Gaze aversion in autism has been the subject of many scholarly articles and therapeutic interventions. I remember a well-known speaker suggesting that a nanny had been especially helpful by saying, “look at me”, while using just the right pressure on the chin to ensure that the child would look at her eyes.
Other early interventions included “quiet hands”, along with admonitions to stop stereotypical behavior. As RDI became more developmentally based, and as the guiding relationship became more foundational for all of our work, we began to understand the importance of reading signals; sometimes internally-sometimes externally generated.
A small piece of this process is an area that comes naturally to parents but one that we have found takes considerable thought and preparation for parents who have children on the spectrum. This is an area sometimes referred to as framing. Easily understood, if you consider a photo and the purpose of the frame in drawing your attention to the subject matter. Having said this, it may be easier to talk about support if we leave the picture frame on the wall rather than try to make this static analogy dynamic.
I’ll return to gaze in a moment. But, with any area where we are involved guiding another person, whether parenting or mentorship, it’s most important to have a clear definition of what you hope to accomplish. Having a clear-cut objective that is reasonably stated within a developmental track is extremely important. Without this objective in mind, it is possible to inadvertently mistake an activity for the objective one is attempting to address.
So, while gaze aversion is something we all do when are thinking, it can also be a signal of stress, especially when an activity chosen to address an objective is not used in a way that helps the child reach toward his own competence. Thus, helping a child understand that s/he can reference a parent to find meaning and take action when confused is a delicate undertaking.
A simple walk can establish a regulatory pattern and small changes in the walk can provide enough small differences to trigger this response. But, imagine if an enormous amount of complexity is introduced and the guide introduces multiple changes at a very fast pace. The self-perception of competence is undermined. Rather than figuring out where to look and how to decide what to do, the child is placed in a state of chaos.
Do you know where this edge of competence is for your child? Many factors can be combined to smooth the path that will support your ability to lead and your child’s desire to take on his own learning. In RDI™ we are always looking for a way to help children realize the importance of using their minds, not those of others to solve problems.