Eye Contact: The Conversation within the Conversation

Making eye contact–or more precisely, not making eye contact–is a big issue for people with Asperger’s. Neurotypical people seem to be especially frustrated and confused by this aspect of aspie behavior.

Even the professionals, who can offer up all sorts of theories as to why we don’t make eye contact, don’t seem to get the fundamental issue. In one study, the author pointed out that people with AS don’t make use of expressive information in the facial region of the eyes, “even when it’s available.”

That last part made me laugh. That’s like giving a Russian/Japanese dictionary to a person that can’t read either language and asking them why they aren’t using it. Just like that dictionary, the part of the facial expression around the eyes is a foreign language to an aspie.

Reading Expressions: The Eyes Test

I’m moderately good at reading facial expressions. I get the biggies like happiness, sadness, surprise, anger, and confusion. More subtle expressions–those that rely most heavily on the use of the eyes and the area around the eyes–are much harder for me. For example, on this list of 30 facial expressions, I would not have correctly identified the ashamed, concerned and contempt faces.

It’s important to note that “reading the mind in the eyes” (as the professionals call it) involves more than just the eyeballs themselves. It requires understanding how the subtle changes in the muscles around the eyes convey emotion. This becomes more obvious when you take the creatively named “Eyes Test” which requires you to use just the portion of the face between the nose and forehead. If you’re curious, you can find and take the test here:

Instructions (scroll all the way to the bottom of this file for the record sheet and scoring key)
Eyes Test Part 1
Eyes Test Part 2

(You can also find an interactive version called Reading the Mind in the Eyes at Test My Brain but you need to enter some demographic information to take it.)

I did surprisingly well on the test and here’s why: I cheated.

I suspect that most NTs taking this test would look at an expression and spontaneously have an idea of what the expression was. This is probably why the instructions say to choose an answer as quickly as possible.

How did I cheat? Before even looking at the expressions, I found myself reading all four possible answers. Then I looked at the expression and began the process of elimination. Here’s one of the expressions from the test with the four possible answers:

A sample question from the Eyes Test

My process of elimination: I know right away that it’s not dominant or horrified. It looks more like friendly than guilty, so the answer is friendly. If I hadn’t been given four choices for each expression, there is no way I would have spontaneously provided some of the more subtle answers like insisting or uneasy.

Obviously, in a real-time social interaction, no one is going to have four possible emotional options floating around their head to help me guess at what they’re feeling. Like most aspies, I’ve learned to use other information to try to fill in the blanks when it comes to facial expressions. I often focus on a person’s mouth, which I find conveys emotions more explicitly to me than the eyes.

I can gather some additional data from a person’s voice, especially when I know the person well. When my daughter calls me, I can tell from the way she says “hi” what kind of mood she’s in and what the conversation will likely be about. Unfortunately this only works with people I know well.

Over time I build up a databank of voice qualities for a person. With enough conversations in the databank, I need only a few words to recognize the happy voice, the lying voice or the you’re-not-gonna-like-this voice.

Why Learning to Read the Eyes is Challenging for Aspies

If we can learn all of these work-arounds and hacks for reading emotion in others, why can’t adult aspies just learn to read the eyes?

There are programs to teach children how to do interpret facial expressions. But for adult aspies, it’s a bit more complicated. We’ve grown up and spent decades of our lives not making eye contact.

Are we unable to read the eyes because we don’t make eye contact and therefore don’t have a rich enough data bank to draw on?

Or . . .

Do we not make eye contact because we discovered early on that the eye region doesn’t hold any useful data for us and our limited data gathering abilities are better “spent” on areas like (in my case) the mouth or voice?

It sounds like a classic “chicken and egg” scenario, doesn’t it?

Add to that level of discomfort that many aspies feel when it comes to making eye contact and it’s easy to see why learning to use and read the eyes in social interaction can feel like such an overwhelming prospect.

Is Making Eye Contact Multi-Tasking?

More than once I’ve read the suggestion that autistic people don’t make eye contact because we have trouble doing two things at the same time. This strikes me as ridiculous. Is making eye contact and talking really the equivalent of doing two things at once? If that’s the case, what about walking and talking? Running and talking? Driving and talking? I can do all of these things with no trouble. Sometimes I even talk while walking and chewing gum. How’s that for multitasking?

Moving on . . .

The wrong kind of eye contact!

When Eye Contact Becomes Too Much

The level of discomfort that people on the spectrum experience when it comes to eye contact varies from mild to unbearable. The discomfort also varies from situation to situation. I’m more comfortable making eye contact with people I know very well or hardly at all. People who I know somewhat (professors, fellow students, business acquaintances) are the ones who make me most uncomfortable when it comes to eye contact.

