Many thanks to Musings of an Aspie for providing this information to help me in tweaking my son’s future IEP’s, with the intent of lessening the focus on eye-contact as a goal. I’m NT. I get the preference/social mores for eye-contact. But when eye contact actually causes PROBLEMS with stress, cognition, etc. for an autistic person, alternatives need to be found that work best for the autistic person , then for NT social mores.
Here are some links that might be helpful. I owe a huge thanks to Sparrow at Unstrange Mind for locating the research papers and writing up the synopses. I hope this is helpful and not overwhelming.
Elevated amygdala response to faces and gaze aversion in autism spectrum disorder Autistic people who avoid eye contact experiences more amygdala stimulation when forced to look in people’s eyes. This is the “fight or flight” stress response, and the researchers suggest that autistic reactions to faces including feeling that they are threatening. This sort of stress is not a good thing to force anyone to experience.
Direct Gaze Elicits Atypical Activation of the Theory-of-Mind Network in Autism Spectrum Conditions Brain scans show evidence that autistic people do not interpret being looked at in the same way that non-autistic people do. Teaching eye gaze to someone who is unable to appreciate it from others is going to be more difficult because of the difficulty in explaining what the point of making eye contact is in the first place.
Neural bases of gaze and emotion processing in children with autism spectrum disorders another study of direct versus averted gaze. Typically developing children have different brain scans with direct vs averted gaze. Autistic children show no different in brain scans. It is suggested that there is a link to communicative intent and emotional significance — that is to say, autistic children do not “read” the emotional significance of direct gaze and do not use direct gaze to tell them that someone wants to talk to them or to tell others that they want to talk to them. This could be used as an argument in favor of teaching autistic children the significance of direct gaze, but I would argue that it only supports teaching children to impersonate direct gaze because no teaching is likely to reduce the anxious amygdala response to direct eye contact.
Affective-motivational brain responses to direct gaze in children with autism spectrum disorder “children with ASD may lack normative approach-related motivational response to eye contact.” In other words, eye contact does not give children with ASD happy-good-feelings like it does others.
Sort of Science Based:
This is closely related in the sense that it talks about the limited cognitive resources we have and how spending those resources on executive function oriented things like making eye contact or not stimming detracts from our resources for learning, etc.: A Cognitive Defense of Stimming (or Why “Quiet Hands” Makes Math Harder)
First person accounts:
Look at Me – particularly the comments
Eye Contact: The Conversation within the Conversation – particularly the comments
History of Bad Parties an interesting take on eye contact toward the middle of this one