Improving quality of life for the differently abled Children & Adults


by Nicole Byers                                                                                                                           
Speech Therapist

The use of appropriate eye contact is an area of pragmatics that can be difficult for some children. Our eyes play an active role in communication, but the physical act of eye contact and the social awareness of when/why/how/where we use it are two very different things. To tell individuals to “use eye-contact” or “look at me” assumes they know what they are looking at and why it is important. As surprising as it may seem, some individuals with social thinking challenges are not aware that people watch other people’s eyes to gain clues about what they may be looking at and thus, thinking about. By examining where other people are looking, individuals can make a smart guess about what others are thinking about. An alternative approach to saying “use eye-contact” is to help them learn to “think with our eyes.” We can teach these individuals that the things that we look at are the things we are thinking about. In other words, if I’m looking at my computer you can guess that I am probably thinking about my computer. The key idea is that “looking = thinking”.

If an individual can make guesses about what others are thinking about based on what they are looking at, the child can change his or her behavior based on what others might be thinking. For example, what would you do in this situation? You are talking to a person, who keeps looking at their watch. What guesses could you make? You may guess that he needs to leave, he is in a hurry, or he just got a new watch, and he really likes it. What does this all mean? An individual can make a “smart guess” that he is thinking about his watch (or the time, which is what the watch tells him). How may a person respond to this action? One may ask, “Do you need to go?”, “Are you meeting someone?”, or “Is that a new watch?”. Because you recognize that the man is thinking about his watch (or the time), you are able to respond in a way that acknowledges these thoughts.
How can you help with this skill at home? You can play a game where your child tries to figure out what you are thinking about based on what you are looking at. It is best to sit across from them, and be obvious. Ask them to identify what you are looking at. Then ask him or her what you might be thinking about. You can also pause movies and ask your child to figure out what the character is thinking about. This works especially well with animated movies that have characters with large eyes and exaggerated facial expressions, such as Toy Story and Tangled. You can also use these opportunities to ask your child what they think the character may do next, or how they might feel.

Michelle Garcia Winner is one of the leading Speech Language Pathologists in Social Thinking concepts. If you are interested in learning more information on this topic, please visit her website

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