This was written about a year ago and was meant as a guest blog on Aaron Likens his blog. He had such a busy year, though, so he had enough to talk about. So he didn't run it. Instead, I'm running the blogpost on my own blog. Enjoy!
That title... Please don't do that to me... Sometimes someone with authority, like my parents (when I was younger), or a teacher or someone like that, wants to be strict with me. In this case they like to say: "Look at me when I’m talking to you!"
After this sentence they usually wait until I actually look them straight in the eye for a few seconds and THEN they start talking. And if I can't keep looking them in the eye while they talk, they'll tell me to look at them again and start all over again!
Now I know this is basic parenting skills that most adults use. I can even see WHY it's being used. It gets the attention of the child, the child knows you're being serious and you're sure that you have the child's attention too.
This is all fine and a very good method actually... Unless you're autistic. Most autistic people have difficulties looking someone in the eyes. This counts for me too. I can look at your forehead, or between your eyes, or somewhere behind you... But looking straight in the eyes? If I force myself, maybe I can for 2 seconds?
But after that I have the instant reflex of looking away and I get very uneasy and very conscious of myself.
When the authority figure tells me to keep looking them in the eye, I usually try to tell them I simply can't, but I'm listening. Some people accept this, others don't. Seriously people, simply ask me to confirm that you have my attention if a situation like this occurs. If you force me to keep looking you in the eyes while you give me a lecture, all you accomplish is bringing me to tears and having even more difficulty hearing what you're saying, because I'm occupied with keeping myself together.
This might not apply to all autistic people. Maybe you have a child who responds really well to this method. Then by all means, keep using this method. But if your child is autistic, or you know someone who is autistic, and tells you he/she simply can't look you in the eye, please ask them to at least acknowledge that they're listening.
Commanding "Look me in the eye when I'm talking to you!" is simply torture if you have problems with looking someone in the eyes. It's not giving a lecture, it's straight out punishing.
Also teachers: If a child tells you they can't look you in the eye. Don't immediately
assume they're being stubborn. More might be going on.
By the way, recently my sister made a joke out of this. She likes to try and look me closely in the eye and laugh when I quickly look away. It’s funny and annoying at the same time! Sisters… Haha!