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Eye Contact

When it comes to making eye contact, there's one hang-up that often needs to be taken into account. Autistic brains like ours have a hard time multi-tasking; and that means that when I look someone in the eye, I often can't concentrate very well on what they are saying. That's a problem--I care about what they're saying and I want to listen to it!

So, for me, the solution to the eye-contact issue was--believe it or not--to avoid eye contact. Well--not completely avoid. What I did was to train myself to look in the direction of the other person, rather than making actual eye contact. That way, the (usually neurotypical) conversational partner can read my face and my eyes, but I'm not distracted by theirs. It's a good compromise that makes understanding and participating in conversation a lot less cognitively taxing.

I don't know whether this is useful for everybody. Probably not; autism is so very diverse! For me, it's the best solution because I get the most information from another person's speech rather than their body language; and I read whole-body posture better than I read facial expression. So, to get the most information, I need to concentrate on the speech and its inflections. I'm very fond of music and somewhat talented, so I use a lot of my knowledge about music to understand speech. Whole-body posture is also easier for me, maybe because it's slower and larger, or maybe because (feel free to laugh) I learned how to read body postures from my cats! So, if I face in their direction and concentrate on their speech, I get the optimum amount of information.

After all, the point of communication is to get information from Brain A to Brain B. What does it matter if your strategy is a bit atypical?

Comments

I don't really like making eye contact myself since I would rather focus on what someone else is saying rather than their face.

(Anonymous)

Eye contact creeps me out. It's not so much distracting as I feel awkward--I feel like I'm being examined. Some people I'm fine with (took a while to get comfortable with looking my husband in the eyes, and young kids and animals don't bother me), but even so it's not a habit.

(Anonymous)

I think that I understand. I often tell people that I think and feel in the abstract and if they bare with me, I will find my way back to the point of a discussion. Accepting that I speak in non-sequitur also has helped in conversations with people I interact with regularly, like in school.

Don't know how it is with intimate relationship. I have been at odds with Nebraska almost since I have arrived, so if that sample is representative, then I guess I am not doing well! Que sera..!

Mark
I tend to watch people's lips - it has the benefit of giving me even more information about what sounds they're making if I'm having a trouble-processing-sounds day.
I usually wind up staring in someone's general direction too. The SCA (my main social group) attracts a lot of Aspies and borderline Aspies, most of whom do something similar, which has led to my boyfriend dubbing this "staring at someone's left earlobe."

My problem with eye contact is slightly different: I'm in an acting class and the acting teacher is *really* into eye contact, no matter how much I try to explain to her that I really can't remember my lines while doing it. She wants me to take off my glasses (because they're a layer between the eyes and the audience) and make direct eye contact. I can manage that kind of eye contact for all of thirty seconds before I have to cover my eyes.

Now I'm musing on the related concept that they seem to value the appearance of paying attention more than actually paying attention, since it's rude not to look like you're paying attention by looking at someone but it's my experience that they don't care as much whether you actually absorbed any or not, as long as you're looking at the person.

My eye contact

I have been trying to pay attention to my eye contact that last few months to see how I do with it and have observed that I rarely make eye contact when I am speaking, especially if I am sharing a story or answering a question that requires me to think.

I actually do better with it when I am listening to someone, although if I start thinking about it, I can become distracted by their eyes or their face and miss part of what they are saying!
Well... I find two things can happen if I try to maintain eye contact.

1) I creep others out because I stare too hard. Yes, this can happen because I'm staring too intensely at them, but can remember every word they say when I do this. Unfortunately, it is not an option to use for anyone but intimate relationships.

2) If I maintain eye contact without the intensity, I lose track of the conversation too, and often I'll slip my eyes down and end up staring at their lips because of my auditory discrimination issue. So, most times if I'm standing I angle my body so that I'm looking in their direction but keep my 'better processing' ear towards them, but don't actually look at them directly.

Funny thing is is that I find that I really like the two-person interviewers to one interviewee format a lot because I have an excuse to glance at the person not talking every once in awhile to show non-verbally that I'm aware that they're there and not just awkwardly looking away while I'm listening. Oh, and I take a notepad with me when it's my turn to ask questions so I have another excuse to look away as I write down their answers. :)
I haven't thought about multitasking. I have different reasons for which I struggle with the whole eye contact fuzz.

I don't know if I am making proper eye contact or not. Friends will say I am doing it fine. But my father started the fuzz years ago, noting that I don't look him at his eyes and maybe it's a psychological condition now because I consciously think about eye contact when talking to my father. Generally it is a consciousness problem, it is being aware that you have to do eye contact and thinking too hard about, whether you are doing it wrong or not. It could have evolved naturally but my brain has the tendency to overthink about matters instead of following the flow (that might also be the reason why I struggle in social situations, I think too much whether I said something right or wrong, whether I am not looking "normal", etc).

Sometimes I wonder, if I wasn't told about doing proper eye contact, would it have evolved naturally or would I just not bother about it? (nobody but my father bothered me about it)