In this post we will be exploring ADHD eye contact, the concept of othering and some ways to improve eye contact.
When researchers measured the ratio of head to eye orienting response in adults with and without ADHD, they found that those with ADHD produced significantly more head orienting responses (but not different total or limbic) while performing an attention task.(Frost & Grossmith 1994)
This was interpreted to mean that those with ADD produce excessive amounts of activity during these tasks.
Eye contact is important for humans because it helps determine how receptive another person is during a conversation.
Making eye contact is also a way to convey competence. Avoiding eye contact, on the other hand, can convey deceit and untrustworthiness.Rachel Gillett
Did you read this 👆 statement, it’s what perpetuates the cycle that people who are ADHD that lack eye contact are somehow incompetent, deceitful etc…
Never the less, this is why eye contact matters
I admit the literal part of my brain needs to address this…so let’s break this down…
Table Of Contents
- 1 Eye Contact In The Neurotypical World
- 2 What is Othering anyway?
- 3 Why Do You Struggle With Eye Contact?
- 4 Tackling change
- 5 Eye Contact Shows Respect?
- 6 Strategies for Improving ADHD Eye Contact
- 7 How to not overthink it…
- 8 Tips To Help You Make Eye Contact Easier
Eye Contact In The Neurotypical World
Making eye contact the “right way” when you have ADHD is about masking.
You are taught to believe that you have to be like everyone else so that you can feel accepted.
One of the patterns I started to recognise from previous employers I worked for was this tendency to feel othered.
What is Othering anyway?
OK, so not all people.
Just people that didn’t fit in.
People like me who ‘wasn’t a good fit’.
Othering was part of the culture.
However, culture change won’t fix this pattern of behaviour as othering is not caused by one factor, but is a multifaceted number of factors that include:
- A lack of education
- Personal bias
- Economic instability
- Social influences
- Generalised beliefs
- Personal biases
This is why you as a person with ADHD must stop minimising yourself by trying to be invisible to fit in
Because it’s your difference that makes other people uncomfortable
And that Is more about them than you
Don’t get me wrong, it takes acceptance of self to be unapologetically visible
But as you know masking is tiring
And dimming your light won’t make other people shine brighter
Why Do You Struggle With Eye Contact?
There are many reasons for lack of good eye-contact when you have ADHD
I personally struggle with eye contact because I find that it is hard to think and look and someone at the same time, it helps me to process the question
The insights of Additude reader Tilly Hoyle who has ADHD who explained it well:
- A person with ADHD may be looking away to try and find words and to concentrate on what is being said (due to competing stimuli)
- Looking away when they are trying hard to maintain interest in the conversation (they probably know where the conversation is going, and/or are feeling impatient).
- Feeling distracted and unsettled (especially when the conversation doesn’t impact them).
- Something the speaker is wearing, or a physical trait can be highly distracting. A woman wearing an interesting necklace, cleavage, big shiny earrings, a beard, big eye-brows (especially with one sticking out at an odd angle), interesting coloured clothing with eye-catching designs, hats, beads, etc – can all send the ADHD person off down into the rabbit hole where they lose eye-contact.
One of the ways I have decided to change the way other people with ADHD eye contact is perceived is by asking some questions when I meet new people to dismantle and shatter beliefs and personal biases.
These are some questions that you can use for a person centred approach to communication;
How can I make your life easier when communicating with you?
If you’re being othered, here is how you influence your environment to create a safe space
- I like to communicate in short sentences when
I worked for never asked how I interact, it was this assumption that if I didn’t speak a certain way
Then I wasn’t friendly or approachable
Eye Contact Shows Respect?
With ADHD and eye contact, many people don’t feel this connection, since many people with ADHD don’t demonstrate interest or respect in the ‘traditional way’.
If you find that your mind and eyes are focused on some other thing during a conversation, the person talking may feel as though you (the person with ADHD) has no care whatsoever for them or the subject they’re talking about.
But as you know that is far from the case
Strategies for Improving ADHD Eye Contact
In an ideal world, the social etiquette shackles created by society would be broken.
People would be away of their unconscious bias and do the work to stop othering.
You would find spaces where you are safe to say this is how I show up.
This is what makes me feel like I have a voice.
However, if we adapt from a place of power rather than low worth, we can avoid feeling tired because you feel othered.
And instead feel energised that your eye contact strategy is about connection
So here are the strategies
1. Sticky Eyes
First, a simple trick to help with ADHD and eye contact involves a game of intense focus for 5 seconds while you speak.
I learnt this through years of public speaker training
People don’t remember what you say, but they remember how you made them feel comes to mind
So when speaking slow the breath
State your point
Focus on the person so your words land
And then move onto the next person
If you are speaking to a person online, then this next technique may work better
2. The nose technique
When someone is talking and making eye contact, try looking at the bridge of their nose instead
They will be none the wiser, and it will help you to improve focus
Do you know someone that can comfortably talk to anyone, anywhere?
I always like to use actors to study human behaviour, so if you are the same here are a few prompts when carrying out your own research when watching a film…
Where do they look?
How long does it take before their eyes move?
Where do they look after breaking eye contact?
Great eye contact starts before the conversation starts!
Looking in someone’s eyes 2-3 seconds as they come towards you can often give them assurance that you will listen to them and take their thoughts seriously (and can be very effective!).
Look down for just a moment after each shared glance, then back up again–this sort of “down
How to not overthink it…
Eye contact can be a form of communication – don’t use it as your only form of communication, here are powerful eye contact alternatives
Don’t feel like you need to make eye contact with everyone
Acknowledging someone else’s contribution is powerful, so nodding is also powerful
Pause when articulating your thoughts, it really helps you to stay grounded and another thing…
- I know you feel like people are judging you, but they’re not and even if they were other people’s judgement currency doesn’t pay for your happiness (take a judgement detox)
- Make eye contact with one person and smile at them
- Practice making eye contact in the mirror, mirror work will have a profound impact on how you see yourself and how you see yourself
- Don’t be afraid to meet new people – it’s a great way to overcome the inner critic!
- Seek out opportunities that will make you more comfortable being around other people (e.g., volunteering, hosting an event)
- Socialize with your friends or co-workers during lunch breaks by pencilling in 15 minute catch up sessions with at least one person once a week
Tips To Help You Make Eye Contact Easier
- Practice deep breathing exercises 5 minutes before an event or meeting
- Get rid of any distractions that would make eye contact hard, such as phones, computers, or TV screens
- Take care of yourself by eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep at night, so your tolerance level is high for the boring parts
Eye contact is a powerful social cue.
We’ve all felt the power of eye contact in some way or another and may have even struggled with it at one point or another.
It might be hard for you to make sustained eye contact, but fear not!
There are many strategies that can help you improve your skills.
With these tips on how to make better eye contact, we hope that things will get easier from here on out – for both parties involved.
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