Eye Contact Is Overrated

Lack of eye contact is a big deal to non-autistic people. Especially to therapists, teachers, psychologists, and the like. Living with two autistic children and one autistic adult I've learned to make do without it. I have gotten to the point where I sometimes feel uncomfortable making eye contact myself. In fact recently I've had the experience of finding eye contact to be quite jarring. A bit like staring at a really bright light bulb after being in a dark room. I can't really recall the circumstances that led to this feeling but I do remember the feeling quite vividly. It has happened more than once.

I've had conversations with myself (what, you don't talk to yourself too?) that go something like this, "Hey, you're not looking at person X. Why aren't you looking at person X? Person X is talking to you. You like person X. Person X is saying nice things. So why won't you look at person X?" At which point I look at person X just to get that inner voice of mine to keep quite.

Neither of the boys have "good" eye contact, something that I don't notice unless they are interacting with people outside of home. It is always odd to see Ethan greet people he knows by quietly saying hi while looking at a spot on the ground just to the left or right of them. He's even greeted people while walking away from them. Isaiah often doesn't stay still long enough to make eye contact with anyone. He also tends to disappear when people turn up. At home both boys can get really into whatever it is that interests them at the moment and completely ignore everyone and everything (except for things like me telling them it's time for dinner, that they always seem to hear and understand).

Hubby has usually got a book and/or computer in front of him when he's home so eye contact is at a minimum there. He also has a tendency to look off into the distance when he's talking to me sans book/computer. I sometimes I wonder what he's looking at and just how long he's going to look at it. I ought to start timing him. Like Ethan hubby also tends to tell me things while he's walking away from me.

Sophia has developed an interesting way of dealing with this lack of eye contact from so many in the family. She literally gets in your face. She will climb into my lap or hubby's lap and hold our faces in her little hands to make sure that we're looking at her. Sometimes she gets so close that she goes cross eyed. When the boys are playing and she really wants their attention she will often get nose to nose with them. Ethan is surprisingly responsive to her demands sometimes. Isaiah not so much but she seems to be quite understanding of this. Sophia has recently started telling me, "Mommy, Isaiah doesn't talk." There is no puzzlement in her voice over this. Just a statement of fact.

Anyway, this is supposed to be about how eye contact is overrated. It is. Meaningful conversation can be had without ever making eye contact. In fact, in the age of the internet, meaningful conversation can be had without ever physically meeting the people you converse with. Expecting regular eye contact from an autistic person is a bit like expecting a deaf person to hear you speak. Society needs to stop relying so heavily on eye contact to judge a person's intent and character. How often are we lied to or mislead by people who "sincerely" look us in the eye? Every single day and I'm not even counting politicians.

When I mentioned this post to Sis1 she told me that she has to force herself to make eye contact with people. Unless she's being intimidating in which case she sustains eye contact until the unlucky party backs down. She also reported (thanks to years of study of animal and human behaviour) that eye contact in the animal kingdom is a sign of aggression. Courtesy of her state trooper friend she also reported that people are more likely to make eye contact when they are trying to deceive you. Makes sense to me. The untruthful party has got to gage how well their story is being received and whether or not they need to adjust it to make it more believable.

So the long and short of this is, making eye contact doesn't tell you as much as you think. Lack of eye contact doesn't mean that someone has got something to hide.


  1. Eye contact is highly overrated to me... I know for myself if I am friends with a person making eye contact is not a problem if I have to, but if it is someone I either don't know or don't like I generally don't make any eye contact or even acknowledge them...


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