By Clara H
Recently, I posted a question on a Facebook group for those with Autism Spectrum Disorders. The question I asked was “What is something that seems obvious to Neurotypical (non-Autistic) people but is shocking to you?” So many people responded with great answers. I will try my best to talk about them all on my website. Starting off, this blog post will be focused on understanding eye contact and the ability to read emotions through ones eyes.
Apparently, Neurotypical people can tell how a person is feeling by looking into their eyes. Many people with ASD don’t know this. This is shocking to a lot of us because we don’t have that skill. Surely, there are Autistic individuals who can do this, but I cannot.
When I was told about being able to see emotion through eyes the whole eye contact thing made so much more sense. I’ve always thought eye contact was only a way to show respect. To me it’s just like looking into two marbles. I see no reason to make it with anyone because I don’t pick up any emotion from it.
This is what caused the whole stereotype about how Autistic people can’t feel empathy. When a document came out about this in the 1980s, it mentioned that we may not be able to recognize emotion because a lot of us aren’t able to tell how someone is feeling through their eyes. But of course some time later was shown to be inaccurate.
What a lot of us are capable of doing is reading emotion through people’s energy, especially if they’re being animated. We don’t always get it right, but we can get an idea of what they may be.
It can also be hard for NTs (Neurotypicals) to read our emotions. What we feel in our head and hearts does not translate to our face correctly. Because if this we tend to just have a blank look on our face We could be living in our own world or we could being staring into space if we are overwhelmed by a sensory overload. So, if you try to read emotion in our eyes you won’t get anything. This can cause NTs to pick up the wrong emotion and ask us if we are alright or can even lead to arguments.
I’ve also offended people by looking them in the eye at the wrong time. For some reason it’s rude to look at people when they aren’t talking, but polite when they are talking. That makes no sense to me. When I am talking to someone I will sometimes I hear the phrase, “look me in the eye”. People think I am not listening to them. Listening is done with your ears, not your eyes. Just because I’m not making eye contact with you does not mean I am not paying attention.
When having a conversation with someone, I usually watch their mouth because that’s where the words are coming from. Looking a person in the eyes seems very pointless and uncomfortable to me. It can feel physically painful. Some people say it makes their eyes water. For me, it makes them burn.
For Autistic people making eye contact requires a lot of energy. The only thought in our head when making it is, “look at the eyes, look at the eyes”. We might notice the color of your eyes, or that you have a little scratch in your eye, or your mascara is smudged. Never will we actually pick up all of what you are saying. We have to brake it so we can block out the sensory input coming from your eyes.
Because of this, avoiding eye contact is a way of preventing stress and anxiety caused by understanding small talk. We are already dealing with those challenges when having conversations. Making eye contact makes it even more complicated for us.
Researchers have found that you can actually recognize Autistic traits in infants by watching their eye movements. It’s proven that when a baby prefers to look at someone who’s talking that they have a strong connection with than someone they just met is talking, the baby has a good chance of having ASD.
Another thing is that it feels very awkward when people look at me when I’m talking even though I’m not looking back at them. I can still sense that they are trying to make it with me. This is worse when talking to a group because being the center of attention is scary. I don’t know how they can’t feel any pain from it. Many of us would appreciate it if you would look away for a few seconds every once in a while.
If a person on the autism spectrum seems to be having a good conversation while making eye contact with you, that would be a sign of trust. The more connection we have with you, the better eye contact we can make with you without feeling stressed.
Sometimes during a conversation when we are making eye contact we can keep it for too long. I did not realize until recently that it can be viewed as creepy if you look at one thing for over a certain amount time sense NTs move their eyes more than Autistic people do.
When I started looking around more someone told me that you can’t look around too much because it can make you look shifty. Especially if you’re in a meeting or a church or a school setting you can seem like you are up to something no good. I have grabbed attention to myself by doing this and people would look me up and down. But, I never knew what they were looking at. Those on the autism spectrum can’t seem to win at making eye contact no matter how hard we try.
This is kind of information is very important for those who have a person with ASD in their lives. You need to know why they have a difficult time understanding facial expression and making eye contact and the fact that this doesn’t come naturally too as so we have to think about each and every one of the steps.
A lesson for Aspies:
I did some research on how to tell what someone is feeling by looking at their eyes. One is when someone is squinting at you they may not like what you are saying. If a person is shielding their eyes, they are disturbed.
I also learned that you can tell how someone’s physical health is by looking at their eyes. If a person has tiny, red dots in their eyes they might have diabetes.
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