I haven’t said much on the topic of eye contact but its a hotly debated issue when talking about autism. When I worked for an ABA company I was made to force the children I worked with to make eye contact with me and keep data on it. As an autistic person, I sat down with my supervisor and just briefly told her that I felt forcing children to make eye contact was unethical. She listened and thank me for my input but explained that if the parents wanted us to work on eye contact we were contractable obligated to to so. It was also a part of the company’s curriculum. So when I worked with the kids I told them that if they didn’t like making eye contact they could look between someone’s eyebrows or at the bridge of their glasses if they wore them. People see that as appropriate eye contact and its what I’ve done for years. Some autistics describe eye contact as painful or that they feel they are going to lose some part of themself when making eye contact. “Problems” with eye contact are a hallmark of the “social defecit” model of autism.
So here’s my experiences with eye contact as an autistic. I was often told “Look me in the eye” as a child. Its an awful demand and I learned the trick of looking close to the eyes but not actually at them early on. I don’t feel physical discomfort making eye contact but I see it as pointless. I get absoluetely nothing from making eye contact. A person’s eyes tell me absoluetely nothing. I get no ideas about a person’s emotional state when making direct eye contact. I do find it distressing because its taking away from what I really need to do when talking to someone. I study a person’s face and body to help me figure out what they are feeling. I’ve learned some short cuts to body language over time and prefer to look at a person as a whole when interacting socially. When looking at a person’s eyes I mentally obsess about what I’m missing by not looking at the person as a whole.
I like to look at people’s eyes briefly because eye color is so different from person to person and I love all the different hues. But that’s all I get from looking at a person’s eyes. Nothing else. The eyes tell me nothing. So I dislike having to maintain direct eye contact. That’s just my experience but the more info known the better autism in all its variety can be understood.