One of the social graces that was ingrained when I was young was to look at the person who was speaking. If I was talking to several people, then I needed to make sure everyone was included in the conversation. It was important to acknowledge each person by glancing their way. This is not something that comes naturally and this social etiquette needs to be learned.
My daughter does not have good eye contact. Actually, she has very poor eye contact. Just as you can’t listen while you are talking, she can’t listen and look at the person speaking. These two brain processes just do not work together. The only exception to this is when she wants something like M&M’s. To be honest, I don’t know how much she is listening when I’m holding the candy, but she does know that if she looks at me eyeball to eyeball that she has my full attention. If she adds a smile, maybe a hug, then her chances of getting what she wants increases dramatically. However, when she says it on her talker and looks at me, it’s a done deal.
When my brother wanted something from my Mom, he would say “oh Mumsy-wumsy, I would really, really like….” and this softened my Mom to the point where she would say yes. Not an easy task once Mom had made up her mind. Jess may not say these words, but she is able to use her eyes to plead her case and she will use her talker to be specific.
Most people make the assumption that when Jess is not looking at them that she is not listening. Let me clue you in, she is hearing every word you say. If I can’t get her to look at someone, because it is overwhelming and uncomfortable, I am going to at least try and get her to stand next to the person till they are finished talking. I find this a bit annoying when we are out in public and she just flies by when someone is trying to make a point of saying hello. My close friends try to engage her, but it must be so disconcerting when she doesn’t validate them with an appropriate response. Maybe what I need to do is to get some ringers? Ask two or three people to say hello (not that they don’t already) and give them pointers as to how to have a successful conversation. Since she always has her talker with her, I’ll settle for her saying something sassy like “talk to the hand” instead of expecting eye contact. Back in the day, there were classes to teach children proper behavior. Maybe it is time to bring this custom back.
At our church, within the first ten minutes of the service, we are asked to greet the person next to us. This is my least favorite part, however, Jess seizes this opportunity to leave her seat and say hello. Over the years, it has been interesting watching her navigate the room. Remember, people often think that she is not “aware” because she does not look at them. However, when the Pastor says “please go say hello”, Jess does not hesitate to make a beeline across the room and find the people that had spoken to her earlier. It’s in these moments that she redeems herself. I love how she has such confidence in herself and I love how my church family embraces her. Initially, she was viewed as a disabled child. Now she is seen as Jessie, the pretty girl with an engaging smile.