Look at me when I’m talking.
How many times do we say that when trying to communicate with a child – even if we know full and well this request poses a serious challenge for that individual? Even I catch myself doing this, and I should know better.
When speaking with an individual with a PDD such as Asperger Syndrome, don’t demand eye contact. While seeing the eyes may make us feel we are being listened to, the fact is, the other person is concentrating so hard on maintaining eye contact that he/she may be having difficulties retaining what you are saying.
In my experience (on both ends of this challenge), I’ve found that I can allow the child’s eyes to wander freely, but maintain a close proximity. Asking the child to re-explain what you are saying can help confirm understanding. Do this every couple of sentences. Finally, Kneel down to his/her level. The child will have an easier time making occasional eye contact if you do this.
In addition to these tips, over time, guide the child in trying to look at a part of a speaker’s face close to the eyes – the bridge of the nose, for example. Most people really can’t tell a lack of eye contact if it is “close enough.” This helps the individual fit in better at social settings without doing too much damage to those social boundaries unique to autism.
Remember, eye contact, or lack thereof, is not necessarily an indicator of attention. When it comes to PDDs, demanding eye contact may damage comprehension, so look for other ways to confirm and reaffirm attentiveness that don’t involve breaching social comfort levels. However, every autistic individual is unique. My suggestions work for me, but they will not work for every individual. Persistence and patience will eventually lead to better communication as you grow to better understand your autistic friend.