Top Five List of Good Manners for Young Toddlers with ASD
HOW TO START MAKING LANGUAGE DANCE WITH ADEQUATE EYE CONTACT
The lack of eye contact is a hallmark of people with ASD. Watch this short video of Jade stacking blocks at 20 months. You can observe in this five-minute video that Jade lacks eye contact as well as any interaction with adults. She appears intelligent but lacks the pragmatics of speech and language that will allow her language to dance and manipulate her environment.
WHY CHILDREN WITH ASD LACK EYE CONTACT
I can't say for sure but I do have some ideas that I've determined over the years:
- Lack of interaction
- Brain dysfunction
- Language dysfunction
- Threat (good article: "Eye Contact Triggers Threat Signals in Autistic Children's Brains," from Science Daily)
- Difficulty depicting details from gestalt on faces
Perhaps all of the above really say the same thing as to why children with autism lack appropriate eye contact. Maybe you have some other ideas, too. Whatever the WHYs, we need to focus on HOW to draw these children from the skin they're in and see the world from their inside-out.
AN EYE FOR AN EYE
I wish it were as simple as, "I'll look at you, if you look at me - an eye for an eye." Eye contact IS one of the foundations for good social manners. It tells people that we are talking to them, that we are interested in what they are saying, and that we are listening. Listening is half of communication - although most people without any disability don't know that!
Here is a group of pictures with a variety of eye contact. My son, Doug, was six when the picture in the upper right-hand corner was taken. His eye contact varied greatly in those years. I think the baby with the flowered hat has it all together, but the boy in the right, middle doesn't have a clue. Yes, that's my Humpty Dumpty and me practicing our eye contact! I should say an example of a way NOT to practice eye contact.
"Help, I need somebody,
Help, not just anybody,
Help, you know I need someone, help."
The Beatles sang it best, even though they weren't talking about eye contact. They were talking about somebody who needed HELP. SLPs cannot be with children with ASD 100 percent of the time, but as an SLP your advice to the team is valuable on this topic and must cross environments in order to benefit the child. I believe that adequate eye contact is a gift. This gift needs to be unwrapped gently, consistently, across environments, and over time.
MY GOLDEN RULE FOR EYE CONTACT
Anything that can be held in one hand comes up by the speaker's face.
Bringing items up by the speaker's face reinforces recognition of the item, the source of speech, the way speech sounds are made, the reciprocal aspects of communication, and the suprasegmentals of language (intonation, facial expression, tone, and emotion).
IF the young child does not look at me or the item that is held up by my face, I do the following:
- Again, put the item in front of his/her eyes and even on their hand/arm and then quickly up to my face with a verbal statement ABOUT THE ITEM.
- Make an auditory gesture by hitting my hand or the item on the table, clicking with a clicker, snapping my fingers, etc., and verbally making a statement ABOUT THE ITEM. (Depending on the child, sometimes my hand has been known to hit the table quite loud to get attention - then the item is brought right up to my face with a compliment such as "nice looking at the _____.")
- I NEVER say, "Look at me." How demanding is that? How unnatural is that? How unplayful is that?
- Here are some phrases I might use with the young toddler: (Pretend like we're playing with cars as I hold one up by MY face)
- I see a car
- Here's a car
- This car is red
- This is my car
- Ms. Kathie has a car
- I NEVER say, "Look at me."
It takes more than glasses, goggles or bifocals to look into this topic of eye contact and see all of what we can do to help these kiddos. This blog IS my golden rule but I have more blogs to come on this and I hope YOU will send me some of your successes for eye contact as well. So, until next week, here's looking at you, looking at me.
"Speech pathologists make good things happen."