Why do I have to stare at your eyeballs?

So many times as a parent & as a teaching assistant, I’ve demanded acknowledgement from a child by asking them to look at me when I’m speaking. How many times have you demanded this, expected this or thought it rude when they fail to even look in your direction? If an adult does it we assume they are being most disrespectful.

My son, being on the autistic spectrum & pretty literal about most things, actually asked me once why he had to stare at my eyeballs whilst I was speaking to him & he has a good point, albeit sounding quite humorous when put like that ( most things taken literally are & I could write a whole book about things taken literally! I actually dislike ALL things eye related, freaks me out, so visiting the opticians isn’t my greatest past time, even though I got new glasses this week! My son told me that I didn’t need to ‘like’ eyes, I just need to ‘have’ them!)

When you’re doing this thing called parenting on your own, you already question yourself, you’ve been through the mill & felt criticised. You feel like your every move is being watched & finer details picked with a toothcomb, the result…well, we are our own worst judge & something we seem to demand, expect & want to show off to others is respect from our kids. Our we controlling or trying to prove to everyone how brilliant we are for fear of that criticism?

Whilst our upbringing & past relationships influence this, the need to look at someone when being spoken to is quite a British thing, especially when it is something of importance, but for many, eye contact is uncomfortable or they just need to turn their gaze to think.Too much emphasis is put on eye contact, they’re shifty, they’re lying, they’re not listening.

For some on the spectrum it has been described as feeling naked, your soul exposed, vulnerable, scary & it builds up anxiety. Processing information is already tricky so feeling exposed & looking into someone else’s eyes can distract from the whole conversation. I know that I can certainly listen to others & take in what they’re saying without looking at them, but there is always this pressure to keep staring them right in the eye, until it gets quite uncomfortable.

Some Countries actually see it as  aggressive, invasive & unacceptable to have eye contact. We embrace difference yet expect everyone to behave the same way! I’ve heard stories about autism where children have been told that in order to be treated normally, then they should behave normally! In response to a post I made about this, I had several comments & feedback agreeing that society should back off with this pressure as many who care for, work with or have autism find eye contact most distressing. Saarah from Make Humanity Great Together made the point that most Brits, despite insisting on eye contact actually hate it.

There’s a difference between the teenager buried in their phone, grunting at you & not lifting their head & the awkward, blinking, twitchy,tight fisted  teenager trying to process what’s been said.

It’s important to note that not all people on the autistic spectrum have difficulties with eye contact.

We ask too much of our children at times.

Instead of finding strategies to insist eye contact or looking at you, we should be finding ways to help our children connect.

When my son goes through phases of not sleeping, he goes for days staying in his room, getting him out of that pattern is crucial on so many levels.As parents & carers, we are given the toughest job of our lives—to help our child interact with the World around them.

You don’t have to demand looking in the eye or directly at you, but you can help connect, you can help how to react to situations, which in turn will help them cope, because one day they’ll be doing this on their own.

As single parents, it’s down to us. Our emotions, reactions & responses influence all our children. Here’s a couple of tips that can benefit us & our children.

1. Don’t React

What you do & how you react directly after your child has done something has a direct impact on the frequency and intensity of him doing that action again. It’s common to react loudly or be annoyed at the negative stuff & if you are an autistic child who doesn’t have much control over the World around you, &  suddenly you spill some milk, you start to yell & bingo! you’ve just created a reaction. This applies to the negative & positive stuff. It sounds simple to put into practice, but we are stressed, tired & often lonely single parents.We lose the plot at times. If we can re-focus & put these strategies in place more often than not, then we make life better for everyone.

By changing your reaction & not demanding that power play, you might be able to change your child’s reactions.It’s ok for mistakes to be made, milk to be spilled , you’re still going to clean it up whatever your response, so be at peace with it.

2. Focus on Your Attitude

How you feel emotionally greatly impacts your child’s experience and makes a difference. When we dig into our own emotions & try to understand how we feel, we can make better choices with how we deal with our children’s actions & emotions, it becomes two-way. When autism presents itself in challenging ways, we need every bit of strength, compassion & understanding. If our own feelings of self doubt & negativity are constantly displayed in front of our children, the balance is going to be top loaded on the negative side. Reach out for support, read, listen, educate yourself. Make decisions that promote happiness & positivity. Know that it WILL get better.

When I put this into practice with my kids, the atmosphere is definitely calmer, or least triggers are diffused more quickly!

Who knew that all this lay beneath demanding that eye contact. It’s a power surge that we think we need because everything else is out of control.

If you can take anything from this the bottom line is that as with most things, the answers lie within you.

Jane x

1 Comment

  1. Cindy

    April 15, 2018 at 14:15

    This is such a great post! In America, we take eye contact for granted as something everyone should do as well, but it’s not easy for everyone. (In fact, I didn’t learn what eye contact really was until my 30’s! I have a post about it here: http://thehardwaylearner.com/how-to-make-eye-contact/
    It’s great that you used the topic of eye contact to give others advice on how to be compassionate when interacting with their children. These are useful tips for children with and without autism!

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