How Can Applied Behavior Analysis Increase Eye Contact in Children with ASD?

From an early age, young children are taught that it is polite (and the social norm) to maintain eye contact during conversations. This might include, looking your teacher in the eye when asking to get a drink of water or holding eye contact with an adult who’s speaking with you at a family dinner. Eye contact can tell you a lot about a person’s emotions, which is why it can be such a large piece of social interactions. While this may be a part of normal development for some children, children who are on the autism spectrum may experience difficulty with eye contact. They may avoid eye contact or make eye contact with other at inappropriate times. For example, a child on the spectrum may tend to stare at your toes (or a fidget in their hands) rather than your eyes during a conversation. As a result, applied behavior analysis, or ABA therapy, can help to target eye contact and improve this behavior in children on the spectrum.

What is ABA therapy?
First things first, applied behavior analysis, or ABA therapy, is a method frequently used with individuals on the autism spectrum. ABA therapy works to build socially significant behaviors, such as cognition, communication, and social skills (in addition to many other behaviors and skills). ABA therapy is used, because scientific studies have proven its effectiveness. Additionally, ABA therapy can be tailored to fit a range of abilities and needs in both children and adults, meaning there isn’t one set formula for ABA. This method can also be applied to a variety of settings, including clinics, homes, schools, and out in the community.

How can ABA therapy improve eye contact?

An ABA therapist can play an important role in helping children with autism to improve their eye contact.

Provide verbal cues: ABA therapists can use direct or indirect verbal cues to reinforce eye contact during sessions. ABA therapists can practice this during sessions to stay consistent with the child. Parents can also use this method at home for further reinforcement.

For example: “I can’t know how you feel unless I see your eyes” or “Please let me see your eyes.”

Use an object to get their attention (at first): If a child is struggling with verbal cues, it may be helpful to hold an object they’re interested in close to your eyes. For example: if the child likes Thomas, you could hold a train next to your eyes when speaking.

Positive reinforcement: Praise and positive reinforcement can help children to learn to continue making eye contact. For example: any time the child makes eye contact when asking a question, the therapist will say “Great job!” or allow the child to spend one minute on the iPad.

Are you interested in ABA services for your child in the Chicago area? Contact us or call (773) 630-4400 to learn more about the range of services we provide for children who are on the autism spectrum at Chicago ABA Therapy, including applied behavior analysis therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology.