Making eye contact is harder for some. Even in a job interview it is hard to maintain good eye contact. However, is this always a good thing?
Eye communications is important no matter where you are. It says a lot of what you are communicating even without any words. But you have to know when and where to use the right eye contact. This is something that has become a focus in studies for autism.
In the U.S. we are following generations of tradition when we want eye contact. If we don’t, we may be considered untrustworthy. With autism, professionals are trying to engage the children into eye contact. But new research is showing we may be best to let this aspect alone.
Prof Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon, Associate Dean for Research in the School of Life Sciences at Northumbria University, says ”Previous research found that children and adults tend to avert their gaze when thinking something through and this principle can now be applied to children with autism too.
“Although social skills training is important in encouraging eye contact with children with autism, this research demonstrates that gaze aversion, at a certain point within an interaction, is functional in helping them to concentrate on difficult tasks.”
Add this to our ever growing multi-cultural world, we need to be aware of what eye contact really means. For someone with autism, a glace away may just mean they are thinking of something or formalizing a response.
Middle eastern countries by contrast view eye contact as being less appropriate. Some of this culturally based non-eye contact is from religious laws. An exception to this is if two people of the same sex make intense eye contact so as to say, “Trust me.”
Look at the cultural differences in Asia, African nations, and Latin America and there is just very brief eye contact. Extended eye contact, such as what we consider during a job interview, would be considered a challenge of authority in these countries. So don’t be insulted if someone does not give you direct eye contact, they are just being polite based on the culture.
There are so many ways to interpret eye contact that we need to be careful of what we expect of others or force to teach others. If averting their eyes while they are thinking helps a person with autism, then we should let them use their abilities the best way they know how.
As we grow and learn about autism and any disability, it is important to remember to focus on the ability in spite of any perceived barrier.