As parents, we all look for those little milestones. Milestones such as first smile, convincing ourselves it wasn’t wind. Eye contact is another milestone that is heartwarming for a parent. It is also one of the social factors that a child on the autism spectrum (ASD) may find intimidating.
When your child has ASD, these milestones may take longer to come or not come at all. Still, there are ways as parents that these can be encouraged. All children are individual; not every technique will work with every child. However, I have had some good results with these techniques.
How to Encourage Eye Contact in Autistic Children
The first thing to remember is many children with ASD are visual learners. You can talk to them all day; they don’t understand. If you show them what to do, they learn quicker.
It is not a quick process to improve your child’s eye contact, but it is worth it. Start by holding items they want up to your eyes when they reach for them.
For example, they may have a great love of Bourbon biscuits. When they want a biscuit, rather than putting it straight into their hand, hold it up to your face. Your child needs to lift their head to know where to reach.
The technique may take a couple of months, but they will start flicking their eyes to yours. Not actual eye contact, but moving towards it.
The next stage was to use play.
Remember, children with ASD are visual learners. There is also a good chance they have an activity they like doing with you more than anything. For our little girl, it was having us blow bubbles for her. Once you started, you could be there all day.
Whilst playing the game, introduce the ready, steady, go approach. Say ready, steady, but your child will need to look at you or flick their eyes in your direction for – go. Sometimes you may need to refocus them by holding the object you are playing with near your eye.
Over time, again, this becomes second nature. You could use any activity your child is interested in to encourage this behaviour.
The Special Moment
The first time your child looks at you will be the most memorable moment of your life.
It stopped my heart; she looked straight into my eye and smiled at me. All the hard work was worth it. My little one now holds eye contact 80% of the time.
Patience is the key.
Patience is the most effective technique that people forget with children on the spectrum. Many of them are super bright. They pick up new activities if they enjoy them.
Through patience, you can help your child learn social interaction, using activities they love.
Patience is the key here. It could take months or even years to work on these small advancements, but the rewards are worth it.
It is these small gestures that neurotypical parents take for granted. Parents with unique children know the value of a small gesture. This simple social contact fills my heart with joy. It is your job to teach a child to manage in a world that is scary and overwhelming. Try this technique for your first step.