Autism symptoms: Study delves into why lack of eye contact is often a symptom of condition
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Autism is a complex, lifelong developmental disability that typically appears during early childhood and can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships, and self-regulation. The condition is also prevalent in some adults with a lack of eye contact being one of the major signs. A study looks deeper into why this symptom occurs in autism sufferers.
If a person displays a lack of eye contact it could be an early symptom of autism.
Those suffering with autism is often less likely to look directly at another person’s eyes.
This suggests they are less engaged with others or less responsive to people in general.
However, it’s important to note that having a lack of eye contact isn’t as simple as it seems and can occur for a number of different reasons.
One theory regarding autism and a lack of eye contact is that the sufferers are indifferent to it.
Alternatively, they may avoid eye contact because it is uncomfortable or aversive.
Many autism therapies encourage adults to make eye contact thus helping to determine whether this is the right approach, it is important to understand whether clinicians are teaching people with autism to pay attention to something that doesn’t interest them or forcing them to do something that makes them uncomfortable.
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In a study published in Science Direct, autism and avoiding eye contact was investigated.
The study noted: “Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often find it difficult to look others in the eyes.
“This avoidance has typically been interpreted as a sign of social and personal indifference but reports from people with autism suggests otherwise.
“Many say that looking others in the eye is uncomfortable or stressful for them — some will even say that “it burns” — all of which points to a neurological cause.
“The key to this research lies in the brain’s subcortical system, which is responsible for the natural orientation toward faces seen in new-borns and is important later for emotion perception.
“The subcortical system can be specifically activated by eye contact, and previous work by Hadjikhani and colleagues revealed that, among those with autism, it was oversensitive to effects elicited by direct gaze and emotional expression.”
“The findings demonstrate that, contrary to what has been thought, the apparent lack of interpersonal interest among people with autism is not due to a lack of concern,” says Dr Nouchine Hadjikhani, director of neurolimbic research in the Martinos Center and corresponding author of the new study.
“Rather, our results show that this behaviour is a way to decrease an unpleasant excessive arousal stemming from overactivation in a particular part of the brain.”
ADA Autism list the other warning signs of autism which include:
- Delayed speech and communication skills
- Reliance on rules and routines
- Being upset by relatively minor changes
- Unexpected reactions to sounds, tastes, sights, touch and smells
- Difficulty understanding other people’s emotions
- Focusing on or becoming obsessed by a narrow range of interests or objects
- Engaging in repetitive behaviour such as flapping hands or rocking
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