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saoirse_starr
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22 Oct 2010, 9:54 pm

Hi everyone,

My name is Lana and I'm a (NT) speech pathologist/speech therapist/speech-language pathologist, whatever you want to call it. I became a member here when I was still a student, because I wanted to get a better understanding of what life was like for people with ASD, rather than just taking a NT approach. These days I work in early childhood intervention, which means I work with children from birth until they go to school. Some of the children I see have autism.

In my profession, the general view seems to be that it's really important to teach autistic children to make eye contact. It's a big thing in the specialist autistic schools and the people I work with often put eye contact before anything else. As a speech pathologist, I know that eye contact is really important for a lot of reasons, but sometimes I wonder if we focus on it so much just because we want the kids we work with to be "less weird." I don't agree with forcing children to make eye contact - a lot of people on the spectrum have said that making eye contact physically hurts them, and there are so many other ways to communicate. But when I told a child care centre not to force an autistic three-year-old girl to make eye contact, someone else I work with basically spent ten minutes telling me how wrong I was and how wrong my ideas were.

So I thought I'd ask you. How do you all feel about making eye contact? Were you taught to make eye contact as children? Do you think it was a good or a bad thing? How do you feel about the fact that so much emphasis is put on teaching children to make eye contact? How does it feel for you when you make eye contact with someone?

If it turns out that eye contact is a good thing then I'm happy to be proved wrong - but I'd rather it was because people actually with autism told me so, rather than professional "experts".



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22 Oct 2010, 10:07 pm

saoirse_starr wrote:
Hi everyone,

My name is Lana and I'm a (NT) speech pathologist/speech therapist/speech-language pathologist, whatever you want to call it. I became a member here when I was still a student, because I wanted to get a better understanding of what life was like for people with ASD, rather than just taking a NT approach. These days I work in early childhood intervention, which means I work with children from birth until they go to school. Some of the children I see have autism.

In my profession, the general view seems to be that it's really important to teach autistic children to make eye contact. It's a big thing in the specialist autistic schools and the people I work with often put eye contact before anything else. As a speech pathologist, I know that eye contact is really important for a lot of reasons, but sometimes I wonder if we focus on it so much just because we want the kids we work with to be "less weird." I don't agree with forcing children to make eye contact - a lot of people on the spectrum have said that making eye contact physically hurts them, and there are so many other ways to communicate. But when I told a child care centre not to force an autistic three-year-old girl to make eye contact, someone else I work with basically spent ten minutes telling me how wrong I was and how wrong my ideas were.

So I thought I'd ask you. How do you all feel about making eye contact? Were you taught to make eye contact as children? Do you think it was a good or a bad thing? How do you feel about the fact that so much emphasis is put on teaching children to make eye contact? How does it feel for you when you make eye contact with someone?

If it turns out that eye contact is a good thing then I'm happy to be proved wrong - but I'd rather it was because people actually with autism told me so, rather than professional "experts".


Not sure what you mean by a 'good thing'.

I wasn't diagnosed until adulthood, and so endured teacher after teacher believing that I was inherently dishonest because of my inability to meet their gaze with my own. Eye contact is in inherently uncomfortable thing for me, that I can only achieve with those whom I have a degree of intimacy or trust with.

If the child does not feel comfortable being taught to maintain eye contact, please respect that it is probably doing more harm than good to push the issue further.



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22 Oct 2010, 10:11 pm

Yeah, "You MUST do eyecontact!" won't work for a lot of autists.

I think it would be better (if the kid finds eye contact uncomfortable) to teach fake / limited eye contact. Like looking through people, or at their mouth, nose, or some other "almost" place.

Nice of you to come ask about this :)



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22 Oct 2010, 10:20 pm

I came from parents who both had PhDs and were educators. Both at the college level; my mother actually has a PhD in education. My father in computer science; he has been the dean at several well-known colleges, and indubitably, in the CS field, has come across plenty of spectrumites. In fact, when my bubbly sister fell through, I babysat for the two Autie children of his colleague.

We would all heartily disagree with forcing eye contact at such an age. For an autistic for whom much simpler actions can require much thought and effort . . . why force eye contact? I've found that 7-year old NTs do NOT mandate eye contact, which makes me wonder if it is fact a learned behavior.

(I'm choosing not to delete upon reconsidering). It IS a learned behavior not universally present in all cultures across the world. In some cultures, eye contact without familiarity is considered rude or aggressive. One can even find this in the West's own history (find phrases that reference eyes downcast politely). This is a modern cultural 'truth.' It should, therefore, not be taught until later years when it becomes either an educational luxury or a mandate for everyday functioning (which it is not for small children).

