Every greeting is a challenge to parents of ASD children. While children may have perfect vision, they simply will not look at the person they are greeting. Without any reminder, they usually look around or look only for a split second.
There are several ways parents tend to use to encourage eye contact, such as blocking his view, constantly saying “Look at me, look into my eyes, where are my eyes”, pointing to eyes with the children’s finger. These approaches are generally not very effective.
Adults sustain eye contact out of courtesy, as well as to send out information. We want to know whether we are sharing the same feeling, if people are paying attention to us, or the same things as we are. Children with ASD have difficulties comprehending non- verbal communications, and take no notice of the thoughts and feelings of others. Objects that they are interested in, like posters on the wall or spinning fans etc., easily distract children. Children will be less motivated to look at you when there is so much distraction around them. In time, the child would equate eye contact with boredom.
We must teach children the purpose of eye contact to effectively improve their behavior. We should provide reinforcement when a child initiates eye contact to increase the frequency of desirable behavior. We could also try teaching through play to minimize avoidance behavior. It is essential to remove distractors in the beginning phases to promote attention.
Exercise 1: Teach the child that “You can get what you want quicker when you check if people are paying attention on you.”
Exercise 2: Teach the child that “You can get what you want more effectively when you check if people are responding”
Hold your child’s favorite snack or toy, with your back facing them. Turn around to face him once he taps on your shoulder or verbally request for it. If the child is looking at you, verbally praise him and reinforce the behavior with the desired snack/ toy. Let your child understand that good behavior (i.e. looking) will lead to positive consequences. If he fails to look within 3 seconds, indicate that he missed out on the reinforcement by returning to your original position.
Tip：In beginning stages, be at eye level with the child to promote success, and return to a natural height once he gets a grasp of it. Adjust the speed we turn to face him to lengthen the duration he has to sustain his eye contact.
Information provided by Autism Partnership
Autism Partnership (AP) is one of the most established Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) service providers for Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in the world. Formed in 1994 in the United States, AP is run by professional clinicians and specializes in providing one-on-one therapy, group interventions and overseas consultation for children with ASD and their families.