Should eye contact be a goal?


In working with teachers or student speech and language therapist I often find that one of the goals that they want to work on is ‘eye contact’. At first glance, this might make sense as how do we know if a child is listening to us if they don’t give us eye contact. Isn’t it common for the teacher in the class to say ” All eyes on me” prior to giving a direction to ensure understanding?  Isn’t this a social rule?

Indiana Resource Center for Autism The Indiana Resource Center for Autism ( click on the link in red) has an excellent article on why eye contact should not be a goal. There have been many instances in which adults on the spectrum have written or spoken about how eye contact feels to them. This article has some of this from the vantage point of the person on the spectrum.

One way that I also think about it is that many people on the autism spectrum are one channel learners meaning that if they are listening to you they can’t look at you or if they are looking at you, they are not listening. Rather than insisting on eye contact we need to establish the ‘whys’ of the eye contact. It is fine to say that socially people like people to look at them when they greet them. Giving a rationale, such as if you are looking at a person you might be able to figure out what they are thinking may assist the person.

Michelle Garcia Winner strategies ( click on the link for strategies) Michelle Garcia Winner is the author and founder of Social Thinking.  Her website and books explain how to teach the ‘whys’ of eye contact.

So rather than having a goal for eye contact, our goal can be to have an understanding of social language or the ability within a social context to understand the social rules of engagement. art of autism blog


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3 comments on “Should eye contact be a goal?
  1. I agree, focusing on eye contact might not be what’s best for an individual. It is important we take the time to teach students social language and social rules within a context first. Just because a student is not making eye contact with you does not necessarily mean they are not listening!

  2. This makes a lot of sense. Teaching social language or the social rules of different situations (e.g. facing group members) may be more easily understood by children on the spectrum working on social language skills.

  3. I have a few children this semester working on social language skills and this is super helpful. It certainly sheds light on the demands we can sometimes place on our clients without being able to answer the “why” other than the fact that something like eye contact can be considered a social “rule”. We have to answer the bigger question is it more important for the child we are working with to understand you and really “hear” you or look at you; what are we really gaining here?

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