What is Autism?
Autism is a neurological development disorder that affects how the person interacts with the social environment. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) disturbs communication, behavior, interests, and interaction. This is a ‘spectrum’ disorder due to the multiple variations and levels of severity.
Autism is known as a “spectrum” disorder because there is wide variation in the type of ASD people face difficulty in communication and interaction. Diagnosing autism is a difficult process. They show a lack of interest and repetitive behaviors. These are some of the common behaviors observed in people diagnosed with autism.
- Inconsistent eye contact
- Difficulty in adapting to the new social situations
- Facing difficulty in keeping track of the conversation
- Fidgeting behavior
- Trouble in understanding others points of view
Why is eye contact hard for Autism?
First and foremost, let us see why those with autism avoid eye contact. Eye contact is an important nonverbal communication behavior in social interactions. It is very difficult for autistic patients to maintain eye contact. Many times, lack of eye contact during a conversation leads to the misconception that the person is disinterested in the conversation.
Maintaining eye contact leads to stressful situations for autistic people. They feel forced when asked to maintain eye contact. Because of the stress, they are not able to focus on the conversation happening. When left free on their own, they are able to concentrate and respond properly.
Scientific research shows that eye contact in autistic people causes abnormal activation in their subcortical system. The subcortical system is the area of the brain that is responsible for natural attraction toward faces and dealing with emotions. When facing the eye, the subcortical brain system gets overactivated causing excessive arousal in the brain. In order to avoid this unmanageable arousal autistic people feel comfortable not making eye contact.
Autism and eye contact in adults
Adults having autism strictly avoid eye contact with the other person. They seem to be mostly in a confused and anxious state of mind. This portrays them to be unfriendly and rude in nature. Consequently, most autistic people become introverts not ready to be on the floor of communication. These are some of the autistic behaviors noted in adults.
- Getting anxious about any social situation
- Facing difficulty in making friends
- Noticing the finest details in everything
- Plans things carefully before doing anything
How to improve eye contact in autism?
It all depends upon the severity of the spectrum of ASD in a person. Some may get very anxious and restless when forced to make eye contact. Eventually, it is in the hands of the professionals to decide what is good for the patient. There are some specific activities to improve eye contact in autism.
Activities to improve eye contact in autism
The therapist observes and analyzes all ways the kid or adult needs to be helped. The behavior patterns and eye contact consistency is also noted down. Slowly, the person would perform new activities using various behavioral strategies and engaging them in therapeutic sessions, the changes can be seen gradually.
Learning in groups will help them in interacting slowly with the outer world. There is no age limit for being curious. Autistic people are much talented in music and sports. Some are experts in math and science. Making them focus on any one topic of study would help them be more confident and slowly open up to conversations and look into others’ eyes.
Visual support helps to reinforce the action of eye contact in autistic people. Cards like “look here” or “look at me” can also help out in remembering to look at the speaker and maintain eye contact.
Go with their interest
If we go along with their interests, they would feel relaxed and more comfortable with the person. Thus, it will help them in maintaining eye contact when their topic of interest is majorly focused.
Actually, when autistic people are given instant gratification they get to feel attended. They tend to maintain eye contact for the immediate good response they are receiving.
On the whole, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for the proper help needed. Autism is a very sensitive area to be acting without any professional help. The above-mentioned activities to improve eye contact in autism would show up to be helpful along with the therapeutic sessions. It is also the responsibility of the family and loved ones to give a helping hand at home with supporting activities.