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Infant Development and Lack of Eye Contact

by Sharon Perkins , studioD

Looking deep into your baby's eyes helps forge a bond between the two of you for life. If your baby avoids direct eye contact consistently, it could both frustrate and concern you. All babies have times when fussiness or fatigue causes them to look away rather than at you, but if your baby doesn't meet your direct gaze after the age of 3 months, it could indicate a potential developmental issue or a physical problem that needs medical attention. Talk to his pediatrician about evaluating his vision, as well as his psychological development.

Early Eye Contact

Newborns prefer to look at a face that's looking directly at them. A baby usually looks at faces more frequently and for longer periods than anything else. While a newborn can look into your eyes, the ability to look for and hold another person's direct gaze normally begins around 6 to 8 weeks and should become evident by age 3 months, according to "Parenting" magazine.

Vision Concerns

A baby with vision defects often doesn't look straight at you; if your baby frequently looks in another direction when you speak, talk to his pediatrician about the possibility of vision problems. He might turn his head slightly, because he's using his hearing to track you rather than his eyes or because his limited vision allows him to see better in that position. For a mom, this might look like your baby doesn't want to interact, because he's turning away. While it's more difficult to interact with someone who's not looking directly at you, your baby needs social interaction with you to develop normally. Some babies with visual problems find it easier to look directly at people when lying on their backs rather than sitting upright, teacher Millie Smith of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired advises.

Psychosocial Concerns

Children on the autism spectrum often have difficulty maintaining eye contact; this tendency might develop at a young age. A Canadian study published in the April-May 2005 issue of the International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience studied infant siblings of autistic children, who have a higher risk of developing autism themselves. Infants who would later also receive a diagnosis of autism exhibited less interest in direct eye contact at 12 months. A Yale University School of Medicine study published in the January 2013 issue of Biological Psychiatry found that infants who later developed symptoms of autism spent less time looking at faces than typically developing infants.

Encouraging Eye Contact

You can't force your baby to look into your eyes, but what you can do is increase the opportunities for eye-to-eye contact under the right conditions. A baby who has been overstimulated by unfamiliar or increased activities might need to decompress; trying to force direct eye contact at these times will only frustrate both of you. Your baby is most likely to look into your eyes when he's in a quiet, alert state, not hungry, tired or fussy, Dr. Martin Stein, director of developmental-behavioral pediatrics at Rady Children's Hospital San Diego explains on the "Parenting" website.

About the Author

A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.

Photo Credits

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