUR EYES. It was really pretty funny for a while. What she had taken in from social skills in her own twisted way, is that you can get away with a lie if you look the person in the eye. But looking people in the eye wasn't natural for her, so she WAY over did it for awhile. (a subtitle for this post could be "how social skills training encouraged my daughter to lie")

 

I do think that as kids get older, the lack of the ability to look someone in the face could have negative impact on them for having a fairly mainstream life, if having a mainstream life is something they are otherwise capable of -- for things like employment, connecting with other who share their special interest, education.


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#10 of 16 Old 07-24-2013, 01:41 PM
 
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People assume that if you aren't making eye contact, you are either not listening or you are lying. It's ironic because people who have problems interpreting facial expressions and verbal language often look away from faces in order to concentrate on listening, they're not making eye contact because they are concentrating on listening.

 

It can help if you teach your kid other signals to indicate that he is listening -- nodding, making agreement gestures with his hands, saying "Mmm, hmmm," etc.

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#11 of 16 Old 07-26-2013, 08:37 AM
 
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When I was ten years old my  doctor referred me to a gynecologist for a sex abuse exam because I didn't make eye contact.  It was horrific. 


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#12 of 16 Old 07-26-2013, 09:39 AM
 
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Eye contact is listed under "social behavior skills" in my son's ABA paperwork, but we didn't choose it as one of the goals to focus on. There are a lot of things that we have tackled and are continuing to work on, and eye contact was not one I ever really felt was a priority. We encourage my son to try and remember to at least look in the direction of someone he's talking to, or to look up from his drawings or iPod when he's having a conversation, but direct eye contact, nah. Frankly, making eye contact is a bit uncomfortable for me, especially if I'm upset or feeling weird about something, so I don't blame him for not being keen on it.

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#13 of 16 Old 09-14-2013, 08:19 PM
 
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Eye contact is a crazy thing, because we can focus just on one eye at the time anyway, and then we have to choose which one to look at. Some people get very uncomfortable, if someone looks at their "third eye" -between their eyes, even though that would be logical place to look for the eye contact.

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#14 of 16 Old 09-16-2013, 07:53 AM
 
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I'm deaf and read lips, lol I can't make eye contact or I'm " not listening"
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#15 of 16 Old 09-16-2013, 09:39 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I'm deaf and read lips, lol I can't make eye contact or I'm " not listening"

 

I am hearing, but my mom is deaf and reads lips. I wonder if I never got in the habit of making eye contact because it was not the norm in my home. Totally unconsciously, but that could could be the case. Hmmmm, food for thought...


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#16 of 16 Old 09-22-2013, 08:45 AM
 
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I used to say "look up here" to my late son. I think eye contact is so stressed by Western autism specialists because it's a good way to pull focus to the person who's speaking, and getting the attention of kids with ASDs can be impossible. We always told my son that it's okay to look at the neck or nose if he wanted, and that it was important to try and face the person he was talking to so they knew he was paying attention.


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