Far better to begin teaching scripts as an early aptitude for these will allow for better functioning in the future, or development and application of talent.

When should eye contact be taught? Once the child is old enough to fake it, and only as a corollary to real development.

I still only use brow/mouth/ 30 degree alteration contacts. A child, especially an autistic child, will not make this differentiation, and so such teaching is cruel and detrimental in that it will cause pain and devote an abnormal amount of resources to a properly deferred skill.



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22 Oct 2010, 10:21 pm

Eye contact does physically hurt me or make me think the person thinks less of me. It's hard to explain but it is uncomfortable.
I may be able to do it with people I feel comfortable with.
I always got yelled at by my mum to look her in the eye, still do.
I don't think it should be taught if the person feels uncomfortable doing it.

Ask those people you work with that criticised you to ask those children you teach how they feel about it. I don't like it when even professionals think they know what is best for an autistic, so I thank you for coming here and asking us.


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LostAndFound
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22 Oct 2010, 10:22 pm

I like that you're asking. I'll try to answer in terms that maybe your co-workers who think autistic people should be forced to make eye contact can understand. It can be about as comfortable as standing naked outside in zero degree weather near the entrance of a very busy shopping mall. I hope that helps. I'm saying this for the autistic three-year-old girls of the world who can't articulate those feelings. 8)



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22 Oct 2010, 10:22 pm

Ouch. Bad.


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saoirse_starr
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22 Oct 2010, 10:26 pm

It's tricky, because obviously I come from a background where I'm supposed to assume that behaving as close to NT as possible is the goal and while I do understand that it's much, much easier to get by in the world if you can fake being "normal" and I do think it's important that children who don't communicate/engage in the world at all aren't just left alone and ignored, on the other hand there's always this voice in my head going "but why do they need to make eye contact/stop stimming/not talk about their interests?" If a child has a developmental disability it's easy to see what I need to do to help them reach their potential and become as independent as possible. With autism it feels really different, because how much of what I do is about helping someone, and how much is about unnecessarily trying to change who they are?

Sorry, that was a bit of a tangent!

I should also say that in a lot of cases we can't necessarily ask the children how they feel about it, or I absolutely would. The girl I was talking about, for example, doesn't talk or even acknowledge people at all right now, and I can see why they think eye contact might be an important first step, but it's still not what I think is important.



seriousfoolishness
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22 Oct 2010, 10:48 pm

It can be uncomfortable to make eye contact.

The assumption is that you a lying or untrustworthy if you do not look people in the eye so I have learned, when I have to, to look at people's mouths or one of their ears when speaking to them.

As far as they know, I'm looking them in the eye, and I am more comfortable not looking them in the eye.



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22 Oct 2010, 10:49 pm

First of all, I'd like to thank you for showing enough respect to not simply assume that the "normal" way is the right way to do things. You're head and shoulders above most NTs, just for that. :)

So that you understand my particular perspective on this, I am self-diagnosed, after fifty-one years. But, in spite of having significant vision problems (ocular albinism), being labeled as a "genius" at an early age, and being raised by parents who would have turned anyone into a misfit - this self-diagnosis is the first thing in all those years that has even begun to make sense of all the weird things in my life. So I'm pretty confident in it. Also, I have crossed eyes. I can't really look anyone in the eyes, not fully. Which both hurt and saved me.

On the one hand, I didn't get as much pressure from most people to look them in the eye. They presumably felt it was silly and or cruel to pressure a cross-eyed kid that way. On the other, it was often assumed I was lying, dishonest, untrustworthy, etc. because I couldn't look anyone straight in the eye.

If I am close enough, I can look someone in the eye, even if I can't line my eyes up with theirs perfectly. And, if I am very intimate with that person, it is okay. If not, it is invasive, uncomfortable, painful although not exactly in a physical sense. Also, forcing me to look at someone often means I am less able to pay attention to what they are saying.

The need to force others to look people in the eye seems to be deeply embedded in human culture. Even with my excuse, I did get some pressure. But it is absurd, prejudicial, and unfair. I am, to some extent, physically unable to do so - and I was made to suffer for that. You might argue, in that case, it is better to force children to learn to do what will spare them suffering. But, this is also how we are wired. I argue that, instead, the bigots need to stop forcing us to be like them, and accept who and what we are. The thought of your colleague lecturing you to perpetuate this tyranny (yes, I consider it harsh enough treatment that tyranny is an apt word for it) infuriates me.

