When possible, use indirect ways to entice your child. Make eye contact an end result, not the main focus. This will allow her to think more about the situation so it becomes part of her natural behavior. For example, while in the hallway with his other classmates and me, another elementary school student of mine would always walk ahead. Without addressing anyone, he would blurt out questions. When no one answered him, he would become angry. After giving him the opportunity to experience this negative impact due to lack of eye contact, I would reply, “No one answered you because we don’t know who you are asking.” Sometimes he would call my name and/or tap me without eye contact while asking a question like, “Is it outdoor recess today?” When he thought that I didn’t respond, he would get upset, saying that he did call my name and tap me to get my attention. I would reply, “I DID answer you”. He told me that he didn’t hear me. I responded that I answered with my head and hands through a head nod and pointing to the recess schedule. I explained that because sometimes people don’t “speak” with their voices, he must always look at the person to be sure of the communication.
Other indirect verbal methods (using language, or words):
Call your child’s name using a tone of voice in which you expect him to look at you and wait for eye contact, or combine with the suggestions below.
Imply that eye contact is needed at the moment:
Give confusing commands so that your child might look at you to clarify:
- “Please open it and close that.”
- “Give those to them.” Indirect nonverbal methods (using gestures):
Physically bring your child close to you so that his eyes might wander toward you. Go toward her eyes and say:
- “Now I can see your eyes, and you can see my eyes.” This method should be used with caution because you, as opposed to your child, are the one making the effort to do this action.
Catch her eye with outrageous stuff on your head or face (e.g., a clown nose, fake mustache, huge sunglasses, a weird wig). It’s possible that in the future she might look at you again to see whether you are wearing other odd items.
This method should also be used sparingly and only when other methods don’t easily attract her attention because it is highly unnatural and unreasonable to constantly repeat.
3 USE DIRECT WAYS:
Regardless of the communication ability level of your child, sometimes he will not give eye contact through the use of indirect methods. Sometimes he will require direct instruction to make eye contact. As discussed previously, it is best to have a clear reason.
Verbal: Call your child’s name using a tone of voice in which you expect him to look at you, followed by either:
“Look at my eyes.” or “Look at me.”
Nonverbal: Move a desired item, or simply your finger, from his eyes toward your eyes.
Cover the sides of his eyes with your hands to allow him to find your eyes.
The method you choose depends on the social situation. Other aspects of eye contact to consider include how long the contact lasts, how often contact is made, if contact is made while your child’s attention is focused on another activity or if he is not occupied.
Be sure to acknowledge and praise your child for looking at you. Widen your eyes, smile, and praise such as, “I’m glad you are looking at me.” With you as a guide, your child can see the importance of eye contact. Soon, your child will make eye contact more and more with you as well as with others while he or she understands and enjoys the communication. Eye contact is the most basic yet most powerful way to communicate and bond with your child—and have your child get closer to others.
About Karen Kabaki-Sisto
Karen Kabaki-Sisto, M.S., CCC-SLP has been working with children with autism all over the world. Her passion is to equip kids with the power to communicate confidently and grow closer bonds with others. She is the founder of Autism Breakthrough Solutions, LLC and inventor of “I Can Have Conversations With You”, an interactive app that is available on the App Store for the iPad.