Can Autistic People Make Eye Contact?


Hi, humans on the internet NeuroRebel here and this week, we’re going to talk about eye contact.

[00:00:43] What’s the deal with eye contact? Oh, I sounded like Jerry Springer and that is not what I was going for there.

[00:00:49] Okay. Let’s get serious for a minute. There is a rumor that autistic people cannot or never give eye contact and that may be true for some autistic people, but that is not always the case. So let’s dive in and talk about this.

[00:01:04] So yes, there are some autistic people who can not do not, will not and never give eye contact, but this is not how it is for every autistic person. A lot of us, myself included can give situational eye contact depending on the person that they are interacting with. For example, I can and do give eye contact to certain people who I feel very, very comfortable with.

[00:01:40] But eye contact feels like a very intimate experience for me. It is a bit like making out with someone or – it just makes me feel really naked if we are staring into each other’s eyes. So really, even though I can give eye contact with some people, I don’t give eye contact with all people. And there are actually people I literally cannot give eye contact to.

[00:02:09] Uh, for example, there was just this one woman that I had to buy a storage shed from once for work. And I couldn’t even look at her face because something about her eyes just – I couldn’t do it. I can’t even explain it to you. Uh, so yeah, sometimes I can give eyes contact with certain people and that’s my experience and I’ve heard a lot of you say the same.

[00:02:30] So let me know in the comments below, if you can give situational eye contact with certain people and you are autistic because I love to test this theory because I’ve had, I’ve heard a few of you say this already. And so is there anybody else who can do that? Um, let me know.

[00:02:44] And then the other thing about eye contact, Is that a lot of autistic people? No. Huh? Fake it. Fake it till you make it right? Fake making eye contact.

[00:02:59] How does that happen? How do you fake eye contact? Well, my mother used to tell me when I was a very small little autistic person. Look at my notes. Look at my nose, look at my nose, look at my nose.

[00:03:12] She would tell me about all the time. And just to spite her, I would look at her eyebrows or her mouth that’s because I don’t like being told what to do. Uh, but really actually I look at people’s mouths more than I look at their eyes because I also have audio processing difficulties – differences – and I am not a good lip reader.

[00:03:32] But sometimes reading people’s lips, looking at people’s mouths gives me a little bit of a clue as to what someone may actually be saying in the event that I have completely misheard the words coming out of their mouths. Uh, but a lot of autistic people can do this. You know, they will be looking at your nose or your eyebrow or something behind you or your ear or your mouth.

[00:03:57] And they are not actually looking at you. They are just looking in your general direction and giving you fake eye contact.

[00:04:06] Let me know if you are a person and you do fake eye contact in the comments below because I don’t think I’m the only one who does this, either.

[00:04:14] All ofthis brings me to the other reason we shouldn’t be pushing so hard for eye contact or that eye contact may be something that autistic people are not giving in social interactions and during communications.

[00:04:29] Yeah. And that is a lot of us. We are visual processors. And at least for me personally, sometimes looking down is how I compose my thoughts or how I think and so I’m processing. And so I can be thinking and looking away and trying to process something, or I can be looking at you and looking like I’m paying attention while I’m not actually paying attention because I’m too busy trying to make contact with you.

[00:05:02] If I have to explain something that is not easy for me to explain or requires a lot of recollection, it’s not as noticeable here when I do these computer things. Uh, but you probably noticed, I like, kind of look off to the side. I look up, I do it a lot. I’m always like looking at all of these visual things in my visual thinking brain and I can’t do that and stare at a face a lot of the times or something that is distracting. I just need to kind of find a little place off in space, gather my thoughts and I, then I’m back – I’m back.

[00:05:37] So I don’t need to look at you to hear you. In fact, if I am hearing, because I am drawing mental pictures in my head, sometimes that can be very counterproductive because then I’m not able to think and process because I’m too busy looking at you instead of building the mental picture. I need to understand what’s being said.

[00:05:56] Guys, thank you so much for hanging out today and listening to this video, talking about I contact, let me know if you relate to any of these experiences or any of this is true for you as well as an autistic person.

[00:06:08] And of course, if you found this content helpful or useful, because that is always my number one goal is to make educational, useful content that brings value to your day. Please don’t forget to subscribe and share in case someone else might also find this content useful.

[00:06:23] I will talk to you guys next week. Bye .


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15 thoughts on “Can Autistic People Make Eye Contact?

  1. This is very true. Husband makes eye contact, but as he says to me, he has to make a conscious effort to remember to do it. He also has to remind himself to not do it for too long, but not too short a time either, as it all sends different signals to the other person. It’s a lot to remember!

  2. I’m in the other autistic group that can give way too much eye contact if I’m not careful.
    I try to look away every once in awhile to not make my interlocutor feel uneasy.
    It’s a dance that become strainful when conversations last too long as I spend a lot of attention on this rather then what we are talking about.
    When I’m in a very emotional state, making eye contact suddenly becomes unbearable.

