There are a number of milestones parents anticipate from the moment their child is born. Some come naturally, such as smiles and laughter. There are others that we have to spend hours teaching our children. For example, helping them bend their legs to crawl and then later, straightening them to walk. It can be exhausting, but the reward is well worth it. For a moment.
We get so thrilled the first time they crawl to reach a toy or walk toward us. Then, we realize that this has opened a door to endless messes and safety hazards. Suddenly, we wish they were infants again. The same applies to talking. We can’t wait for them to speak their first words. Not long after, we beg for silence.
Speaking was never an issue with my son. That’s always been a major challenge for him. He didn’t even say “Mom” until he was about 7 years old. I would have given anything to hear my son chatting endlessly in the backseat of my car.
One of our main focuses when my son was younger, was eye contact. Children with Autism typically struggle with making and keeping eye contact. As much as we take this simple task for granted, it’s a very important element in conversation. For children, it’s also crucial for understanding the emotions of others and for learning in general.
My son, like most children with Autism would rarely make eye contact. Along with his therapists and teachers, we worked diligently with my son teaching him this concept. It took years to get him to do this. Finally he did! Then, his eye contact made a turn for the worst. He became obsessed with eyes.
He used to go through phases. He would develop odd quirks that would last for about 6 months or so, then they would practically vanish overnight. So when he developed his obsession with eyes, I wasn’t too concerned knowing that the phase wouldn’t last long. I was wrong. This phase was one for the record books, lasting a little over 3 years.
His favorite word became “eyeball”. He would frequently sit himself directly in front of people and deeply focus in on their eye. If that wasn’t unnerving enough for the person under his close surveillance, he would then slowly repeat the word “eye…ball” over and over. If they weren’t brave enough to walk away before I reentered the room, this could go on for several minutes.
The eye contact we wanted him to have, ended up becoming a fairly serious issue. He couldn’t look at anyone without obsessing over their eyes. He got pushed around in school and the teachers constantly called with complaints. At home, it got to the point where I would try to avoid direct eye contact altogether.
We would tell him constantly that looking someone in the eyes was important, but intently staring at them while repeating the word “eyeball”, was unacceptable. Of course, we said it in a way that he would understand. From discussions to disciplinary actions, nothing we tried worked. His obsession continued.
Finally, I came to the conclusion that getting him to stop was not going to happen. So I went a different route and decided to support him in his eyeball obsession. I began filling his world with eyes, thinking that he would either get so tired of them that he would never say “eyeball” again, or he would become an ophthalmologist.
Posters about how eyes operate and how to care for them, were put up around his room. Books on vision were bought, placed on his desk and read frequently. Videos were constantly being played, showing eye surgeries and the processes in which the eye sends signals to the brain. It was all very interesting.
Most importantly, it worked! After a couple of months, his obsession was gone. Fortunately, his ability to make eye contact didn’t go away with it. He continues to make excellent eye contact and now does it in an appropriate manner. No longer does he freak people out by following them around, repeatedly chanting “eyeball”.
Even though this obsession was extremely frustrating and lasted way too long, two good things came from it. First, making eye contact is no longer a struggle for him. Secondly, he’s learned a great deal about eyes, which could lead to a future career. Even if it doesn’t, he still knows more about eyes than most people do.
Aside from being educated on eyes, I too learned something from this experience. We get what we ask for and sometimes it doesn’t go as planned. So when we ask for something, we better be ready to receive it.