How to encourage your autistic child to make eye contact?
Encouraging eye contact to your autistic child is important to enable him to communicate properly. It is an essential element for social communication and interaction. Whenever we interact with a person, we always look at the person’s eye. This symbolizes respect and also enables the person to know that you fully understood what is being communicated to you.
My son, John doesn’t look at my eyes whenever I am talking to him instead he always looks at my mouth. Although I am encouraging him to make eye contact, he simply could not do it. His speech and language therapist in primary school gave me a list of activities that I could use to teach him at home.
The following activities have been proven effective to encourage eye contact to John:
- I look for small toys that John enjoys playing with (small cars, a set of cards, pieces of puzzles and Lego blocks). Holding all the toys on my lap I ask him, “John, which toy do you want?” I showed the toy, one by one then brings it closer to my eyes. This will allow him to look at my eyes. If he looks at my eyes, I will give him the toy then take another one. I will repeat this until he appears to be getting bored. I won’t continue if I feel that he is totally getting bored. The play should be fun and interesting to both of us for social interaction to be successful.
- I play with John and copy whatever he is doing with his toys, the actions, which he is using, and the sounds he is making. This will make him feel that I am interested in what he is playing thereby allowing him to make eye contact with me. He will look at what I am doing and also look if I am still copying him.
- I build a play routine with John where we do the same thing every time. After he learns the routine, I could change a small part of it or just wait and don’t do the next step. He then approached me and said, “Come on, what’s next”. I also tried to do the opposite like make a toy car drive upwards or backward, read a book backward and put pieces of puzzles in my pocket. He looked at my face and laughed at me.
- Snack time is another wonderful time to make eye contact with John. I place a variety of snacks in a bowl (pieces of fruits like grapes, apple, pears and banana slices). By repeating the activity that we did in no.1, I will hold each fruit close to my eyes and ask him, “John, do you want some fruit?” If he looks at my eyes, I will say, “Oh, you want some fruit ” and I will give him the fruit. If he does not look at my eyes, I will bring the fruit close to my eyes while asking him, “What fruit do you want?”
- Another technique that I utilized with John to encourage him to make eye contact before I give him a toy or food that he wants is the direct approach. I ask John to “look at my eyes” or “where are my eyes” to encourage him to look at me before I give the food or toy that he wants. This technique is less successful because it is not as natural for John and I. It also builds up a situation where John could get used to me to say, “look…” and learns to make eye contact only when given that specific verbal prompt. Overall this technique is the most unsuccessful for long-term improvement and sometimes might create anxiety to John, for I am telling him to do something, he may not be comfortable to do.
All these activities will encourage your child to make eye contact. It works for my son; it might work for your child too! Once you established his eye contact, it is time to teach him how to learn and follow his visual schedule. This will be my topic in my next post.
If you are planning to buy some toys that you could use during your play activities with your child, the following toys are highly recommended.
If you have any questions or anything you would want to clarify on how to encourage your autistic child to make eye contact, please feel free to leave your comments below and I will get back to you as soon as I can.