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Why eye contact is hard for autistic people

Do you need the person to make contact with you? Why do they need to look at you when you’re talking? Are they listening to you instead?

For an autistic person or anyone who struggles with the visual sensitivity, making eye contact can be incredibly difficult, painful and uncomfortable for so many reasons:

Executive Functioning

If you insist on eye contact, a person’s ability to understand and remember information becomes almost impossible. Because there is a lot of information that comes in through a person’s eyes, the person becomes completely focused on trying to read and process this information that in turn, distracts them from listening to you.

Processing Information

For anyone to be able to process (break down) information, it takes some time and thought to figure things out. If eye contact is forced on someone, the time taken to break down information takes so much longer. Therefore, expecting an answer or response is not likely and often the person will avoid talking or say “I don’t know’

When & How

For many people, the act of eye contact can be occasional where they might look away for a little while then look back. But for someone who doesn’t know how long to look at the person and how long to look away for, certainly doesn’t come naturally for them and becomes very confusing.

Other People

When someone is taught to make consistent eye contact with the person they are engaging with, it often makes the other person feel uncomfortable or scared and this can affect their relationships with other people.

We encourage and teach people to actively listen or communicate with others by using their body to show that they are interested in what the other person has to say. If they feel the need to look towards the person talking, they can find a spot to focus on (ie, their shoulder, head or chin) instead of looking into the eyes.

To find out more about our approach to listening/communication contact instead of eye contact, ask us about our ‘Developing Social Skills’ workshop!

Written by Sherri Cincotta

Watch the video HERE

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