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Autism and Eye Contact

A women looking at a child gesturing with their hands.

One of the most common characteristics of autism is difficulty with eye contact. At the same time, many people may view avoiding eye contact as rude or a sign of disinterest. It’s important to understand that for autistic individuals, making eye contact can be incredibly challenging.

Why is eye contact an issue?

So why do autistic people struggle with eye contact? Research has proved that Autistic children forced to make eye contact have problems comprehending information and attention. It showed an area of the brain known as the dorsal parietal cortex showing less activity when someone who is Autistic makes eye-to-eye contact compared to someone who does not, say scientists from the Yale University School of Medicine

The dorsal parietal cortex is a region of the brain that receives sensory information from various sources. It is particularly well-known for its role in attention. Along with a variety of other cognitive processes, including working memory, decision-making, and attention to visual stimuli.

Picture of a brain indicating  dorsal parietal cortex.

“We now not only have a better understanding of the neurobiology of autism and social differences but also of the underlying neural mechanisms that drive typical social connections,” co-researcher Joy Hirsch said in a press release. Hirsch is a professor of psychiatry, comparative medicine, and neuroscience at the school.

Read More: Exteroception and Autism and how it affects our clothing choices

Why we shouldn’t force eye contact.

Simply put, if a child or even an adult is forced to make eye contact, it can lead to sensory overwhelm, resulting in reduced comprehension and understanding. Because of this, it is difficult for them to process information from multiple sources at once. When someone is talking to them and also looking directly at them, it can be overwhelming and distracting.

Additionally, autistic individuals may have difficulty with social cues and nonverbal communication, including interpreting facial expressions and body language. Making eye contact is often viewed as a sign of attentiveness or interest, but for Autistic people, it may not necessarily communicate the same message.

Read more: Mealtimes for a fussy and restrictive eater. Did someone say KFC?

Does it really matter?

It’s also important to note that while eye contact is often viewed as a crucial communication component, it’s not necessary to comprehend instructions. Think about it – when you’re on the phone, you can understand what the other person is saying without looking at them. The same is true for autistic individuals. They may process information more effectively when they’re not feeling pressured to make eye contact.

It’s also worth noting that the importance placed on eye contact can vary greatly depending on cultural and individual factors. In some cultures, making eye contact is viewed as a sign of respect. While in others, it may be viewed as rude or aggressive. Similarly, some individuals may place a higher value on eye contact than others. It’s important to be aware of these cultural and individual differences. And, not to not assume that everyone values eye contact in the same way.

While eye contact is often viewed as a crucial component of communication, it’s important to recognise that for autistic individuals, making eye contact can be incredibly challenging. This is due to a variety of factors. Including sensory overload, difficulty with social cues, and individual differences in communication styles. However, it’s also important to remember that making eye contact is not actually necessary to comprehend instructions. By understanding and respecting these differences, we can create more inclusive and effective communication practices for everyone.

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