Stories From the Heart: Eye Contact

I’d give anything for a glance in my direction.  I ache for it.  All my other children will look into my eyes when I speak to them, but he won’t.  It’s not by choice; he just can’t do it.  Although he isn’t blind, a neurological condition does make it difficult, if not impossible.

How easily we take for granted that simple, little gesture.  Yet, how significant its impact when it is lacking.  I was always told that as a good listener you must give eye contact and other appropriate body language to let the speaker know you are paying attention.  So, does that mean he’s not listening to me?  Probably.  Maybe.  And if the eyes are truly the “windows to our soul,” will my son never be able recognize or acknowledge the true essence of another person?

Some adults inflicted with the same, mild form of autism as my son have been able to articulate their position on this (allegedly) essential, non-verbal communication skill.  Their general consensus is that they can’t concentrate on what you are saying if they have to look you in the eye.  It’s almost painful for them.  But more than that, I imagine that they don’t really see the need for it at all.  Just because we don’t think they are listening doesn’t mean they aren’t.

Neurotypicals, as the rest of us are called, must come across as being a really self-conscious bunch, always needing affirmation and validation, both verbal and non-verbal.  It reminds me of a story of a mother who asked her teenage son with high functioning autism why he never tells her he loves her.  “I already told you when I was seven; my feelings for you haven’t changed,” was his response.

So, why do I need eye contact from my son to feel that we have a bond or connection?  It’s not his hang-up.  At school they are teaching him to look people in the eye when they speak to him, and God love him, he is trying.  Yet, sometimes it feels more like he’s looking through you, rather than at you.

So much pressure to put on such a small child who did not choose his Autism.  If I didn’t have my other three children who are capable of providing eye contact, would it be harder for me to accept my son’s limitation?  Would I be more desperate than ever for it?  Or would I be able to come to terms with it sooner, being that it would be all I’d ever known?

Parenting a child with special needs forces you to adjust your expectations.  This doesn’t always have to be negative, though.  I’ve learned that what is important for me as a mother is to let my children love me anyway they know how.  My oldest daughter has many ways of showing me love.  She is very affectionate and tells me constantly that she loves me.  We even butt heads frequently on many issues.  This, too, is another way she shows her love for me, as a measure of trust.  Even my two, young babies express their love for me.  They cry when they see me leave the house, and then show such excitement upon my return.

My son shows his love for me, too, in his own special way.  When I see him concentrating on his drawings or hear him laughing at his favorite cartoons, I know he is happy and, we are meeting his needs.  Although his speech is improving, he still can’t quite communicate with me in the typical way.  However, when he tells me the same knock-knock joke for the twentieth time in a row, I know he is sharing something important with me.  He wants to hear me laugh with him.  I know that he could have chosen to sit in his room, cocooning himself in his flannel Tigger sheet, with only his stuffed animals for companionship.  No, he has chosen to be near me, rather than disappear into his own world.   For this I am grateful.  Eye contact, or no eye contact, I love him too.

By Jen Warwick

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.