Eye contact

I haven’t said much on the topic of eye contact but its a hotly debated issue when talking about autism. When I worked for an ABA company I was made to force the children I worked with to make eye contact with me and keep data on it. As an autistic person, I sat down with my supervisor and just briefly told her that I felt forcing children to make eye contact was unethical. She listened and thank me for my input but explained that if the parents wanted us to work on eye contact we were contractable obligated to to so. It was also a part of the company’s curriculum. So when I worked with the kids I told them that if they didn’t like making eye contact they could look between someone’s eyebrows or at the bridge of their glasses if they wore them. People see that as appropriate eye contact and its what I’ve done for years. Some autistics describe eye contact as painful or that they feel they are going to lose some part of themself when making eye contact. “Problems” with eye contact are a hallmark of the “social defecit” model of autism.

So here’s my experiences with eye contact as an autistic. I was often told “Look me in the eye” as a child. Its an awful demand and I learned the trick of looking close to the eyes but not actually at them early on. I don’t feel physical discomfort making eye contact but I see it as pointless. I get absoluetely nothing from making eye contact. A person’s eyes tell me absoluetely nothing. I get no ideas about a person’s emotional state when making direct eye contact. I do find it distressing because its taking away from what I really need to do when talking to someone. I study a person’s face and body to help me figure out what they are feeling. I’ve learned some short cuts to body language over time and prefer to look at a person as a whole when interacting socially. When looking at a person’s eyes I mentally obsess about what I’m missing by not looking at the person as a whole.

I like to look at people’s eyes briefly because eye color is so different from person to person and I love all the different hues. But that’s all I get from looking at a person’s eyes. Nothing else. The eyes tell me nothing. So I dislike having to maintain direct eye contact. That’s just my experience but the more info known the better autism in all its variety can be understood.

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And-INTRO-

I am an autistic adult. I was diagnosed with autism ten years ago while I was an undergraduate student. I’ve worked with many children with autism since I was diagnosed but the only autistic adults I know of are those who have written books. I know no adults with autism personally. I used to work for a company that provides ABA therapy for children with autism but no one there had met or worked with an autistic adult. This became clear to me very quickly. They had no idea how to accommodate my disabilities and had no mental framework for how an adult with autism functions. While I worked for them I came to realize in a very acute manner that no one has any idea what to do with autistic adults who can generally get along in the world with enough success to not be noticed as they struggle.

It seems that autism ends when a child with a nominal IQ and sufficient self care skills leaves the public education system. But that’s  not true for the parents or the individuals with autism. I can’t offer any impressions as a parent as I do not have (and will never have) children. I can speak for my own experience. There are commonalities with the experiences of other adults with autism but everyone’s autism is unique. What I relate isn’t gospel or evidence based. Its just my anecdotal experiences. I may not have been diagnosed until I was in my twenties but I knew something was very wrong with me as early as six years old. I was different in some way I couldn’t pinpoint and no one else seemed to know what it was either.

I was fortunate to go to a university that offered great psychological services for students. I’m even more fortunate to have a long time friend (one of very few) who helped and continues to help me understand myself and how to function in this world that is not built for me. I’m fortunate that medications help with some of my comorbid conditions. What I hope for from this blog is to help people realize that while I am out in the world I am very much apart from it. I hope that the world comes to know the struggles of adults with autism. I hope both sides can come together so that as a new generation of children with autism become adults their struggles can be understood and hopefully remediated.

That’s all for now. More to come soon.