Encouraging Eye Contact

How to encourage your autistic child to make eye contact?

Encouraging eye contact to your autistic child is important to enable him to communicate happy eye contact -1312654_640properly. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?”
  5. 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.

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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.


Adel 🙂

11 thoughts on “Encouraging Eye Contact

  1. On the whole, I like your website; I especially appreciate your points about encouraging a child’s strengths rather than just remediating weaknesses. Recognizing and encouraging strengths is absolutely crucial for a child’s self esteem.

    However, are you aware of the potential downsides of trying too hard to encourage eye contact? For many autistic people including me, eye contact is a distraction from the content of a conversation. I usually make brief eye contact at the beginning of a conversation, but then I have to look away and disengage my mind from all visual stimuli in order to focus on the conversation itself. Perhaps your son doesn’t have as big a problem with multitasking or information overload as I do, but I feel that both the autism parent community and the psychotherapeutic and educational establishments are not sufficiently aware of this as a potential issue, although lots of adult autistic activists have talked about it online.

    I think that parents, therapists, etc. should gently encourage eye contact up to a point at least, but should watch carefully for signs that it is interfering with the child’s ability to comprehend what is being said, and should NOT push eye contact beyond what the child is comfortable with.

    Not being able to handle eye contact is indeed a social handicap, but I think this needs to be regarded as a civil rights issue, not something on which to push conformity at all costs. There needs to be more awareness that some people just cannot handle eye contact.

    1. Thank you for bringing another light to this topic on encouraging eye contact. I definitely agree with you that a person with autism should not be pushed too hard to have eye contact with a person when engaging in a conversation. What matters most is that he is capable of holding a conversation and can understand what the other person is trying to say even without much eye contact. Awareness of not maintaining eye contact of people on the autistic spectrum will help other people to understand that the person with autism is not rude during a conversation but is finding it hard to maintain eye contact.
      I taught my son at an early age to have eye contact when engaging in a conversation and he got used to it until now, that he is already a young adult. I encouraged him to make eye contact and he was able to maintain this during a conversation.
      So, it really depends on the person whether he could maintain eye contact during a conversation. Every person with autism is different and respecting each other’s differences is the way forward.

  2. Adel, I never cease to be amazed at your personal pioneer work in Autism, with your son, John….
    It’s a blessing to all looking for answers, that you’ve decided to document this…..

    This info is so valuable, it should be brought to university study groups’ attention
    I’m highly impressed!!!


    1. Thank you,Therese, for your kind words. My mission in creating this site is intended to help parents find the solutions to their everyday struggles in raising their child with autism. I am hoping that it could offer a valuable resource for parents in the future.

  3. This is wonderful information. As a homeshooling mom, I encounter a fair number of children on the spectrum who are homeschooled, and i appreciate having more tools to talk and play with them. I think my kids will appreciate this post too, as they often are unsure if they are “connecting’ with their spectrum friends.

    1. It’s good to know that you found my post as a useful tool for children with autism and that it will help your children as well to be able to connect properly with their autistic friends.

  4. Eye contact is great for everyone to practice. I can only imagine how hard it can be for some children with autism. Thanks for this post, I’ll it along to those who may need it.

    1. You’re welcome. To teach children how to make eye contact is a hard task. It takes a lot of patience on your part for your child to be able to look at you straight in the eye. The activities that I have outlined have helped my son to be able to make eye contact and have achieved great progress since then.

  5. Hi Adel,

    You are a beautiful storyteller. I didn’t feel I was reading a blog, you made it so real that I want to know more. I don’t know much about autism and especially about eye contact being an issue. That’s something I’ve learned here.

    You are the go to person about this especially because of the way you teach it without teaching, if that makes sense. I’ve bookmarked your site and should the opportunity arise, I will refer people to you.

    Great post and thank you for enlightening me 🙂

    1. You’re welcome, Chuka. Encouraging eye contact to a child with autism is important so he could learn how to communicate in the real world. Autistic children have their own world and it is important for us to be able to see their world as well. In this way, we would help them see the things and interact with the people around them. Thank you as well for helping me in my advocacy by referring people who need information about autism on my website.

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