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Why 'Animation Glasses' for Autistic People That Try to Teach Eye Contact Are a Terrible Idea

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An engineering team at Brigham Young University has created a pair of glasses that display animations to potentially teach autistic children how to make eye contact. The inspiration behind these glasses came to mother Heidi Kershaw during a therapy session in which her child was struggling to do the therapy exercises while watching a cartoon. The idea is that once the child is engaged in the animation, it will turn a lower opacity and let the glasses wearer’s eyes shine through, thus encouraging the child to learn eye contact.

I wholeheartedly disagree with the intent behind these glasses. Eye contact is something I’ve struggled with my whole life. Countless times, I was told to look at someone when they speak. I always hated it. Eye contact, for me, hurts my soul. It is something that causes my brain to go into overdrive, wondering if I am doing it correctly.

One of my missions as a self-advocate is to ask why we have to do something a certain way. Why do I need to make eye contact? Why is it on me to use my precious energy, or spoons, to look at someone in the eye? Why can’t the neurotypicals rethink the way they do things?

I think this is a classic argument between the medical and social models. The medical model says that we, as autistics, need to change a core discomfort, such as eye contact, to fit in with the rest of society. The social model says that making eye contact is a social skill fabricated by the majority of society and maybe we don’t all have to agree with it.

I would compare it to teaching a dog to walk on its hind legs. It is a very unnatural and painful skill that has nothing to do with making the dog’s life more complete. How is reprogramming us to make eye contact any different?

I vote that we stop worrying so much about eye contact. I’ve learned to adapt. If me looking at your forehead or off to your side during a conversation makes you uncomfortable that sounds like something you need to work on, not me.

Header image via Motortion/Getty Images

Originally published: September 11, 2020
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