In the words of someone who can express his difficulty with this, here’s why:
“I am letting you know about eye contact. My eyes see very well. Most people seem to need to have to look long and hard to make sense of a picture. I can take in a whole picture at a glance. Each day I see too many little petty details. I look away to not get overwhelmed by a lot of little bits of information. I watch things that a teacher or person I listen to tells me to watch. This helps me concentrate on what I should be focusing on. I can search for a teacher’s voice to try to focus on. I am academically learning best when I sit side-by-side with a teacher. A seat on the side keeps me focused on your voice and not on visual distractions. I am assessing many sounds too. I have to erase some stimuli to access my answers to people’s questions and meet their demands. That is why I don’t make eye contact. I am always listening. I listen a lot to voices. I so love when people talk to me and are not talking like I am not there. I am active because I am unable to feel my body well. People think I am being rude but I can’t help it. I need to move to feel my body, but sitting down at least helps me not walk away from you.”
Naturally the interest in trying to cultivate eye contact, particular among children on the autistic spectrum, is that there are so many cultural affordances tied to the significance of it – at least in most Western cultures. There are even apps for that.
Paul Constable, a Melbourne-trained optometrist who has been very active at City University London in studying visual pathway disturbances in Autism, relocated to his Aussie roots and just published an article in Documenta Ophthalmologica implicating downstream differences in processing at the retinal level recordable through the ERG. This is intriguing not only because the retina might serve as an index of sorts for objective biomarkers of ASD processing in the central nervous system early on, but might help us understand processing differences revealing hidden intelligence in the eyes.