You know the old saying that the eyes are the window to the soul?
This belief has become so commonplace that we routinely teach this behavior to our ASD students, when it does nothing to encourage real communication.
Don’t believe it. It is the face that is the window to the soul!
People often talk about the importance of eye contact, but in RDI we believe that merely teaching someone to stare at other people’s eyes leads to a social dead-end. Our emphasis is to teach students the various payoffs they accrue from watching the eyes, faces and bodies of their social partners; also known as referencing.
What distinguishes referencing from eye contact is that referencing is all about looking at your social partners faces to gain important information about what they are feeling, perceiving or desiring. Eye contact is a behavioral action that we can teach in a rote way, and referencing is a type of thinking and decision-making. Referencing is a cognitive function.
When your student is challenged to have to think about what he wants to say, don’t be surprised if he looks away from you. This is what most of us do when we are in a mentally challenging situation and need to think. When we look at someone, our minds are taking in information so the last thing we would need is for someone to force us to change our gaze, because it makes it much harder to process our challenging situation. This is especially true for persons on the spectrum who may need to devote even more of their energy on their challenge.
To demand eye contact doesn’t help build true communication. Instead, try giving the gift of space and removing demands that can often frustrate and shut down our students.