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Eye contact seems to be so simple and as adults we expect children to look at us when they speak. Therapists will “train” children by saying “look at me”, or “give me your eyes” and reward children when they do.
But when a child is uncomfortable, anxious, and has difficulty controlling how their body moves it is not in the child’s best interest to force eye contact. The child will simply learn to respond to a statement, rather than naturally giving eye contact. Isn’t it more important to have child feel safe and comfortable and give eye contact naturally, rather than respond to a command? We think so.
Poor eye contact can be the result of underdevelopment of the vestibular system and/or poor body awareness. When we can’t control our body, its very difficult to control our eyes. When the cerebellum is fully developed and a child’s reflexes are integrated, they are able to have volitional control over all aspects of their body. But when they have underdevelopment in any area of the brain, the child will have more challenges controlling how their body moves through space. Poor body awareness is a hallmark sign of retained primitive reflexes. Once primitive reflexes integrate it allows the child to understand their positioning in space and move according to where they want/need to go, this includes the motor engagement of their eyes needed or eye contact. If a child is unconsciously trying to stand still without losing their balance or tripping over their own feet they will have trouble giving someone eye contact for a sustained period. Knowing this means we need to understand that poor eye contact shouldn’t be treated with a behavioral approach. It should be treated with a neurological approach – developing the underdeveloped areas of the brain.
The face & eyes also give a lot of non-verbal information to a child, and if they have difficulty with understanding non-verbal communication, eye contact can be too much! At Brain Connex Therapy we are always looking for the root cause behind why a child does something. Why the behavior or symptom is occurring. Our neurologically-based treatment is geared towards creating real change in the brain for healing.
It may be that the foundational connections in the brain did not develop enough. Working with your child on the root cause of why they have poor eye contact rather than forcing a response will not only improve your child’s ability to look at you…but it will improve their confidence!