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Gaze aversion beneficial for autistic kids

eye to eye

Children with autism are encouraged to look people in the eyes, something they typically have trouble doing. Now researchers are finding that when an autistic person is concentrating, they need to look away to process especially challenging information.

This is not unlike every other person who looks away when asked difficult questions. In fact, gaze aversion has been proven to improve accuracy of responses.

Gaze aversion improved results

Prof. Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon, Associate Dean for Research in the School of Life Sciences in Northumbria University conducted a unique study where she asked 20 children with autism and 18 with William’s Syndrome (associated with hyper sociability) to perform mental math tests. Both groups employed gaze aversion while solving problems and increased the time they looked away as the difficulty in math equation increased.

Doherty-Sneddon explained,

“Although social skills training is important in encouraging eye contact with children with autism, this research demonstrates that gaze aversion, at a certain point within an interaction, is functional in helping them to concentrate on difficult tasks.”

Looking into eyes can interfere with problem solving

In fact, looking into a person’s face while trying to retrieve information from memory or work out complex problems can interfere with the processing of information. Faces are complex by their nature and demand attention when we look at them. Gazing into a human face distracts from problem solving.

“This research will have a major impact in terms of the way teachers interact with these children. When teachers or parents ask a child a difficult question and they look away, our advice would be to wait to allow them to process the information and focus on finding a suitable response,” concluded Doherty-Sneddon.

Source: ScienceDaily, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry

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