Sunday, 9 October 2016

The pressure to 'do eye contact': do you do it?

I met a lovely, bright young man of 12 this week who has a diagnosis of ASD. I asked him if he found it difficult to listen to what the teacher is saying in class. His reply: 'It depends if they insist on eye contact, if they do then yes if they don't then no,' We then got into a discussion about eye contact. I told him I never make eye contact primarily due to a mild hearing loss but also as I neither want to stare into someone's eyes or they stare into mine (not at work anyway!). He thought I did 'good eye contact' but I explained I actually concentrate on mouths but you can't tell if I'm looking at the mouth or the eyes. He insisted we did a test to see as he didn't believe me. Convinced, we carried on the session and he commented at the end how easy it had been to both listen and talk to me.

When we are having a conversation there are so many things to consider, see the speech chain below, we need to make it as easy as possible for those who already find it hard. This speech chain is from Elklan's excellent working with under 3 course:
We insist on children giving us eye contact in western cultures but how many of you do it constantly and if you've just said yes, why? Does it feel natural, does it feel OK?

We like Michelle Garcia Winner's approach in social thinking, she doesn't mention eye contact. In Social Thinking, she wants you to show the speaker you are interested so 'eyes in the group, body in the group'. The listener wants you to face them to show interest  so the body especially the shoulders should be towards them. They also want and expect you to be looking towards them or it might appear as if you are not interested but I don't know anyone who wants to be stared at. I'm hoping to meet some of his teachers who have insisted he looks into their eyes while he's talking..... that will be one occasion I do stare intently!

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