Autism advocates correctly point out that many autistic individuals find eye contact aversive. Yet many teachers expect students–with or without autism–to look them in the eye when they teach.
It’s true that visual attention is essential to learning, but what’s essential isn’t looking into the teacher’s eyes.
Rather, what’s essential is looking at what the teacher is doing or pointing to or talking about.
As I elaborate this archival Out in Left Field post, I have much respect for the KIPP schools‘ principle of SLANT (Sit up, Listen, Ask and Answer Questions, Nod, and Track the Speaker). All of these things help you stay alert and pay attention. But the one thing I’d clarify is that “Track the Speaker” should only require tracking what the speaker is talking about; not what their eyeballs are doing.
Looking at someone’s eyeballs can be useful: it’s one way to figure out what they’re looking at and talking about. But looking at eyeballs is just one learning tool, and for some people, it can interfere with the learning process rather than enhance it.