Eye contact is an important way for parents to communicate with their child. But what if your child has a social or physical disability that makes this difficult or impossible? Will a lack of eye contact negatively influence their development? Children absorb the world around them and develop their ability to communicate using their visual sense. Children who are unable to make eye contact, due to developmental disorders or blindness, can learn to adapt to effectively build relationships.

How does eye contact affect a child’s development?

The majority of information we receive is initially processed through our vision. Although vision isn’t fully developed at birth, infants as young as 2 days old have been observed to show a preference for faces looking back at them. Dr. Nerissa Bauer, developmental paediatrician with You Doctors Online, says that eye contact is important for social–emotional and language development. In fact, studies have shown that eye contact leads to greater language skills by age 2.

“Visual development influences fine motor skills like picking up and manipulating objects,” Bauer says. “This eventually develops into writing and other activities that require hand-eye coordination.” Bauer says that beginning at birth, paediatricians will evaluate a baby’s vision and monitor it due to its close correlation to other areas of development. Certain eye problems can be an early sign of a neurological or systemic issue.

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Other factors affecting children’s eye contact

Within the past several years, there’s been an increase in the number of children being given phones and tablets at an earlier age. This exposure is causing a delay in children’s social engagement and eye contact because they’re constantly looking away to stare at a tablet or phone. To combat the social effects of excessive screen time, the American Academy of Paediatrics makes the following recommendations:

• Avoid screen time in children under 18 months of age, unless it’s video chatting.

• Choose high-quality programming for children 18-24 months and watch it with them to help them understand what they’re seeing.

• Children 2-5 years old should be limited to one hour of quality programming per day.

• Allow children equal exposure to social engagements without a screen in front of them.

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Source: All About Vision

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