Eye contact directly relates to social skills. We use our eyes as a means of communication. When you are speaking to someone and make direct eye contact, you are being engaged and present in the conversation — and making sure the person you are talking to is aware that he or she has your full attention. Lack of eye contact is one of the hallmarks of autism. Some people with autism do express real discomfort in having to make eye contact itself, perhaps with early intervention and learning around understanding social cues, many others would be able to adapt to general social expectations around eye contact.
Ways to help your child learn to make eye contact
Use praise whenever your child does inadvertently look you in the eyes. There is a good article entitled, things to Say to your Special Needs Child Each Day, that talks about when and how to praise, and offers specific examples.
If your child is old enough, explain WHY eye contact is important. Be specific about where and when to use it that is, we look people in the eyes when they are speaking to us; we wait until they have finished speaking to look away. is good for teens and older.
Be patient and don’t get frustrated. Eye contact is a learned skill for many on the autism spectrum. It will take time to learn, but the rewards are many both for you and your child with autism.
Positioning is very important to encourage eye contact. You want it to be easy for your child to look at you.
Put the object up to your nose. Your child may grab an object without looking because you constantly hold it in the same place. Force your child to make eye contact by holding the object right on the bridge of your nose between your eyes, two inches in front of your face.
When your child looks at you, celebrate it!
When your child wants something from you, ask her to look at you before you give it to her. It’s okay if she doesn’t look, and you’ll still give her the object in the end, but you have to ask for it. Most important you have to show her that when she looks at you, she gets things faster than when she doesn’t look at you.
Model appropriate eye contact with your child; always turn to look at your child when you talk to him/her.
Bring object/toy up to your eye level to encourage your child to look. Initially, he/she may only look at the toy, but gradually some eye contact will emerge.
If your child is cooperative and understands what you mean, you could say “Look at me.”
Sometimes gently touching your child’s chin can be a reminder to look, BUT DO NOT DRAG YOUR CHILD’S FACE ROUND to make them look.
Stand in front of your child when he/she is on the swing/rocking horse etc. Occasionally stop the swing and say “Ready, set” – wait a few moments in the hope that they may look at you and then immediately say “Go.” As they turn to look at you more readily, you can encourage a vocalization for “Go.”
Blowing bubbles, feathers or balloons in the air and then waiting, is often a successful way of eliciting eye contact.
Use a variety of ways to gain your child’s eye contact. Do not constantly nag him/her by saying “Look at me, look at me.”
Some children feel more comfortable when engaged in a gross motor activity, e.g. on the swing, having a tickle. The child may give spontaneous eye contact during these activities.
Torch activities: follow the light along the wall. Cover torch with different colors to make it interesting.
Use remote-controlled toys. Pull back and let go so eyes follow the object. Roll a ball, extend range and length of rolling.
Throw at target activities like darts, bowling, and catch.
Praise and Acknowledge all spontaneous eye contact.
If the child likes books, looking at the pictures can be great. Pop-up books can be used if the child is not as interested in books as these are often more interesting.
Starts with their special interest using quick puzzles where they just need to look quickly to complete the puzzle, then build up.