Even as body language is a tough nut to crack for the individual with Asperger’s Syndrome, eye contact could be considered an even harder art to master. Hold it too long, and it will become an uncomfortable stare. Do not engage in it long enough and one might be accused of having a furtive stare. There is no happy middle ground and those dealing with the disease on a daily basis – either as patient or caregiver – can attest to the problems and confusions this causes.
This of course has led many to try and offer individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome some subtle clues to observe. For example, caregivers often suggest to children that if an adult is not talking to them and if they are not addressing the adult, there is no reason to look at them. This might cause teachers to believe that children are inattentive in class, when honestly they are simply attempting to avoid the appearance of staring.
Subtle Rules of Engagement
Children with Asperger’s Syndrome are also taught to look at those to whom they are speaking or who are addressing them, but even in so doing there are some subtle rules to be observed. The right amount of eye contact depends on the length of the interaction, and a child is made to understand that looking up and then onto the ground is considered a sign of shyness; conversely, if they are looking at the person and then to the side, they give the appearance of being furtive.
On the other hand, if the child were to keep eye contact the entire time that a person is talking to them, there is a good chance that they might be considered aggressive or even challenging to the speaker, and it might result in an unpleasant conversation.
If the individual with Asperger’s Syndrome is older, the intense eye contact may also be misconstrued as an inappropriate sign of interest of a sexual nature, and this may result in unwanted attention or an elimination of a contact, simply because of a misunderstanding.
Role Playing Limitations
Caregivers work long and hard with those who have Asperger’s Syndrome and there is unfortunately no way to get things completely right, all the time. Even the role playing games that the very young enjoy have some serious limitations and so sometimes serve to confuse matters more than they actually solve. Nonetheless, there is a good chance that individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome who practice and role play have a better way at mastering eye contact than those who do not.
The key advantage is the training opportunities provided by those individuals who know about the manifestations of Asperger’s Syndrome and do not feel uncomfortable helping the youngsters in their practice. They actually provide a most valuable and crucial service that simply cannot be replaced with even the most well intentioned, theoretical training.
Although copious amounts of books seek to mimic the right responses, there is nothing that takes the place of real life interaction and for those who would attempt to learn only in theory make serious mistakes later on.