Eye-gaze (also known as eye-pointing) is the act of using one’s eyes to direct or redirect the attention of another person.
Again, this strategy, if a match for a student’s needs, skills and existing strategies, can further expand a multi-modal communication system.
Eye-gaze is not always obvious. Eye-gaze is a ‘quiet’ communication strategy. Its naturalness and simplicity can also make it easy for partners to miss. This is another reason why communication partners need to be tuned into each student and all his/her communicative behaviors.
Effective eye-gaze requires participation of both the student and the communication partner. The student fixes his/her gaze in the direction of the intended message. The communication partner must first be paying attention to the shift in eye-gaze. After following the student’s gaze, the partner should check in to make sure that (s)he is tuning into the correct target. The student may use a target literally or symbolically. Literal use of eye-gaze utilizes the current environment to communicate messages related to the present. If the student wants to listen to music, (s)he might look at the stereo. If (s)he wants to go outside, (s)he may look at the door. Symbolic use of eye-gaze utilizes things in the current environment to represent things and events in other environments or abstract concepts such as feelings and opinions. This often requires shared background knowledge. For instance, a student may look at the tires on his/her wheelchair to initiate a favorite topic – his/her brother’s new sports car. Or a student may always look toward wooden furniture to indicate that (s)he is bored (wood = board).
Trevor looks over at his classmates at the story center to indicate his interest in reading a book instead of playing with the train. His teacher follows his gaze and checks in to make sure he understands Trevor’s intent.