Eye contact in children with autism - Times to AVOID it in social skills teaching with kids on the autism spectrum

eye contact in kids with ASD

There are times when insisting on eye contact runs contrary to our goals in teaching and counseling when we are helping kids on the autism spectrum with social skills

Teachers, mental health professionals and speech and language therapists all work hard to help children on the autism spectrum to improve their use of face and eye contact.  However, when we rigidly insist on eye contact, we actually risk diminishing engagement in our social skill teaching activities.
All of us who are  experienced in teaching young people with ASD becomes aware of this dilemma.  Children with ASD ought to enhance their orientation towards others strategically in order to get more useful information during conversation.  But for so many kids on the autism spectrum, practicing this social skill comes at the price of increased distress and anxiety – and decreased attention to your social skills learning activity!
Brian R. King, LCSW, a psychotherapist with Asperger’s Disorder, provides some useful insights and advice on this topic in his book, Strategies for Building Successful Relationships with People on the Autism Spectrum.  As an individual with ASD, he  finds prolonged eye contact uncomfortable and actually a hindrance to communication. He notes that blind people function quite adequately in conversation without the benefit of eye contact.
I have devised here a series of visuals to suggest alternatives to traditional face-to-face teaching when we are counseling and teaching children with Asperger’s and other autism spectrum disorders.
I hope you find these ideas helpful, and I invite your comments.
Joel Shaul, LCSW


traditional face to face eye contact

This is more or less the way I was trained as a psychotherapist thirty years ago.


Here is one alternative. The child with autism may be able to concentrate better on what you are saying.

Here, you are dispensing with most eye contact and both you and the child with ASD are looking at the same computer screen, IPAD or other instructional visual

In my own work, I keep on hand dozens of meaningful visuals. For some kids on the spectrum, it is more productive to teach by having us both look at the same object than for us to look at each others’ eyes.

There are dozens of other blog posts, most with free downloads.  Here are a couple you might like:
The Conversation Train Book
Green Zone Book Cover Click to Learn More

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