The discomfort goes beyond simply feeling weird. It’s a physical sensation. I physically feel like I can’t continue to look into the person’s eyes a second longer. If I do sustain eye contact beyond that point, I get a strong sensation of needing to flee the room.

The classic “fight or flight” symptoms suggest that my brain is perceiving sustained eye contact with certain people as a threat. Why is this? And why does it happen most strongly with people who I consider acquaintances but not strangers or intimates?

Perhaps it’s because I’m self-conscious about the uneven balance of social power in these situations? The other person is clearly gathering social data from my eyes but I’m not able to do the same. Ironically, given my small range of often inappropriate expressions, what they’re gathering is probably as useless as the fragments of nonverbal communication that I’m picking up from them.

Eye contact with strangers tends to be fleeting and meaningless. The exchange of information feels limited and safe. Eye contact with my husband or daughter, on the other hand, carries none of the social balance of power issues that I feel with acquaintances. I don’t need to worry about what they might be discovering about me or whether I’m missing some key nonverbal cue (because if I am, they’ll tell me).

Acquaintances, however, are still (or sometimes perpetually) in the “getting to know you” stage. We’re feeling each other out, gathering data that will determine the course of future interactions and cement our perceptions of each other.

For NTs, eye contact is a rich and layered language. It’s the conversation within the conversation. As aspies, we’re largely deaf to this language. It’s no wonder it makes us so uncomfortable when others try to “speak” to us with their eyes.

51 thoughts on “Eye Contact: The Conversation within the Conversation”

    1. Expectations are interesting. Mine were quite low going into the test because I gather so little from facial expressions in everyday interactions. I think for me the problem is the speed of actual interactions versus the amount of time I was able to use to puzzle over the expressions on the screen.

  1. This is interesting. – I had a look at the 30 facial expressions. Are they ‘objective’? I am pretty sure that I can easily read face expressions but I disagree with many of the titles on the list. E.g.:

    1. Regular: I would say attentive / listening / thoughtful / mysterious… she does look like she tries to communicate something

    4. Pissed Off: could be excited, playful, agitated, focused, vengeful … or pissed off (maybe just because the picture is blurry)

    5. Silly face – Serious, grave, melancholic. Why silly? Because of the costume?

    7. Ashamed face: thoughtful.

    9. Unamused: attentive, listening, thoughtful, tired…or unamused

    14. Contempt: attentive, inquisitive, absent minded. Why contempt?

    17. ‘Turned on’: absent minded, dumb

    18. Creeper: the poor man looks exhausted, haunted, depressed, cold and sick… like he is way over the threshold where he can’t take anymore. Almost zombie-like.

    21. Cool kid: angry

    22. Gangsta: could be anything, expressionless

    (I could go on but I won’t… )

    So I get plenty of possibilities out of the expressions, but don’t necessarily agree with the titles.

    I’ll try the eyes tests later. Thanks for the links and the great post.

    1. Great point – the 30 facial expressions are (I assume) a subjective list and I have no idea how accurate many of them are. The eyes test on the other hand is professionally designed so it’s more like that the descriptors are accurate and the expressions less ambiguous.

      1. I have tried the eyes test now – it was very interesting to get to think about what in eye expressions that determines ‘what it means’. It is very small details – just one slightly lifted brow can change the expression.

        I sort of aced the test: 75% correct. There were 2-4 photos where I could straight away tell the right answer without having to think and before I even looked at the word. For the rest, I used a similar method to what you describe above:

        First, I look at the photo, then all 4 words, and then of the photo again. Often, none of them seem to fit, but then I use the exclusion method and categorise the photo in a binary way: is the feeling negative or positive (that evaluation alone typically rules out several words). Is assertive or submissive? Extravert or introvert? before I even get to the last category, 3 of the words will often have been ruled out, and what I have left is the most likely option. With a few exceptions…

        Ironically, I had the example you show above wrong;-) I forgot I had seen it here (didn’t look closely when I read the post), and labelled it ‘dominant’. The reason I found it hard is that I ‘dominant’ doesn’t rule out ‘friendly’. He does look friendly, but also dominant… so they were sort of even… oops.

        I totally agree with you that without being given 4 options, it would have been a totally different story. I would have labelled most of them ‘joking’… So apparently I assume by default that people are trying to be funny if their expression is ambiguous:-) There were many of the examples where I didn’t think any of the options matched.

        As you say, real life isn’t multiple choice. Also: in a real life conversation you don’t have unlimited time to get the point – often you have just a flighty moment to make a qualified guess on another person’s intentions. So the test doesn’t really test the eye-reading ability required in real-life situations.

