Eye Contact Is Stressful For Autistic Kids
In social interactions, eye contact drives all non-verbal exchange. It is a measure of the other person’s interest in us and reaction to what we have to say. In fact, it helps us pick up several social cues during a conversation. For children with autism, this simple communication tool can be a formidable challenge. Making eye contact, for them, is often a most daunting, stressful task which if forced, could set off anxiety, inattention, confusion even. Adults with autism describe the feeling of helplessness, and complete and utter confusion resulting from the attempts by their well-meaning parents and teachers to get them to look people in the eye. Some of them say the stress left them further distracted and unable to focus on the conversation so that they just wanted to escape and would leave the scene.
So, should we or should we not insist on eye contact in children with autism? “It depends”. Research says the best way out is to gauge what does or does not work for your child; look for the signs and see whether encouraging eye contact helps your child focus his attention better or makes him nervous and therefore, distracted.
Explanations for reduced eye contact in autistic children
Two explanations for reduced eye contact in autistic children have been proposed. One says that children with autism avoid eye contact because they find it stressful and negative. The other says that autistic children do not see the social cues from eyes as particularly meaningful or of great use. A new research, conducted on the day the children were first diagnosed with autism, backs this view. It shows that young children with autism do not actively avoid eye contact and that they do not find other people’s eyes aversive. Children with autism look less in the eyes because they appear to miss the social significance of eye contact, the researchers said. Another plausible explanation could be that the poor motor skills in children with autism extend, during infancy, to a reduced ability to control eye movement.
For the autistic person, all this adds up to a sort of sensory overload, more information and data to process for their already burdened mind. People with autism describe the feeling as “unnatural”. They do not know how long they should continue to look into the other person’s eyes, they say, which makes it difficult for them to focus on the actual content of the conversation.
Avoiding eye contact does not show a lack of interest in the autistic person. Rather, it is an attempt to focus on the task at hand; a Dutch autistic girl was quoted as saying.
“When I’m holding a conversation with someone, if I make eye contact, I would miss everything that the person is saying,” she said.
“It’s a steady stream of extra-sensory or processing information in addition to what I’m already trying to sort in my brain.
To me, eye contact seems like I’m being observed at, like I’m being examined and assessed. It makes me uneasy because I feel like I’m under enormous pressure, and the stress builds up, until finally, I have to look away.”
Many autistic children fear that by making eye contact, they are revealing that they are socially awkward and odd. It makes their eyes burn and water, they complain.
The entire experience is one of immense pain and discomfort. Looking away makes this pain go away.
Interventions For Improving Eye contact In Autistic Kids
Eye contact is a treatable, reversible symptom of autism spectrum disorder. This is how it works: autism may be linked to the disruption of G proteins that control cellular signalling, as per research findings. Cellular signalling refers to the ability of cells to perceive and correctly respond – in short, communicate – in their micro environment. This defect, combined with a vitamin A deficiency, can result in immune dysregulation – an inappropriately robust of weak immune response – and metabolism of fats needed for brain development. G proteins are also important for normal retinoid receptor function, which is the basis for healthy visual processing. Vitamin A doses may help reconnect the retinoid receptors critical for vision, sensory perception, language processing and attention. Therefore, the first step in treating lack of eye contact in children with autism is to use a specific form of vitamin A to repair the G proteins to re-establish good visual processing.
The eyes are the best of the fine motor skills. Visual motor planning relies on processing data. If a child wants to look at you, they need the visual processing centres in the brain working so they can integrate the information and then act on it. Depleted or defective vitamin A stores crash these visual processing centres, making it virtually impossible for the child to use this motor skill.
Homeopathic Medicines For Improving Eye contact In Autistic Children
Homeopathic medicine can helpful in overall improving the condition of autistic children thereby delivering significant improving the eye contact in autistic children. Homeopathic medicines are prescribed on the overall assesment of the case.
Other measures to encourage eye contact in children with autism are as follows:
- Eliciting a glance
As a first step toward getting your child to look at you, pause before responding. So if your child asks a question or asks for something, pause before offering it to him. The pause may make him glance in your direction to see whether you heard him. When he does, respond immediately and praise him for making eye contact. This could be as simple as saying, “I like how you’re looking at me” or simply “nice looking.”
- The next step is to build the length of this eye contact. Each time, lengthen the pause by a few seconds before you respond to him. During this break, you can tell him how his making eye contact encourages you to respond to his requests.
- Building on interests
Does your child loves to speak about a particular show or a unique set he has? Is he more disposed to look up at you when you engage him on these subjects? This is a an excellent way to encourage him.
- Visual supports
It could be that your child does not even make enough eye contact for you to be able to encourage or reinforce it on a regular basis. In that case, you will have to start by trying to first “catch his eye.” You could use a visual support or a simpler strategy like touching the corner of your eye with a motion that falls within his range of vision and repeat it till it catches his attention.
- Behavioral therapy and social-skills groups
A behavioural therapist engaged with an autistic child has a wonderful opportunity to build on the eye contact and attentiveness skills by working with him as a team. In fact, the therapist could educate the parents on a series of behavioural strategies that will help to gradually increase the child’s eye contact within his or her natural environment at home, school and at play.
Three quick and simple techniques for getting eye contact:
• Place yourself at or under his eye level consistently. It’s less eye stress and easier to look at you this way.
• When you give your child an object, hold it to your eyes, so that he must reach out and grab it. You are right there, behind the object!
• Positive reinforcement.