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Autism Friendly Social Skills & the question of Eye Contact

What makes a social skills program Autism Friendly?

From our perspective, it’s when a program aligns with supporting the characteristics of autism and respects and values the essence of whom a person is.

If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to explore our Autism Friendly Social Skills model, you’re welcome to take a moment over HERE to see what it’s all about. As a brief explanation, it’s a model that keeps a check on how social skills learning might be presented, and brings the inherent value of the autistic person to the forefront. It’s a model that values choice and respect of the autistic person.

If you have a look at our model, you’ll find that one of its aspects is that of supporting interaction without requiring eye contact. ‘Why’, you might wonder? ‘Isn’t a common goal, when planning social skills learning for a person, that of eye contact – in the context of teaching a person how and when to make eye contact during an interaction?’

Approaching from the autistic perspective may help to understand.

For many people on the autism spectrum, eye contact has the potential to cause great discomfort and can even interfere with learning, thought processing and communication.

Our own personal experiences, along with the experiences of people on the spectrum who we have supported over the years, suggest that these issues may be present for a number of reasons – for some people it can be due to the sensory overload that comes from eye contact, for others it can be that eye contact disrupts the clear thought process and for others it can be a sense of intrusion on personal space that then creates anxiety that affects thinking and communicating. However we look at it (and other reasons may also be present), it is important for us to understand that forced eye contact can have negative effects on communication, thought processing and learning.

Social learning should support a person to be the best version of themselves, and if this means finding other ways to show that you’re engaged with a person in terms of communication, then that’s something that we need to pursue and embrace.

Social skills learning as an opportunity for personal growth puts the choice back in the hands of the autistic person. If eye contact is important to them and they can do it comfortably, then embrace it. If eye contact is something that may potentially hold back ease of communication and personal growth, then perhaps it’s time to drop it from the list of social skills goals.

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