        I also noticed that the test is very draining:-) I was already tired half through the first part.

        1. Yes! The process of elimination I used felt more like I was taking the SAT than the kind of gut reactions that would be required in a casual social interaction. The differences in the expressions just seem so minute and hard to catch.

      2. I wonder if the multiple-choice format is to compensate for the fact that in real life you have other cues to go by than just the eyes. E.g. the whole context of the conversation and what has been said already, your knowledge of the background of the person, the rest of the face expression, the person’s dress code/type and many other verbal and non-verbal cues that helps to predict the likelihood of a certain feeling/expression.

        When I consider my result of 75% ‘acing the test’, it is because I find it unlikely that anyone would get 100% correct, given that so little is shown in the photos and nothing is known about the context.

        Still, it is interesting… I know I definitely do make assumptions about strangers’ feelings, personality and intentions based on the look in their eyes while knowing nothing about their background (beyond assumptions based on all the cues of the situation).

  2. I am one of those people who do that thing of not being able to look at someone’s eyes and understand what they say. This is for two reasons. 1. I have an auditory processing disability, so am looking at the person’s mouth (which has been borne out in studies of toddlers in the past few years) to lip-read. The other reason is that eyes are distracting and if the person is talking, I won’t hear what they are saying, or won’t process it very well. It’s like, I can look at your eyes or I can understand what you are saying. http://www.nih.gov/news/health/mar2009/nimh-29.htm

    1. Thanks for the link – interesting article. I tend to focus on the mouth as well during a conversation. I don’t consciously lip read but I think subconsciously I might be getting an assist in some way. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  3. Related to eye-reading and the ‘flat affect’ you wrote about recently: do you feel that you have any issues with non-verbal communication and eye-contact with animals, such as dogs?

    One of our 2 dogs seeks eye contact very often (and love and attention and guidance), and the other had to learn to make eye contact in the start when we took her to puppy training. The trainer explained that teaching the dog to make eye contact is fundamental for the training; in getting the dog to pay attention to your intentions (such as things you want the dog to do), eye contact is vital because ‘the dog reads the human’s intentions in the eyes and face expression’.

    It is a big challenge for dogs to learn to understand human words, so that is what they usually learn last. When the owner says ‘sit’ and the dog sits, the dog generally responds to the body language and face expression that goes with the word, and the actual command word is the last thing it learns to associate with the command. According to the trainer, dogs rarely learn command words before the age of 1-2 years even when they respond to commands much earlier… and the owners think it is the command words they respond to. (I guess that theory could be tested easily at home)

    I mentioned in a comment on ‘Asperger’s and Motherhood 5’ that my mother doesn’t ‘get’ animals well. I think the idea of e.g. pets being ‘persons’ =having relatable personalities, is alien to her and pets as a concept seems to make little sense to her (and other members of the maternal family). She also can’t necessarily tell the difference between e.g. different guinea pigs, even when they have different colours and fur.

    She once looked after my old dog when I visited the family, and when I came back told me that the dog didn’t like her, ‘acted offended’ and ignored her. My old dog was a happy go lucky super social labrador x that liked everybody and wasn’t smart enough to be manipulative the way she suggested, so that didn’t make any sense to me.

    Then I observed her interacting with the dog: whenever she tried to approach the dog she did so in such an awkward, ambiguous and indecisive manner… her body position, face expression, and voice just didn’t send any clear, unambiguous signal about what she wanted … and the dog shut down! The dog ended up just sitting insecure on the middle of the floor, looking down and not responding to anything, looking quite miserable actually compared to her usual happiness level.

    I think what happened is: my mom can only ‘read’ and use verbal communication, and the dog relies on non-verbal communication. So it was like a deaf and a blind trying to talk together, where the deaf uses sign language and the blind talks. – the dog expected her to express what she wanted since she was approaching, and both the dog and her ended up caught in confusion and indecisiveness. When the dog eliminated the communication attempt and shut down, she drew some anthropomorphised conclusions, assuming that the dog’s behaviour meant what it might have meant if she had behaved that way.

    Wow – so it does make sense after all. I just realised what a gift it is to have had the chance to study an extreme case of ‘not being able to read body language cues’ first hand, over many years. Although I’m just beginning to fully understand that that’s what it is. – teaching me what non-verbal communication is and examples of consequences of when it totally fails.

    1. I have a rescue dog and she had serious issues with eye contact at first so we had to work on that with her. Strangely I have no problem making eye contact with animals. It feels completely nontreatening. I can also read my dog’s body language pretty well and know when she’s getting too tense or is about to have a bad reaction to a strange dog so I guess my social cue reading issues don’t extend to animals.

