Eye Contact

autism_articleI just passed a billboard on the freeway that had a picture of a child and said something like (I was perhaps traveling a little fast and only caught the sign out of the corner of my eye): “Avoiding making eye contact is a sign of autism.” Really!

A child not making eye contact might be a sign that they have a visual problem, are lying, or anxious, or insecure, or even doing something terrible like visualizing and thinking. Is it true that many autistic children make poor eye contact? Yes. But do they “avoid” eye contact? No. “Avoid” implies that the child is consciously not doing something, like connecting to you. This perception harkens back to the old psychiatric perception of autism and links to the old refrigerator mother nonsense.

Autistic children who have not yet developed good central vision, and who more often than not function largely with their peripheral vision, do not make good eye contact simply because they can’t; and if you try and force many of them to look at your face, you are in fact making it very difficult for them to see you.

I hope parents of autistic children can avoid those professionals who feel that their children choose to avoid making eye contact with them.