Behaviors such as lack of eye contact present themselves in the context of autism differently from someone simply exhibiting a social skill deficiency.
In this blog, we will be looking at the following:
- Is lack of eye contact a symptom of autism?
- Why do those with autism lack eye contact?
- How to encourage eye contact
Is Lack of Eye Contact a Symptom of Autism?
Although lack of eye contact is one of many indicators of autism, this alone isn’t sufficient to suggest a diagnosis. That said, doctors must look at the behaviors and characteristics of autism since it cannot be diagnosed via bloodwork or imaging.
Notable behaviors, such as lacking eye contact, are compared to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). A diagnosis is either made or inconclusive, given the behavioral evidence.
Why Do Those with Autism Lack Eye Contact?
Not everyone is comfortable making direct eye contact for many reasons besides autism. There’s a little more to it when someone with autism exhibits such behavior, including sensory overload and discomfort or stress when making eye contact.
Toddlers and Children
There’s a whole range of reasons why a child may avoid eye contact in certain social situations, but for children with autism, some examples of what you may observe include the following:
- Lack of social motivations that promote eye contact with others
- Difficulty focusing on both speech and eye contact at the same time
- Focusing more on a person’s mouth or hands instead of their eyes in conversation
- Overwhelmed by eye contact
How to Encourage Eye Contact
It’s hardly ever successful attempting to force someone with autism to make eye contact, especially children. There are subtle, manageable ways to positively encourage eye contact without imposing the anxieties, stress, and discomfort they might experience when otherwise doing so.
Praising them anytime they glance or make eye contact with you is a general way to positively reinforce that behavior, especially during request or response exchanges. Don’t be quick to reply, but give them a moment to look at you in anticipation of your response. And especially engage with them about their interests and passions, which is typically the easiest way to get anyone’s attention and interest.