Eye contact plays an important role in our daily lives and every social interaction, whether or not we recognize it. In our society especially, parents ingrain the importance of eye contact during conversations. In children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other developmental delays that impact communication, eye contact does not always come easily. Many other social skills can also be challenging for children on the spectrum, so a child may benefit from ABA therapy or a therapeutic preschool program, as a way to develop important skills.
ABA, or applied behavior analysis, is an evidence-based method of intervention for children on the autism spectrum or with other challenging behaviors. ABA is widely used because the method targets critical areas of development, including communication and language, social skills, cognition, motor skills, and more. ABA therapy can also be provided in a wide range of settings, including in schools (including therapeutic preschool programs), in the home, in a private practice, or more. It is also important to note that ABA sessions can be customized for every child, since every child is a unique learner with individual abilities and needs. Throughout the course of ABA, the therapist will use strategies to help the child build positive developmental skills and improve challenging behaviors. If a child is having difficulty maintaining eye contact with others during social interactions, their ABA therapy sessions will likely target social skills. Therapeutic preschool programs may also incorporate ABA domains into their daily routines for children.
How can a therapeutic preschool program help with eye contact?
If the teacher in a therapeutic preschool program observes one of their students struggling to make eye contact with others in social interactions, they may implement helpful strategies to improve this skills.
1. Verbal cues: If a child is continually looking down or looking away from people who are trying to speak with them, the teacher may use verbal cues to remind the child about making eye contact. They might say something along the lines of, “I do not understand how you feel unless you are looking me in the eye.”
2. High-interest objects: A verbal cue may be helpful in some children, but a physical object may be more effective for other children. A teacher or ABA therapist might hold a high interest toy next to the child’s face, in order to help the child direct their eye gaze and focus on their face (hopefully the eyes).
3. Reinforcement: Teachers and therapists will regularly use positive reinforcement in ABA therapy to encourage children to build positive skills and behaviors. The same tactic can be used for teaching eye contact. When a child exhibits this skill, their teacher or therapist should provide positive feedback accordingly.
If you think a therapeutic preschool program could help your child with social skill development, click the purple button below or contact CST Academy at 773-620-7800 to learn more about the wide range of services we offer for children. We offer ABA therapy, feeding therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology.