JUL 01, 2017 01:32 PM PDT

Why Eye Contact is Difficult for People with Autism

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Eye contact is an important aspect of verbal communication. Yet, for some people with autism, the act of making eye contact is exceedingly difficult, and these people tend to avoid looking directly at another person in the eye. But this is not because people with autism are disinterested or indifferent. Rather, a new research suggests that avoiding eye contact is a stress coping mechanism.

"Contrary to what has been thought, the apparent lack of interpersonal interest among people with autism is not due to a lack of concern," said Dr. Nouchine Hadjikhani, a study co-author. "Rather, our results show that this behavior is a way to decrease an unpleasant excessive arousal stemming from overactivation in a particular part of the brain."

In short, eye contact causes quite severe distress in people with autism. Paradoxically, they look away to actually engage in the conversation because breaking eye contact relieves the anxiety.

"To me, eye contact feels like I'm being stared at, like I'm being scrutinized and judged. It makes me uncomfortable because I feel like I'm under immense pressure, and the tension builds and builds until finally I have to look away. It feels almost confrontational, which causes me a lot of anxiety. It's just too much pressure, and I can't keep eye contact for very long unless it's with someone I trust... But despite how my eyes may wander, or if I'm even looking in another direction, make no mistake; I am still listening, and I am still interested in what you have to say," said Emma Wozny, describing to The Mighty why eye contact is hard for her, a person with autism.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
SEP 09, 2018
Videos
SEP 09, 2018
Mass elephant poaching in Botswana
Ninety dead elephants have been found in Botswana recently, most large bulls whose tusks have been removed. Botswana has historically had a zero-tolerance...
SEP 11, 2018
Videos
SEP 11, 2018
Eat Mediterranean Food and Live Longer?
In southern European countries, the "Mediterranean Diet" is widespread and lauded as a healthy way to eat. It’s caught on all over the worl...
OCT 04, 2018
Videos
OCT 04, 2018
Cannabis and Its Fight Against Cancer
Cannabis is known to treat nausea and vomiting from cancer chemotherapy. Most recent studies have revealed that THC and other cannabinoids are able to slow...
OCT 08, 2018
Videos
OCT 08, 2018
What Is Brain Hacking and What Can We Do With It?
What exactly is “brain hacking?” Well, it sounds nefarious, but it’s actually about connecting the brain to external devices and monitors...
OCT 10, 2018
Space & Astronomy
OCT 10, 2018
OnSight Lets Scientists Study the Martian Surface with Virtual Reality
NASA’s Curiosity rover has been physically exploring the surface of Mars since 2012, but as it rolls along, it sends surface data back to scientists...
OCT 13, 2018
Videos
OCT 13, 2018
Why you shouldn't give a baby water
Did you know that babies shouldn't drink water before they are at least six months old? That's because, while human adults are composed of 55-60% w...
Loading Comments...