      1. That is interesting. I wonder if that is because you don’t have to talk with them in the same time (processing verbal + non-verbal communication simultaneously).

      2. Huh. I have no problems with eye contact with animals either. I will quite often look my cat in the eye, and I used to have staring contests with one of our cats when I was a kid. People are harder.

        😉 tagAught

    2. Interesting. I generally get along well with dogs( in fact, I often have people at the dog park when I’m exercising mine—a heeler/catahoula mix—surprised that their normally aggressive or standoffish dog has suddenly taken a liking to me), but I have a disproportionate number of labs and goldens who take a dislike to me( not just “shutting down”, though some of them may be like that, too, but actually lunging, growling and snapping). Mind you, the sort of humans who particularly favor those type of dogs also invariably take offense at me, so the dogs may just mirror their people. I kind of wonder if their “friendly” reputation is predicated on a specific affinity for NT body language. I definitely think herding breeds act like Aspies a lot( that’s why I love them!), though I think the people I’ve met who try to get an official diagnosis for them are twits—they’re supposed to be like that to do their jobs better! I can make eye contact with animals much more easily than with humans, but I think I still get more useful information from other parts of their body language( I’m sure if humans had moveable ears and tails I could read them much better, too!), and also I tend to be distracted at times by the overwhelming beauty of canine and feline eyes as aesthetic objects, which is much more rare in humans—and still not helpful in dealing with them socially.

      1. I think dogs definitely pick up on their owner’s feelings toward people and mirror them. My dog definitely does. She’ll be very guarded around people I’m uncertain about and will show signs of agression (growling, teeth baring) and put herself between me and a person I feel threatened by. So yes, those dogs might projecting some of their owner’s feelings.

  4. Ps. Please let me know if my comments are getting over-the top long or too much in some other way. I tend to get carried away when topics are inspiring and I can relate to them… it might be over the top some times.

    1. I learn a lot from your comments and I’m glad you’re finding the posts inspiring. But yes, they’re long. 🙂

      I still think some of them should be turned into posts so that more people will see them!

      1. Thank you!

        Converting comments to posts is a great idea. Especially since I find it hard to write posts for the time being. Besides the comments here, I’ll go hunting in old comments on my old blog – many which are longer and more narrative than the posts!

        I could maybe learn to do it earlier for some of them: write a post and link back to the post that inspired me, rather than write humongously long comments. That would be win-win for all parties: myself (more posts), the writer that inspired me (more traffic), readers (more posts, better structured information and better connectivity to other blogs). BRAKE! 😉 (:this comment was already trying to expand uncontrollably)

        1. I love your reasoning behind the win-win idea. I’ve had a few posts on other blogs that have made me want to write something in response or tangential to the writer’s idea and I’m going to start acting on that too, with a link to the inspirational post that got me started.

  5. I love the eye contact cartoon! My current theory on eye contact is that it causes information overload. The human brain is wired to look for eyes more than anything else, but our super-sensitivity overwhelms us. We don’t see eyes as much as we SEE EYES! We flinch away from the overstimulating sensation and trying to maintain eye contact is like trying to hold an ice cube. You can do it for a little while, but it soon becomes too much and you have to drop it.

  6. *nods* Since I’ve moved here and started actually researching Asperger’s and ASD, I’ve found that I notice I avoid eye contact. Whether that’s because I’m now allowed to give my reluctance to make eye contact full rein, since it’s known, or whether I’m just now noticing it more, I don’t know. But I’ll meet someone’s eyes at the start of a conversation, and then look away. Even with family and friends.

    One of my friends (via the internet) told me fairly recently that to her eye contact means *THREAT!* If she makes eye contact – with anyone – it feels… like more than just a dominance contest. It feels like if she doesn’t look away, either they’re going to attack, or she is.


    😉 tagAught

    1. From what I’ve read, sustained eye contact (like, more than 6 continuous seconds) means you’re romantically interested in someone or you want to harm them. So I guess your friend is correct there.

      I never noticed that I don’t make proper eye contact until it was pointed out to me, so perhaps you are becoming more aware of it since learning about ASD and paying attention to your mannerisms. I can get overly conscious about it if I start thinking about it during a conversation with someone. Then things get really awkward.

      1. Maybe!

        And I also cheated on the Eyes Test. For me, there wasn’t any other way to do it! 😉 For a lot of the ones I wanted to put “I have no idea, here’s my best guess – but unfortunately, they didn’t have that as an option. *sighs*

        😉 tagAught

      2. Always the latter for me—that’s the one time I do make eye contact naturally, when I am blazingly angry and the next step up would be physical violence. Yet I was in a romantic relationship for two years before I knew what color his eyes were. I wonder if the fact that he was almost a full two feet taller than me and therefore used to people not being eye-to-eye helped that relationship happen. We certainly didn’t really have that much else in common.

