Eye Contact and Autism: What’s so Difficult Anyway?

Autism and Eye Contact

Look me in the eye. Folks diagnosed with Asperger’ syndrome or autism just can’t do it. They just can’t make eye contact with you . . . or anyone for that matter.

But why not? What’s so difficult about looking someone in the eyes anyway?

“They must look me in the eyes!” says the frustrated teacher/grandparent/mom/dad/neighbor/stranger in the grocery store. It’s the right thing to do when we’re communicating with other people. Everyone knows that. Gheesh.

OK, so here’s my question: why would we force someone to look us in the eyes if it is causing them actual pain?

Not being able to make eye contact and forcing a behavior on someone who is unable to do said behavior are two very different topics for discussion. They are two subjects that I absolutely love to ponder, debate, and write about.



Today, though, we’re going to focus on the one area that was brought to my attention through a wonderful article my husband shared with me. You can find the article titled 16 People With Autism Describe Why Eye Contact Can Be Difficult here. The Mighty asked people with autism what it was like to look people in the eye. Read the article to find out more about the pain, difficulty, feelings, and experiences autistic people have when looking at people in the eyes.

Related: you may have seen the wonderful book titled Look Me In the Eye by John Elder Robison. I read it many years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. Please notice that the title alone highlights our crazy demands on others to do something that clearly is difficult to do.

Give them a break, yo!

People with Asperger’s and autsim just can’t make eye contact for very clear reasons. The real-life people who responded to They Mighty’s question express themselves much better than I can, so I won’t rehash what they said. Just know it’s actually painful for some of them.

My eyes are rolling into the back of my head right now thinking of the people who have “demanded” that Michael do shit that he’s just not able to do.

<begin rant>I get it! I do . . . I get that he “should” be able to stop talking and have a normal conversation like everyone else (snort). I get that he “should” be able to say all the appropriate things at the appropriate times (scoff). I get that he “should” be able to play group sports simply because he is a human child under the age of 16 (grunt).

Listen up, people who ask other people to do what they are not capable of: compassion, patience, and education are the keys to make change in our world! Accept people as they are–not as you want them to be. GAWD!</end rant>

I really want people to be kinder and more accepting of everyone else in our world. I want people to use common sense. I want people to chill out. For realzies. And I’m pretty sure you want them to as well. 😉

What the “real” difficulty actually is

Looking other people in the eyes is one of the difficult parts of the journey for many of our friends who are diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.

But is that the real issue here? I think not.

In fact, I feel as if “other people” are one of the most difficult parts for people on this Asperger’s syndrome journey.

Human relationships are tough without the standard social behaviors we come to expect as “typicals” (insert eyeroll here). Now imagine feeling actual pain when you do something that every single person you meet expects you to do?!?! Dude, that’s a tough break to have to deal with.

What’s the point?

Well, not only do I highly recommend that you to take the time to read the 16 real-life reasons autistic people struggle looking into other people’s eyes, but I also want to highlight that we ALL (yes, even you) struggle with certain things, certain tasks, certain behaviors, certain lots of things.

Here’s my two step recipe, inspired by this article about eye contact and the difficulty it poses:

#1: Take it easy on yourself. Seriously, if we would all release ourselves from the outside societal obligations we are faced with each day, this world would instantly lighten up. If there’s something you want to do better or differently, then by all means do your very best to learn the new skill you want. But know and understand that you are perfect right here in this very exact moment. Seriously, you are amazing and OK.

And #2*: If something about somebody else makes you feel cray-cray, know that it’s your piece of work to do. It’s not necessarily something they need to change. Because guess what? They are also amazing. 🙂

*This rule is for “most of the time.” There are exceptions to most rules. For example, abuse of any kind is never to be tolerated, condoned, ignored, or hidden.


So go on out there to the rest of your day or evening and accept someone more than you did before reading this. Give them a hug and say out loud to that person, “I’m glad you’re you. You are perfect just the way you are and I love you so very much.”

Then give yourself a big warm hug and say out loud, “I’m glad I’m me. I’m perfect just the way I am. I love myself so very much.”

It’s true, ya know, you’re perfect just the way you are.

I’m perfect just the way I am.

My children are perfect just as they are.

We can all continue to work on ourselves, but in each and every moment, we’re right where we need to be and we’re OK.

So much love to you,


Come on over to Facebook and list five things you love about yourself and then you can list five things you love about me for an extra helping of happy in our world.

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