When I first learned that Caitlin had autism, I started reading. I bought a few books and looked up online resources. One of the books (I do not remember which one; it has been years and I have all of my books in storage at the moment, anticipating my upcoming move) talked about socialization and eye contact. Eye contact helps children with autism become more social, more affectionate, and more engaged. It gave techniques on how to gain eye contact, and this one worked for us: I would choose a toy she recognized, hold it close to my face, and had her look at me before giving her the toy. I turned it into a game with her--one she thoroughly enjoyed. I worked with her for a few minutes the first time, then about fifteen minutes, then a half hour. It wasn't long before she was looking me in the eyes.
An amazing transformation took place. I have video somewhere of her fourth birthday, and if I find it, I will embed it here, because it really shows how she was before I worked with her. She would not look anyone in the eye, only spoke in monotone, and had no expression of emotion whatsoever, In a matter of days, she was starting to smile, laugh, and express herself as best she could. She has a language delay; her vocabulary is huge, but her ability to hold a conversation isn't there. We communicate, but we don't converse. Still, she was showing positive emotion (and negative, of course), and even better, she engaged in affection. She always wanted me to hug her and hold her.
It's amazing to me how much progress she made, simply from getting her to have eye contact with me, and we formed a strong bond as a result. It also helped her bond with other people later, because she could get feedback on how they received her from the expressions on their faces, which she wasn't reading when she wasn't looking at them. How could she? We can often process emotion from tone of voice, but what did tone of voice mean to her? It was one more connection made, and it was huge.