I’ve had so many people tell me I can’t possibly be autistic because I make such good eye contact.
I’ve spent the last thirty something years studying faces and social cues. I make eye contact because it’s expected. I’m a fairly adept mimic. Sometimes my entire life feels like an act.
It doesn’t come easily. I’m always worrying that I’m over doing the eye contact. Other times I don’t want to even look at people because reading faces is so much cognitive work for me.
I have always taken jobs where I don’t have to deal with the public. I worked as a staff artist and designer for newspapers for over a decade. Sales people and managers would give me work. I had a workflow and written documents to rely on and I could often work independently.
Now I work with dogs because the hours are flexible enough for me to take care of my son without relying on childcare.
I end up interacting with customers more now than I ever have. Luckily, I have the distraction of the dog to focus on.
I often feel odd or lacking in communicating with the owner of the pet. There are many times that I don’t even look up at their face if I don’t have to.
Its just easier. I can read the dog’s body language with ease. People, though, their faces are complex filters of emotions. There is so much that people are expected to read at a glance, and most days I just don’t have the energy to spare for processing a stranger’s expressions.
It takes a lot of processing. So does talking and responding to physical and verbal cues. If I don’t look at a face, I don’t have to process it. I don’t get bogged down. I can listen to words, do what is needed and move on to the next task.
I also have face blindness or Prosopagnosia, and trouble remembering names. I don’t remember a lot of people, especially out of context.
Names can often just draw up blanks like that for me. I know I’ve offended and irritated people by not remembering their name, or even the more subtle details, like how to spell their name. Details like that just don’t stick, especially when my mind is so busy processing so many other things.
It’s not just normal forgetfulness either. It’s been a lifelong issue that I have struggled with despite efforts to change.
For example, I couldn’t remember a boy’s name in our Cub Scout Pack. I was recently asked to be our Pack’s Scout Master, so I must not be entirely incompetent. This boy has been with us all year. I’ve called him by name a number of times. But I couldn’t remember his name or his father’s name. And we are a very small pack.
Recently, I realized I couldn’t remember the dog breed name, Papillion no matter how hard I tried, despite having talked about it the day before with my boss, despite knowing the name meant butterfly and came from Marie Antionette calling her dog her petite … something. I even knew it started with “p.” And yet, the name was just a blank until I looked it up.
These probems with recall, with a slow processing time are a regular occurrence for me.
I don’t forget because I don’t care. I’m not trying to be rude or disrespectful.
My mind is wired a little differently than the more social of our species. Some people are wired for socializing, names, faces, people, networking, and all of that comes to them as easy as breathing. This is not the case for me.
And yet, in a world where I’m told my social skills are lacking, it often seems to me many people lack the most important social skill of all. Compassion.
Compassion, patience, acceptance and understanding matter to me far more than names, labels, or all the social niceties in the neurotypical world.