Avoidance of eye contact is one of the primary signs of autism. When providing speech and language services, this is something I’m sure many therapists have encountered. The best trick I’ve learned for training eye contact came by word of mouth from an early childhood special education teacher.
This strategy combines tangible reinforcements, a verbal prompt, and a trained response. Un-jargoned, this strategy uses a favorite toy to pair a phrase and eye contact. Children with ASD typically don’t respond to their name so this strategy can target two skills simultaneously.
How to Pull It Off
While sitting close to the child, hold the toy in the child’s eye gaze and keep it there until the child is keeping their attention on the toy. Then say the child’s name or a prompt like “Get Ready” and quickly put the toy in front of your eyes. After the child looks at the toy that’s in front of your eyes, give the child the toy. After the child looks at the toy in front of your eyes, don’t say anything and give the child the toy. Children with ASD will echo phrases they hear and you don’t want to unintentionally train them to say “Good job” when they make eye contact.
Since the goal is for the child to independently make eye contact, you’ve got to quickly fade the prompts. The phases of this strategy naturally fade prompting so stick to the script but use your best judgment to time your prompt fading.
Phase 1: Put reinforcer in child’s eye gaze. Say child’s name and put to in front of your eyes. Give the child the toy after they have looked at it.
Phase 2: Put reinforcer in front of your eyes. Say child’s name. After the child looks at the toy, give the child the toy.
Phase 3: Repeat the steps of phase 2 but now we’re going to decrease the prompts even more. Once every 4-5 trials, don’t put the toy in front of your eyes. Just say the child’s name and after they look toward your eyes, give them the toy.
After completing the 3rd phase, I start using this strategy in different settings so that it doesn’t only happen in the therapy room. I also switch between the steps in phase 2 and phase 3 so that the skill is maintained with more supports and intermittent reinforcements.
Once a child can identify numbers, this app is the bomb. It shows a picture of a child’s face and briefly flashes a number in their eyes. The child then picks the number they saw and earns a piece of coal that fuels the train. After earning so many pieces of coal, the child can interact with the settings of the train and watch the train go down the track. It seems too simple to be engaging, but the children I work with love this game!
Look in My Eyes: Steam Train By FIZZBRAIN LLC
What strategies and apps do you like to use to develop eye contact?
Image Courtesy of PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay