"My Aspergers child rarely makes eye contact with people other than immediate family. Our neighbors have even made the comment that my son appears to ignore them when they have attempted a conversation, and now they have pretty much stopped trying to engage him. Should I insist that he look people in the eye when they are talking to him, or just let it go?"
While it's not a good idea to force a child with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism to "look people in the eye" during conversations, there is certainly something to be said for teaching the child a few social skills so that he's not perceived as being rude. Giving the speaker some indication that you are listening is simply the polite thing to do, and your son needs to understand this.
Children with Aspergers generally don’t have the innate ability to exchange eye contact or use appropriate facial expressions when interacting with others. This can make them seem odd when interacting with both adults and their peers. Some of the way they interact with others can cause teasing or other behaviors that cause the Aspergers child to feel lonely or left out of the conversations of others. Aspergers children often can tell that something is wrong with their interactions with others, and their self-esteem can suffer as a result.
Fortunately, these children are usually very intelligent and can be taught things that otherwise wouldn’t come naturally. In other words, social skills training directed at specifically teaching the child to use proper eye contact and facial expressions is possible, and often works very well in helping improve the child’s self-esteem.
This kind of training is generally very concrete and explicit. Some general psychotherapists can do this, but those who deal with Aspergers or occupational therapists as part of school or a clinic can teach the Aspergers child the techniques needed for greater social acceptance and a secondary greater self esteem. And of course, parents are in a great position to teach these social skills as well.
Because these things don’t come naturally to children with Aspergers, they learn things like when to smile, laugh, or use facial expression in the same way they learn facts and figures in school. They learn through instruction and role play, and the skills may need to be reinforced as the child ages.
These skills go a long way toward the advancement of these children in their lives and in society. It can make the difference between being a "disabled" individual (unfair label that the Aspergers child often receives) versus "a kid with a few quirks."