  3. For me it’s either make “socially acceptable” eye contact or listen to the speaker. I can’t do both. I have partial hearing loss and have had since a child and have always relied on watching mouth movement to help understand the spoken word. When I discovered, there were rules about eye contact (I think at about age 7) I found I could fake it quite well by holding my head so that it appears I am looking at the eyes, but diverting my view so that the focus is on the lips.

  4. I learned to make eye contact and can do so briefly, steadily feels too much like aggression, both given and received except to the few really close in my family circle. I usually watch people’s mouths because i rely on that to help understand what is said ( I have both visual and audio processing struggles). I do believe many autistic people are capable of making eye contact and maintaining it in appropriate times and places. Like any other social interaction, it is not at least for me instinctive, and it is not easy. As we get older we learn to adapt and to cope. Diagnostic criteria for autism was written based on 8 year old males. Most of us have matured and adapted since then. I would bet the majority of autistic adults don’t “fit the mold”

  5. I have never been able to make direct eye contact. It derails any and all trains of thought I may have going and makes it almost impossible to attend to anything else.

    Growing up I had developed an interest in performing, which included our high school speech (some call it forensics) team. That’s where I learned the trick of looking at foreheads but that only works up within a certain proximity.

    I don’t even try to hide that I avoid eye contact now, not even with my friends.

  6. With friends and family I can maintain short bursts of eye contact. I look around the face, make eye contact, look around again… etc. When I go to buy groceries etc., I stand sideways on when speaking to the cashier and look forwards. When I have my gp or psychy appointments I wear dark glasses and either look down or over their shoulder. Eye contact makes everything more intense, even when talking about something not at all deep.

  7. I’ve never been able to make eye contact with alot of people. As you stated, it just feels SO PERSONAL. I work for a state agency here in Austin and the Director of my group would publicly call me out in meetings and DEMAND I make eye contact with him. I usually would take notes during meetings. Being forced to look at him made me feel incredibly uncomfortable to the point I couldn’t even HEAR what he was saying. a
    As a docent at a museum in Brownsville, Tx, a Supervisor would bend down to get into my line of sight because of this. All my life, Supervisors have felt I was a little shady due to the no eye contact thing. It’s so aggravating because most people don’t understand how it makes me feel.

  8. My Partner and I are both able to fake eye contact for periods of time to be socially acceptable. But, yes, it feels so personal. I’m lucky in that I’m short enough that I legitimately can look towards most people’s noses and they can’t quite tell that I’m not doing true eye contact. My Partner is right at that standard 6′ height that doesn’t get away with that as often. We don’t really even bother with it with each other. We could, but we don’t typically want to and don’t bother with pretense. In hindsight, I don’t think we ever did, which probably says a lot about how comfortable we were with each other given neither of us had recognized our neurodiversity when we first met. Zoom has rough. I end up at eye level with other speakers by default. I end up having to flip the Zoom screen over to a random other tabbed background just to get a break, but when I’m directly speaking in turns (and thus have to actually have the other person on screen or I’ll lose other social cues), being right there on level with their eyes is really uncomfortable, especially given I’m used to being short enough to just skirt eye contact. Ugh. Now I kind of want to write a blog post about Zooming while neurodiverse…

  9. To me eye contact is aggression if it lasts longer than a few seconds, I have no problem with fleeting eye contact but if I am speaking to you and I look intesely at you, take a break …….

  10. I Don’t Have A Issue Making Eye Contact In Comfortable Situations And With People That I Am Comfortable With But I Do Have A Issue Making Eye Contact In Uncomfortable Situations And People That Make Me Uncomfortable.

  11. To me, real eye contact sets off an uncontrollable loop of frantic thoughts. “They must think I’m staring!” “This doesn’t look natural!” “Red alert: Look away!”

    I can only maintain real eye contact for a few seconds before I have to break it.

    Several years ago a therapist taught me how to “fake” eye contact by looking at a person’s lips. This helps, because I also have trouble processing voice audio if there is any background noise. My brain does not prioritize voices.

    The problem with faking is that it puts me on alert, and I begin doing weird things like nodding too often. And I’m sure I seem like I’m staring.

    I’ve missed out on jobs that I was best qualified for because I didn’t give good enough eye contact. The owner of the company specifically pointed it out. I’m sure I missed out on connecting with others when I was single, because catching someone’s eye is so important.

    The western (particularly American) culture puts so much emphasis on eye contact. Some people think you are hiding something or being dishonest if you can’t look them in the eyes. It’s all nonsense.

    Many cultures believe that eye contact is too aggressive. Western culture is, of course, so arrogant that it rushes to judgment against anyone who is different.

    Years later, the company that rejected me for not making eye contact hired me for that same job. I left after three months for something better. Now I have a great job that I love, and it’s in a research environment where more tolerance is given to people with autistic traits.

  12. Thanks for writing about this – it raised my awareness on this subject.. Strangely, I found this by typing in in your search engine because I wondered whether you could make eye contact with your camera in your videos more, so that you make more contact with your viewers (I know many people do not do this on Zoom, so I realise I may be a lone voice). But now from reading this blog about eye contact, I realise that we (who are neuro-typical) may have to get used to the fact that some people do not want to make eye contact for neuro-diverse reasons.

    Thanks again!

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