But I do want to end by thanking you, again, for not being like that. In a harsh and bigoted world that is all too ready to push us around just to force us to be more like them, you are trying to consider what is best for us. You deserve praise for that, and being reminded that such people exist has lightened my mood on a somewhat bleak day. I hope knowing that may encourage you, as well. :)


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Last edited by theWanderer on 22 Oct 2010, 10:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.

LostAndFound
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22 Oct 2010, 10:51 pm

saoirse_starr wrote:
With autism it feels really different, because how much of what I do is about helping someone, and how much is about unnecessarily trying to change who they are?


That's a very intelligent and thoughtful point of view. I think there should be a lot more emphasis on helping an autistic person to be as comfortable as possible in the world. Discomfort and stress make autistic traits much worse, and the opposite is also true. The more comfortable and relaxed an autistic person is, the better they can function. So they need to be allowed the freedom to be who they are, and not be taught behavior that will make the NTs around them more comfortable at the expense of their own well-being.



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22 Oct 2010, 11:01 pm

saoirse_starr wrote:
It's tricky, because obviously I come from a background where I'm supposed to assume that behaving as close to NT as possible is the goal and while I do understand that it's much, much easier to get by in the world if you can fake being "normal" and I do think it's important that children who don't communicate/engage in the world at all aren't just left alone and ignored


I can only speak for myself, but I would prefer a focus on educating NTs rather than trying to create NT-like behaviour in those on the spectrum. Most of the higher functioning members of the autism spectrum 'club' will learn how to fake it in public with or without assistance. The trouble is, no matter how good we get at fitting in, it is never sustainable.

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on the other hand there's always this voice in my head going "but why do they need to make eye contact/stop stimming/not talk about their interests?" If a child has a developmental disability it's easy to see what I need to do to help them reach their potential and become as independent as possible. With autism it feels really different, because how much of what I do is about helping someone, and how much is about unnecessarily trying to change who they are?


Precisely. It's how we're wired. The thing I appreciate most in those who have taken the time is their willingness to understand who I am, and why I am this way; those who have chosen to accept me despite my differences, or indeed because of them.

Quote:
Sorry, that was a bit of a tangent!


I disagree. Surely the point of this thread is to discuss exactly those things which you raised. Transparent, direct communication is very important to me, and I suspect to others with ASDs.

Quote:
I should also say that in a lot of cases we can't necessarily ask the children how they feel about it, or I absolutely would. The girl I was talking about, for example, doesn't talk or even acknowledge people at all right now, and I can see why they think eye contact might be an important first step, but it's still not what I think is important.


In the case of the girl you were talking about, I would suggest you find a way to communicate with her on her terms, rather than trying to persuade her to communicate on yours.



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22 Oct 2010, 11:09 pm

it's very nice of you to come here and ask this.

i think it's important to put comfort ahead of all else for people with ASDs. focus should be on making interacting with others less traumatic, not more.

there have been lots of topics here about eye contact. type "eye contact" into the search field if you want to read more. i've read a few of these threads and they range from "what is appropriate eye contact?" type questions to people who cannot do it at all. i'm mostly uncomfortable with it even with my family but will sometimes stare if someone has interesting eyes. i do look at people's faces but i look all over the place at different parts of the face. maybe better to teach kids that looking at someone is a way of showing interest or being polite than eye contact in particular, and let them decide for themselves what is ok for them.

i wonder if there will be a day when NTs will be taught to modify their behavior for the comfort of those on the spectrum rather than the other way round.


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Gruntre
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23 Oct 2010, 12:50 am

I try to compromise by doing lots of appropriate body language, not crossing my arms, smiling and making "active listening" type noises to show I'm listening. It can look attentive, pensive and mindful as long as you respond with pertinent questions and don't suddenly pick up a rubiks cube while they're chatting. People want to know you care; and if you show that then it shouldn't have to be as didactic as percentage of time looking as opposed to not.
If eye contact has to happen 'to be normal' then it really is just abuse.



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23 Oct 2010, 1:51 am

Forcing an eye contact constitute an abuse,
It similar to raping a child.
If anyone of the so called pro's where willing to pay a little attention and make the effort to infer from the many known AS traits an identity the reasons behind the way AS managing their eye contact would be quite clear but since the pro's approach is based on assuming that anything we do or say is a symptom of a disease or malfunction no one would bother,
Anyway,
thanks for asking.



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