Why people with autism have such a hard time making eye contact

Updated on July 27, 2020

People with autism often have a hard time looking into other people’s eyes. This is one of the earliest clues that a child may have autism as it becomes noticeable as soon as the child six months old. These individuals find eye contact to be stressful and uncomfortable. This is part of the broader Autism spectrum disorder that is used to describe various conditions that make socializing and communicating a challenge.

Ask qualified healthcare professionals or behavioral therapists to help you customize autism treatment plans to improve their social behavior. The personalized treatments will build on improving eye contact within their natural environment at home, school, or work.


Eye contact is a very important nonverbal communication behavior that almost everyone uses in their daily life to initiate or build social relationships. On the other hand, people with autism (both adults and children alike) have a very hard time making eye contact.

There’s a theory holding that people with autism perceive eye contact to be unimportant. In other words, they’re indifferent towards it. Alternatively, the reason they avoid eye contact could be because it’s uncomfortable and aversive.


Studies have shown that the root cause of this behavior is rooted in the brain. The results from different studies and clinical experiences produce mixed messages as to how much emphasis should be placed on teaching and reinforcing eye contact.


Most therapies for people with autism encourage them to make eye contact from a young age. The therapist uses something that interests them to teach them to pay attention to. This has been proven to give more positive results as opposed to forcing them to do something that makes them uncomfortable.

For example, if you make the person feel obligated to make eye contact when they’re not motivated to do so may cause the person to actively avoid eye contact.

How does the behavior affect the person later in life?

When individuals lose interest in making eye contact early in life, they’re highly likely to miss out on social cues. This leads to low social motivation and interest later in life.

Eye contact is very important as it helps people to communicate their interest and attention to a conversational partner. A lot of times, people need to maintain eye contact to pick up and respond to important social cues from other people.

A failure to make or maintain eye contact is often misconstrued by others as a sign of disinterest or lack of attention.

Why do people with autism struggle so much with autism?

A lot of people with autism attribute this to the terrible stress they felt when well-meaning guardians and teachers forced them to make eye contact during conversations. Such insistence does more harm than good. It causes them to feel distracted and unable to focus on the conversation.

This only tells us one thing – we shouldn’t force eye contact. The only time you should insist on it is when you realize that the person doesn’t pay attention unless he/she is making eye contact.

When these wonderful individuals are given a leeway to communicate in a more comfortable manner where they aren’t forced to make eye contact, they engage in conversations and participate in school, work, and other social interactions better. 


If you realize that your child or someone around you find making eye contact to be uncomfortable, help them explore the issue and find alternative ways for them to indicate interest. Such alternatives include fully facing the other person and staying within conversational distance or making comments like “yes/okay” to indicate that they’re paying attention.

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