How to improve your child’s eye contact.

My Gregory…..out to dinner…..he got some bling from El Dorado!


My Gregory, obviously wears glasses…….he is cortically blind in one eye…and we patch his left eye three hours a day to help to improve the strength in his right…he also has some issues with his retina, bilaterally…so sometimes the sunlight is very difficult for his retina to process.  For that reason……he has permission to wear a baseball hat at all times during the school day.  Gregory wears a hat to school….and his patch….he told me that the first day he wore his patch to school this year….a boy said to him: “Why do you have that band-aid on your eye?”….he said: “It’s a patch and I got alil blind or something.”   I remember being stressed and worried the first day he wore it to school…despite the fact that he is only in first grade…and kids are usually not too cruel at this age….I still worried about him….funny how children can handle so much more than we can.

Anyway…with regard to this post…eye contact for many children…and adults can be difficult at times…I know for Gregory when the sun is too bright…even with his baseball hat on…he still has difficulty looking up at me when talking or listening.  


Please read below about a little one I am working with and how we address improving eye contact.

This post is written with great excitement about a little one that I have been seeing for speech and language therapy since August of 2011.    She works very hard during therapy….and we have been working on her use of functional and spontaneous language (this is noted when your little one is able to use the words she has in her vocabulary in order to make her needs known…this can be challenging for a little one…she may have words in her vocabulary…..however….she may be unable to use these words in order to obtain a want or a need). 

Spontaneous and functional language is typically learned on an incidental level (this means that your little one learns language just through her daily interactions with her mama and daddy…and others in her environment….and since birth she has been learning about language).  However…..there are some children that do not learn incidentally….instead a therapeutic approach to learning how to understand and use language is needed.  

So………….I am thrilled to say…that this little one I work with…..I will call her A……well A is beginning to understand that words WORK and that words have MEANING.  What does this mean….this means that she is beginning to understand that the words she has can be used to obtain something that she wants or needs.  So proud of her!

We also work on her reciprocity of language….this is the back and forth in language that takes place when two people are communicating… this skill is more challenging….so it requires your little one….to initiate a conversation….maintain a conversation…..answering questions….adding more information….keeping the conversation on topic…and then being able to change topic….being able to respond…greet….protest…describe…to speak about oneself…to communicate experience…these are all pragmatic language skills….and I will post more about pragmatic language skills….but for now…I hope this explanation about  pragmatic language makes sense…the back and forth of language….the reciprocity of language.  So for A….we work hard on her ability to use her language in a dyadic interaction (a two person back and forth interaction)……and she is getting there….small steps everyday is what I tell her mama…..small steps get her where she needs to be.

We also address A’s understanding of language…..and I have to say that I am very happy with how she is understanding language so much more than she initially did……we use the RSA strategy (you can find under the teach me to understand page)…in order to help A understand language better. 

Working with many ABA teachers….and understanding that in order for a little one to eventually understand HOW to imitate sounds and words…and HOW to teach them to understand a direction such as: Say mmmmmmmm……..I know that first a little one needs to understand how to imitate simple play activities such as banging two blocks together…..or making a car go down a  toy ramp…….and after she is able to do this……I want her to be able to understand and follow gross motor directives such as: touch head…clap hands…wave bye-bye….etc……and then after that…..she may demonstrate the ability to imitate sounds and words upon request….and then use her words on more of a spontaneous level.  

Well for A…..she really is beginning to understand so much more language…which has helped to decrease her frustration level…WHY?!….because she is understanding language more….she is understanding the demands of language…and some of the demands that are placed upon her…and she is understanding consequences and expectations….so many positive things happening to my A!

Well….back to the reason for this post…an important component of communication is eye contact….and sometimes eye contact can be very challenging for a little one presenting with pragmatic language delays and receptive language delays.  I remember hearing the amazing Temple Grandin speak (if you do not know who she is….please Google her….You Tube her…listen to her speak…and learn about her incredible accomplishments in life.  Claire Daines played her in the Temple Grandin movie…if you have a chance please watch that as well)….anyway Temple spoke about the fact that sometimes when a person is listening to someone speak (so imagine your little one listening to you speak)….the little one…or the listener….actually has to avoid eye contact in order to understand the spoken message…this can be due to too much visual information….the visual you get when you are looking at someone as they are speaking…..and that the visual may be too much to process while you are trying to listen to the speaker….and the same may be true for your little one when she is communicating…it may be easier for her to communicate when she is NOT making eye contact.  The point being….be understanding and patient with your little one…if in fact she is struggling to make eye contact.

Okay…so back to A…..last week I felt she was ready for the direction: “Look at me“… some children may not be ready for Look at me….because me is a complex pronoun….I am me at times…you are me at times…daddy says me…so does your little one’s sister… your little one may not be ready to really understand the word ME.  This is because she hears so many people using the word ME…language can be very complex and confusing!  So if that is the case…you should say: Look at mommy….if your little one is struggling…you may have to use the RSA strategy…and help her to move her head midline…and move her head to look up at your eyes…and as you are doing this say: Look at Mommy.

Once your little one understands the language: Look at me or Look at mommy…be sure to prompt this when she is using spontaneous and functional language so that you teach her to make eye contact during communication. When I say prompt this…I mean…when she is communicating something to you…and she is not making eye contact…prompt her by saying: Look at me…or Look at mommy. 

Back to A again: Following our therapy session the other day….A’s mom told me that she was on the see-saw with A….and everytime A wanted to either go up or down……and she spontaneously said: Up…..her mama said: “A Look at me”….and waited until her daughter looked up at her…..and then she moved the see-saw up………..I am so proud of this mama for using the strategy during a simple outdoor play activity…one that was motivating enough for her little one to look up and make eye contact with her mama. 

And these are the little steps everyday that I hope to see in A….and all of the little ones that I see for therapy.  I hope that this post was helpful!  And great work to A’s mama…..because once I know that the mama knows how to be a speech mama too….I know that her little one is going to make more smaller steps every day of her life.

Have fun with your little one or big one!



About Kim

My name is Kim Marino and I have been practicing as a licensed speech and language pathologist since 1993. I work on Long Island providing diagnostic evaluations and services to children from birth to age 21. My experience is vast and am proud to say that I work with children that may present with articulation and phonological concerns, oral motor feeding concerns, Down Syndrome feeding, cognitive rehabilitation, auditory processing delays, receptive language delays, cleft palate feeding and sound development and expressive language delays. Most importantly, I am the mother of four amazing children and am happily married to my childhood sweetheart. I feel blessed to have my four children and so lucky to share this journey in life with my husband. I always had it somewhere in my head that I wanted to develop a blog or a website of some sort so that I could provide families with an additional that parents could help their little ones become a better communicator. And as I was developing this blog....I realized that I also needed to share the stories about my life and my children....and the funny things along the way that help to keep me smiling. Whether you are a working mother or not...finding balance between home, children and life can be a challenge....I hope that my blog helps to bring a smile to your face..and also some tools to help you help your little or big one. I hope you enjoy! Kim
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