Games that Inspire Natural Eye Contact 

Children learn so much by looking at our faces. At first they look because they enjoy our faces.  Later, they look to see what we are looking at and what we think.  This is called joint attention and provides an important foundation for language learning. 

                    Child and adult looking at each otherJoint attention while reading.jpg  

A child who is noticing where we are looking when we say a new word, will know what the word refers to. Eye contact is often impaired in children with autism spectrum disorders. It may be fleeting or almost non-existent. For children who are not looking as much, there are games that encourage them to enjoy and learn from looking.


  • The key is to find something your child would enjoy over and over again. Start the fun thing, and then wait for your child to look at you before repeating.  

  • At first you might have to wait a very long time, but your patience will pay off. Your child will get the hang of it and you will find you are not waiting as long for the looks.

  • It is very important not to tell your child to look at you. You’re waiting for your child to look at you because they are motivated to do so, not because they are told to do so. It is this natural motivation to look that we want to nurture. When we tell a child to look at us, we are not helping him learn to want to look at us. 

  • There are two different looks you might get during these activities. The first type is the look a child gives because something is really fun. Enjoy these looks and take the time to laugh together. These shared moments build a child’s understanding of the power and joy of interacting and communicating with people.   The second type of look is when the child looks at you to see when the fun thing will happen again.  This type of look is a powerful tool, because the child is looking at you for information – looking at you to learn about the world.  

Swinging Games 


  • Blanket swing:  In this game, the child lies on a blanket on the floor.  Two adults pick up two corners of blanket each and swing the child.  After a few swings, the adults stop swinging and wait for a look before swinging again.

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  • Swing:  The child is sitting on a swing.  The adult is facing child and holding the swing up and forwards.  Then the adult lets go and catches the swing when it comes back and waits for a look before letting go again. 

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  • Swinging in parent’s arms.  The parent swings the child, pauses, and waits for a look before continuing

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Hug, Squish and Tickle Games


  • Adult takes a pillow and squishes it gently on the child’s tummy one or two times and then waits for a look before repeating.

  • Hot Dog:  The child lies on a couch. The adult takes imaginary hot dog toppings and puts them on child using a pressure that the child enjoys.  After adding one or two toppings, wait for a look before continuing. 

  • Pigs in a blanket:  The adult rolls the child up in a blanket, and then unrolls and waits for a look before repeating.  

  • Fish song:  The adult sings, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, first I caught a fish alive.” Next, the adult grabs the child in their arms and holds on.  Then the adult sings “6, 7, 8, 9 10, then I let him go again,” and lets the child go.  The adult waits for a look before starting again. Alternatively, if the child really enjoys being “caught”, then you could pause after saying “5” instead, and only “catch” the child after he or she makes eye contact.

  • “I’m gonna get you”:  Adult says, “I’m gonna get you” and chases, tickles, or hugs the child.  Adult waits for a look before repeating.

  • Blow raspberries on hand, tummy or face.  Stop, wait for eye contact before continuing.

  • Tickle child the way he or she likes to be tickled.  Stop and wait for a look before continuing.

  • Round and round the garden like a teddy bear (circling your finger on your child’s hand), 1 step, 2 step (take “steps” with your fingers up your child’s arm)…. Pause for eye contact…. Tickle you under there! (tickle child’s armpit). 



Child sits in a computer chair that spins.  Adult spins the chair, stops the chair and waits for eye contact before spinning again


Funny Noises


Make a noise your child enjoys once or twice, and then wait for a look before repeating. Examples:


  • Fill your mouth with air and pop your cheeks

  • Sneeze

  • Trill your tongue

  • Smack your lips

Bouncing games


Bounce child on lap. Pause and wait for a look before continuing. The following songs are all great songs to add to this activity. 


  • Smooth Road to London Town

  • The Grand Old Duke of York

  • This is the way the ladies ride

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Songs and Rhymes  


In any of your child’s favourite songs, pause partway through and wait for a look before continuing.  These songs work well:


  • Row row row your boat

  • Raise hand up while saying:  “Pitter patter pitter patter pitter patter”. . . (wait for a look), Bring hands down, saying “Boom”

  • Zoom, zoom, zoom, we’re going to the moon (pause at the end of the countdown, before you lift the child up in the air)

  • If you’re not familiar with these songs, you can look them up on Youtube.

Walking and Running Games


  • Crash:  Take child’s hand and run and crash onto a couch.  Enjoy the moment together, walk back and wait for eye contact before running to crash again. 

  • Go go stop:  Say “Go” and run with child for a while.  Say “Stop” and stop running.  Wait for eye contact before saying, “go” and running again. 

  • Puddle jumping:  Put out mats or foam in a row and pretend they are puddles.  Take a step together to the first “puddle” and wait for eye contact before stepping together to the second “puddle”. 

Games with Toys


In games with toys, you can wait for eye contact before you take your own turn, and/or you can wait for eye contact before passing back the toy or passing the next toy. If your child needs help to make a toy “go,” then you can pause for eye contact before making the toy work (e.g., bubbles, spinning tops, balloons). 


  • Turn taking games: Pop up pirate, marble words, Ready set go, here comes the ball, zig zag racers, bubbles

  • Bubbles

  • Wind up toys

  • Spinning tops

  • Toys in a bag (cars puzzle pieces alphabet letters)

  • Tunnel

  • Balloons

  • Paper airplanes

  • Popper tubes

  • Crash the blocks 



For children who are difficult to motivate with social games or toys, you can wait for eye contact before passing each piece of a favourite food. While you're working on eye contact during snack and meal times, continue to expose your child to the games and activities described above. Some children on the spectrum may not like something the first, second, or even the third time they are exposed to something. According to these children, novelty is unpleasant. Therefore it is important to continue trying over the course of several days until the novelty of the activity has worn off, and your child starts noticing (and enjoying!) the predictability inherent in the games.

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