Kids with social skills issues, such as those with autistic spectrum disorders, Asperger’s Syndrome, and some kids with ADHD are frequently instructed in the “rules” about eye contact. As a therapist, I think it’s important to use great care with this issue. There are reasons the neurotypical world uses eye contact: as an indication of openness, interest, paying attention, as well as to convey less friendly messages such as boredom or dominance. At the same time, there are plenty of good reasons why an individual may not be comfortable using the standard rules of eye contact. Just go online and read some of the blogs from adults with Asperger’s syndrome and you’ll find great discussions about how eye contact can feel threatening, distracting, or overwhelming.
For parents who aren’t sure what to do for their kids, I think the individual approach is best. Try talking to your child about it. See if you can figure out together if there are any problems due to eye contact or the lack of eye contact. Then it can be easier to come up with solutions. If your child can’t figure out when others have lost interest in his conversation, then learning to do an eye contact check-in may suddenly seem worthwhile, instead of an arbitrary rule made up by the neurotypical world. If your child is concerned with making friends but overwhelmed with the intimacy of eye contact, then learning to fake it may make sense. Practicing for a job interview or date may motivate some people.
Th real key is that the focus, for this and any other social skill, should be finding solutions to problems and issues, not on teaching children complicated sets of rules for how to act like everybody else.