Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Teaching the Social Skill of Eye Contact to Children: Twin Sisters Speech & Language Therapy Guest Post

I'm 6 days into the mother in law's visit.  The dog has only escaped twice.  I couldn't start the grill and my son has been a little precocious with his rhyming abilities.  The weather has been fantastic.  I'm  enjoying time with her and my family.  In the meantime, Manda, from Twin Sisters Speech & Language Therapy, has offered to guest post today.  She has some fantastic ideas for teaching eye contact to children.  She even has a great freebie for Speech2u readers.  Thank you Manda!!!

If you like what you read, you can find more of Twin Sisters Speech & Language Therapy here:  

Teacher's Pay Teachers

Hello, this is Manda Riebel, M.A.-CCC-SLP, from Twin Sisters Speech & Language Therapy.  Today I am happy to say that I have been granted the chance to guest post at SPEECH2U! I plan to share some information with you all about teaching the social skill of eye contact to children. I will discuss the benefits of teaching better eye contact and provide some disclaimers associated with teaching the skill to some student populations. I will then follow that discussion with the therapy tips that I have gathered and used over the years on how to help increase eye contact in a therapy session. Last but not least, I will be sharing a FREEBIE document in order for you to work on increasing eye contact with your own students!
I hope that you find this document featuring the answering of “WHAT”, “WHERE” and “WHO” questions both purposeful and fun for working with your own children or students on the targeted pragmatic communication skill area of eye contact.
What are some of the rules of the social skills area of conversation?
There are several areas to address when teaching the social skills area of how to correctly participate in a conversation with others.  To start, students must know about the need to take turns in conversations, the need to introduce topics of conversation, the need to stay on topic, the need to sometimes rephrase their words when misunderstood, the need to sometimes use verbal and nonverbal signals, the need to stand close to someone when speaking, and finally, the need to use facial expressions and eye contact during the conversation.  So, you see, there’s a lot of “rules” that must be followed in order to have a successful conversation exchange and eye contact is just one area to address when teaching the social skill area of conversation exchanges. 
What are some benefits of teaching eye contact?
The child will appear to be listening better to the person who is talking to them.
The child will appear to care more about what is being said to them.
The child will demonstrate active listening skills that may increase their attention to the task. Increased attention to task has been shown to increase a student’s ability to hear and to take in new information.  As a result, they may learn new things quicker and will be able to follow directions in a more timely manner.
The child will learn a skill that will be needed all throughout their lives as appropriate conversational exchanges will be needed on a daily basis (e.g., at work, at school, with family and friends).
What are some things to know before teaching eye contact?      
Eye contact can increase anxiety in certain individuals because it is a personal communication exchange.
Some children with autism or social communication disorders such as selective mutism may not be ready to work on direct eye contact.  These children may find that the treatment goal of needing to look into someone else’s eyes as being too intense or uncomfortable.  In fact, one child that I saw in therapy with Autism told me that looking at other people’s eyes is too overwhelming and uncomfortable for him to do.  He thought that the requirement made him “burn inside”.   As a result, I definitely knew he was not ready for a direct eye contact goal, so we worked on just looking in the general direction of the therapist and not my face.
It may be much easier to work on eye contact initially with small children by getting down on their level.  That means that we should play on the floor with the child while they are playing with their toys.  When they are playing with a toy that they enjoy they will be more comfortable and ready to start a new therapy goal.
What are your eye contact teaching tips?
1)    Direct the child to your face by raising a toy that the child likes up to the side of your face, or right below or on top of your eyes.

2)    Reward eye contact with praise as soon as you see it happen.  E.g., “Great job looking my way!”  Also, the therapist could reward the child with something that they like.  E.g., use small stickers, or one piece of candy like M & M’s. Positive interactions help with carryover of learned behaviors.

3)    If the child is too uncomfortable to work on direct eye contact, change your goal to have the child look in your general direction instead of the floor or wall by them, or at a less message giving intense area of your body such as your forehead, right or left ear, or mouth.

4)    Use fun animal and people puppets.  Hold the puppets up near your eyes and practice conversational exchanges with the child using the puppets.  This is fun!

5)    Wear something interesting to attract the child’s attention your way.  E.g., silly looking eye glasses, a funny tie around your neck, or even put a funny sticker or temporary tattoo on your nose or cheek!

6)    Watch social videos together.  Any video where people are making a conversational exchange would be good.  YouTube is always a nice place to find free videos to be used for social skills sessions.  Just make sure to review the video prior to using it in therapy as the videos on YouTube are not always free of inappropriate behavior or words. Point out the positive things that you see in the video.  E.g., how the people are looking at each other, how they are answering each other’s questions, how they are enjoying each other’s comments etc.

7)    Let the child know that you are actually working on the goal of eye contact and that you are encouraging them to do the activity at least 10 times during your session. When a child “owns” their goal, they are usually more likely to try to complete it.

8)    Be a good role model for the child.  When you first see the child, make sure to look into their eyes to say, “Hello” and to look at them when saying “Good bye” at the end of the session.  Also, model good conversational exchanges when greeting their parents or teachers.

9)    Talk about the positive things that come out of having good eye contact skills.  E.g., how they will look more interested in what other’s are saying, how they may be able to hear things better the first time and as a result be able to follow directions and learn things quicker, and lastly, how the skill will be a wonderful one for them to have all throughout their lives to help them make friends.

10) Practice eye contact using dolls and animal toys.  Put two toys next to each other and practice conversations with the animals or people and say things like, “Look how they are facing each other”, “Wow, they are watching each other’s eyes”.

11) Introduce the skill of looking into eyes by downloading the iPad app by Goetella called, “Eye Contact Trainer“.  It is a wonderful app that shows 23 random faces for 2 to 9 seconds at a time.  The child is asked to glance at the face shown to identify a shape that appears in the eyes of the people. I also like the, “Eye Contact Toy box” and the “Eye Contact- Zoo”; both are by Fizz brain LLC and can be found in your app store.

12) Mark up magazines by having the child circle the eyes of people in pictures.

13) Practice eye contact outside of the therapy room when they are ready.  First start with simple greeting exchanges with familiar people and then move onto conversational exchanges that you have practiced in the therapy room.  The child could practice these with their awesome eye contact skills first with a close friend, or relative and then later with a teacher or other student.

I hope that you may find some of these tips helpful.  Please let me know if you have any comments or questions. I can be contacted at: shandagaunt@gmail.com.  Also, my sister and I welcome a visit from you to our Twin Sisters Speech & Language Therapy blog or face book page.  Thank you for reading this post and a big thank you to Kelly for the opportunity to post at her wonderful blog!

P.S. Don’t forget to download the FREEBIE document featuring Mr. Eye Contact Owl.  Click here to download.

Manda Riebel, M.A.-CCC-SLP 

1 comment:

olkowskiscanlon said...

LOVE THIS POST! Some many fantastic recommendations. Going to try #11 and #12 with one of my clients :)

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