Monday, December 21, 2009

Eye Contact - rethinking how we communicate with our kids

I came upon this post recently and it brought to mind some of the things that I've already been thinking about around here with Adam. I haven't had time to share since I don't post often but our little Adam, 4yo, has had speech delays and is in weekly speech therapy for the past 18 months.

When he was younger, I often worried about his lack of eye contact. I would constantly ask him to look at me while I spoke to him and he would constantly glance at me and shift his eyes away. He would look at others but not when he spoke (if he did at all) or when they spoke to him. And with rates of Autism in children increasing so exponentially these days, I was definitely concerned.

It wasn't until our wonderful speech therapist was working with him on a regular basis that she informed me that, especially in children with processing delays or fine motor problems, having to use both their eyes AND their ears to pay attention to us as we speak to them only makes it more difficult for them to process the information that we are giving them!  I was quite surprised  - I mean after all, we are all taught that direct eye contact is a good thing in communication, right?  I had just assumed that this is how we were to teach our kids to speak/listen to others.  This is the point that the post  at 'Beautiful Canvas' makes - our assumption may be wrong!

I felt like as soon as the therapist gave me new info on this, I understood his shifty eye contact right away.  He had tried to obey me but could not take in my instructions with both his ears and eyes at the same time.  And it seems that it is not unusual for both these developing parts of the brain, auditory and visual, to be delayed together - we were already aware of the auditory delays associated with his speech delay. 

Of course, I proceeded to test this out by leaning my head down to his ear and speaking instructions into his ear first, and only then, raising my head to ask that he looked in my eye to say "Ok."  In the bit it took me to raise my eyes to where he could look at them, he had time to process my auditory instructions and his responses improved immediately!! The amazing workings of our Creator God in child development never cease to amaze me and in this case I was immediately grateful for the wisdom He gave dh and I about making eye contact with our kids.

 I wonder, why is it that we think someone isn't hearing us if they aren't looking us directly in the eye?  Why do we expect our young ones, who are still developing their communication skills, to use both auditory processing and visual processing at the same time when 'listening' to us? Because that's what our parents expected!  Try to think about how difficult it can be when you are politely keeping eye contact with someone, but can't seem to remember what they said or process the correct response.  Don't know about you, but this happens to me all the time!

I am thankful to be constantly learning about how to grow my children....even if it means rethinking ideas that I've had engrained in me since my childhood!  I am determined not to remain clueless but to continue to educate myself for the sake of these beautiful kiddos!  Our next step: appt with a dr. specializing in pediatric visual processing to check for proper tracking and peripheral neglect.  And as we learn more, I'll keep you updated!


Monica said...

Thanks for sharing part of your story. It is so interesting and insightful. You obviously are doing a great job meeting him where he's at. Hopefully, this early start in treatment will open doors for him in his early development. I love the pictures- he looks like an absolute joy!

Becky @ BoysRuleMyLife said...

THANK YOU!!! I needed to read that!!! I, too, have a really hard time focusing on someone's eyes and listening. And a lot of the time when I start talking, my eyes shift off as well. I am a highly visual person and really need to concentrate while listening. My husband is just the opposite. He needs to really concentrate say, while reading. If I ask him a question while he's reading, he looses all track of what he's just read.

Very interesting info. It will certainly come in handy, I'm sure, with my speech delayed fella. :)

Kathy said...

I'm still getting caught up with blog reading after the last couple of busy months, but I just wanted to send you a quick THANK YOU!! for this post :) I try to tell people this all the time about our youngest and you are the first person I've seen that actually understands!

Our youngest has a mess of delays and learning disabilities. I do the same you described in your post: I talk to his ear, then have him respond if he understands. My little guy has sensory problems as well, so sometimes he can't meet my eyes after I speak to him because his sensory system is overloaded at the moment. I just expect him to nod and say "Yes mam", not look me in the eyes (which in itself can overwhelm an already overwhelmed sensory system!) and tell me. There are times he can look me in the eyes, but when he can't I've learned it isn't because of disobedience.

Sorry I'm babbling, I just get all excited when someone knows what I've been trying to tell people for years!! :)

Kathy D.