Eye contact is a prevalent issue in the autism spectrum community and studies, and it’s also an area of concern for parents. It is a primary vehicle for establishing rapport and non-verbal communication with others. However, it is not possible to estimate the severity of autism based solely on the presence or absence of eye contact. This is because while it is true that some people with severe autism may not be able to make eye contact, others may be able to make eye contact and still be autistic. Others may have a low or no degree of autism, even if the amount of eye contact is minimal.
It is apparent that eye contact is an essential aspect of socialization and nonverbal communication, and it has a significant impact on the normal development of young children. It is not simply a question of whether a child can or cannot make eye contact, but rather its role as a visual cognitive skill essential in integrating multiple senses to achieve development needs to be viewed in terms of its stability or instability. Suppose a child has difficulty making eye contact with someone, focusing on other objects, or looking at the side. In that case, it may be due to challenges in visual processing. Still, it may also be a defensive processing pattern that occurs in the integration process with other senses, so it is impossible to conclude that it is a difficulty in any area simply by looking at the visual processing pattern. For example, if a sound (auditory) is uncomfortable, an individual can choose a visual sensation to avoid the auditory sense. Therefore, we should focus more on the context of eye contact rather than on what eye contact itself can or cannot do.
To improve the quality of eye contact, the first step is to improve the sensitivity of the child’s overall sensory processing. If you notice an improvement and meaningful change in the quality of your child’s eye contact, you can take this as an indication that the child’s sensory processing is recovering and improving. When a child’s eye contact improves, many things change. When a child’s eye contact stabilizes and increases, enhancing their interaction with you, you can tell them a lot. In other words, vision and other senses are integrated, and the child can learn a lot.
This is the time to help the child see, hear, find, and do things independently. You need to support the child in self-regulation and not overreact to some senses or under-react to others. Sensory processing does not happen overnight and changes how you want it to. It’s something you carry with you as a trait or personality for the rest of your life. It takes a process called development to recognize and self-regulate it. Along the way, we support the child in being their best version. Never force a child to make eye contact. Help them want to create and maintain it on their own. Once you’ve noticed that your child’s eye contact has stabilized, it’s time to help them keep it. You know the answer. Ask yourself this question. What do you want to see over and over again?