As you might have heard, making eye contact can be a hard thing to do for people who have autism. But if you’ve met one person on the spectrum, you’ve only met one. Each person is unique just like everyone else. Which means eye contact or lack there of isn’t the only deciding factor when diagnosing, because not everyone on the spectrum has a hard time with it.
Anyways, in our case eye contact was a harder thing for mr. L to learn. We were careful in his learning and practicing that it was always a positive experience. My husband and I never wanted eye contact to be stressful, negative, or a bully tactic. I never angrily said, “Look at me!” Because forcing mr. L to look at you when he is already upset or overwhelmed would not cause the desired effect of more focused attention. In fact it would more then likely do the complete opposite and less listening would be the more possible effect. It is a social skill and most days mr. L does really well with it. When he is focused on non-people subjects he tends to forget about this typical social skill, but when he is in the middle of trying to verbally communicate he will usually remember to look regularly at the person he is talking with.
So that brings us to this new milestone he reached yesterday. It is such a small thing that most people wouldn’t even realize how big of a deal it was! A skill that comes so natural to typical-neurological people, that others wouldn’t have to take extra time to learn it. But either way it was huge, I acted like it was typical behavior at the time, but was so excited to tell the husband about it.
I was sitting and folding laundry when mr. L came down the stairs and said, “Mom?” Without looking up I responded, “Yeah?” Again, “Mom?” I hadn’t picked up quite yet that he was expecting more from me as I was juggling little miss A while trying to tackle a couple loads of laundry. But with a bit of irritation in his tone of voice again my son said, “Mom!” So I looked up at him and with eye contact I said, “Yes mr. L?” He then continued with his verbal request of wanting my help.
Let’s back up just in case you missed the subtle skill mr. L was using. He wanted ME to make eye contact with HIM to make sure I was listening and that he had my attention before asking for something. He has literally never done that before! Previously he has said, “Mom” and just having me say, “Yeah?” Has been enough for him to carry on talking to me.
In most cases I have looked at his eyes to let him know I was listening and to help teach him through example how this social skill is used in an every day setting. But during those times when I can’t look over because I’m driving, wrangling siblings, cooking or whatever, a simple, “Yeah?” Has been enough to satisfy mr. L’s communication needs.
Another thing that helps him know I’m listening is when he tells me about things and I say hi to them like, “Mom look! It’s a bus!” And I then say, “Hi bus!” Or “Lighting McQueen goes fast Vrrrrrrmmmm” and then I can say, “Whoa! Hi Lighting McQueen!”.
It feels less condescending to acknowledge his world this way then to say, “Yeah, it is a bus, I see that” or, “You’re right, that is Lightning McQueen”. This type of wording is age appropriate for babies and toddlers. But even though mr. L currently has a lower level of verbal communication, that in no way means his mental level is at this lower level.
We both know what the objects in his every day life are, and he just wants me to acknowledge their current existence in our close proximity, so I say hi to them and sometimes ask my son what those objects are currently doing.
Having mr. L desire to make eye contact while talking to me was amazing to see play out. It’s all the small steps that make up the huge accomplishments and I can’t help but celebrate the little things 🎉
What small steps have you accomplished recently? Tell us about it so we can celebrate too!