Lack of eye contact is typical symptom of children with autism. While eye contact is uncomfortable for some children, parents should never force their child to make eye contact. Forcing eye contact will only lead to further lack of eye contact. But how do you get and keep your child’s attention to establish eye contact in children with autism?
If your child has autism like my oldest son, you do need your child to establish eye contact when telling them something important (like explaining directions) and resolving issues related to behavior and safety. Making eye contact is also a valuable form of nonverbal communication that your child needs to establish as an adult.
Although long moments of eye contact are difficult, working on short moments of eye contact throughout the day will increase the frequency of it overtime.
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Since my son’s diagnosis of nonverbal autism at 3 years old, I started working with him right away to gain his attention and focus on making eye contact. I will say it’s important to remember that eye contact is something that feels “awkward” to children with autism and gaining eye contact should never be forced on a child. Second, eye contact is an important aspect of communication and should be focused on for children with autism to help with their overall communication.
The foll0wing steps for increasing eye contact work amazing for my son and hopefully they will work for your child as well. The most important thing to remember is to engage your child’s eye contact with fun interactive ways!
Ways To Increase Eye Contact In Children With Autism
Show EVERYTHING at eye level
Those with autism learn through pictures. Their minds do not comprehend in spoken word. Instead, they learn through visual aids. That’s why many children with autism learn to communicate with the PECS system (Picture Exchange Communication System).
However, if your child is not using the PECS system you can still use visual aids to help increase back and forth communication and eye contact! One of the easiest ways to boost eye contact with is asking a question to your child. Start by asking simple questions like “Do you want an banana?”
Now, use the banana as a visual aid by holding the fruit at eye level (next to your own eyes) to help focus your child’s attention to eye level and further your child’s understanding of what you are asking. If your child doesn’t answer you, that’s ok! The important thing here is to start establishing eye contact.
This type of eye contact for back and forth communication will improve slowly over time when you consistently keep putting everyday objects at eye level. But always make sure to give your child praise for eye contact! Praise statements like “Thank you for looking!” and “Good eye contact!” go along way.
If your child is like most kids, he or she loves bubbles! Bubbles are great way to engage your child with an exciting activity and help increase eye contact at the same time. Here’s how to do it!
- Grab a bubble wand
- Hold the bubble wand at eye level and ask “Do you want bubbles?”
- Count to three and blow bubbles.
Counting to three will help build your child’s anticipation for the exciting act of seeing and popping bubbles! If you’re child’s like mine, after the second or third time doing this, he/she will begin to make eye contact and count with you!
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This is a specific clap for gaining your child’s attention when you need it most, like outdoors. While it doesn’t provide you with lasting eye contact, it does help to quickly gain attention and establish eye contact for a short time. It’s best used when your child begins to wander in the yard or you need to gain their attention quickly!
To make an ‘echo clap’ form a cup shape (like you have M & M’s in your hand) and simply clap. This creates more of an echo sound that will help focus your child’s attention on you.
Silly Hats and Glasses
Yes, it is stilly. But it also works! I’ve found silly hats and glasses to work really well indoors especially with focusing your child’s attention and increasing eye contact for explaining directions and fun activities. All you need to do is find the funniest hats and glasses you can find and where them. That’s it!
I love to wear Mickey ears, Mickey wizard hat, and funny sunglasses like these ones!
My almost five year old loves to play peek a boo games. Amazingly, I found peek a boo games increase his eye contact with me significantly! So here are some ideas for peek a boo games!
-Peek a boo with a blanket over your head
-Peek around (and chase) your child throughout the house
-Use a bedroom door to knock, and peek a boo with
I started using sign language as a way to better communicate to my son who is nonverbal. But like peek a boo games, I also noticed sign language helps him gain eye contact because he will look at me when doing the signs.
Not every child or parent wants or likes to do sign language with your child with autism, but there is the great advantage to increasing eye contact, attention span, and communication with it. If you would like to read about about some of the benefits of using sign language read THIS article!
Eye contact for children with autism is a struggle. As a parent I’m constantly trying to engage my child to make eye contact with me especially when I need to communicate directions, correct a negative behavior, or would like him to answer a question. But I do get frustrated at times. Although I know he hears me, I still want him to respond with eye contact or even a small answer like yes or no.
While my son still needs work with eye contact, it’s gotten much better in the past year! I believe it is a combination of preschool, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and the above exercises to boost eye contact.
This symptom of autism is not something that is fixed overnight. The above eye contact activities are something I use every day to help engage, focus, and gain eye contact.
So the best way to reap the benefits of these simple activities is to work them into your child’s daily routine. Then, you will begin to see increases over time with eye contact when you’re not even trying to make eye contact!