  7. Holy moly. I am in the self diagnosis stage, and I’m working my way through this blog chronologically. I’m at the point where it’s uncanny how much I’m identifying as aspie, but at the same time wondering if I’m being psychosomatic or something (i.e. is this real?) So I’m taking the eyes test and I can tell I’m aceing it, and I’m thinking I can’t possibly be autistic. This is all in my head (no pun intended), and then I read that the way I took the test is “cheating.” I can’t fathom anyone being able to take the test any other way. I feel like I should get some NTs to take it and ask their experience.

    To me, those celebrity photos at the beginning of the blog were clearly posed and don’t denote authentic and someone slapped on an emotion label.

    For me, if I don’t know someone well, then I’m not very good at reading them. I end up taking them literally, and they are often lying or hiding something, but I’ve trusted them. But once I’ve learned their game, then I’ve got them pegged for the future. I feel like I can learn people pretty well when I like them and they seem them worth the trouble. I’ve always been fascinated by psychology. Also, from a young age I’ve been sensitive to anger in other people, so I’ve got that one down pretty well. It’s not from the eyes though. It’s more a vibe. (Grew up with an angry father. )

    Meanwhile I keep finding myself stimming, etc. and saying, wow, is this for real? I’m just being me. Maybe I’m introverted with anxiety and depression. But then I say, but I’m not really introverted, I just need to decompress after being with people too much. And I’m not all that anxious — I’ve been stimming ever since I can remember, just because. And I’m not really depressed, I’m just reacting to overstimulation and I’ve got issues with executive function. I’m still at the “this is blowing my mind stage.”

    Thanks for “listening.”

    1. I just re-read what I wrote, and I’m a little appalled at all the errors.I wrote it on my iphone, and the window was small and kept scrolling so it was hard for me to see what I had written. Between autocorrect and missing words, it’s kind of annoying to read!

    2. I completely understand the stage you’re at. I spent months there, convinced I was an aspie and simultaneously just as sure it was all in my head. In fact, I was afraid I might be imagining it right up until I got a professional diagnosis. It’s strange how you can feel so sure and so unsure at the same time.

      It is mindblowing! 🙂 I felt the same way when I first found books and blogs about AS. It opened up a whole new way of looking at myself and it was exciting to discover that there were other people like me, other people who “got it.” Just take your time and let yourself digest it all. Eventually it will start to feel more like a regular thing and less like your world has been turned upside down.

      And no worries about the typos, I got everything you were saying just fine. I’m the queen of missing words. As you’ll soon read about. 🙂

      1. Thanks for your advice and kind words. I’ve known about AS for decades and saw it in myself, but information always seemed to be about stereotypical male aspies, and I’m quite adept socially in comparison to that, so I never saw myself as an actual aspie. But that NyTimes article a couple years ago about the aspie couple got me rethinking things a bit. And so began my reading of books. Mozart and the Whale was the first memoir i read with a female aspie’s perspective, and that really opened my eyes. And Tim Page’s memoir made me realize that you don’t need to be a mathematical or scientific savant. Being totally absorbed in music and old movies (as I am) works just as well. Even so, I still felt like I was way too mild to be an actual aspie. But the more I read, the more I realize that I was brought up to follow certain strict social conventions and rules, and I am a rule follower, so I can act the part of someone who is socially adept, when I’d rather go on and on about something I’m passionate about, or sit in the corner and look at the coffeetable photography book about historic New York City (another interest of mine). It’s only the past year that I’m actually thinking — maybe I’m really one, too. And the more I read, the more I understand how diverse the spectrum is. That’s why it’s called a spectrum. I’m sure I’ll write again later…

        1. I shared a lot of those same stereotypes and they were the reason I always dismissed the possibility of Asperger’s. I’d take the online tests and then come up with all sorts of reasons why they couldn’t be right. It turns out that ASD is a much wider and more varied spectrum. It sounds like you’ve learned to be good at socializing, even if it’s not your first preference, which is often one of the reasons people “escape” diagnosis/self-diagnosis until much later in life.

  8. For me, eye contact is overwhelming. I can do it with family for a little while, like if I’m trying to assure them I’m interested, paying attention to them, or something like that, but after a few seconds I HAVE to look away or my eyes are going to pop out of my head. One thing I read, somewhere, is that not making eye contact is a way of reducing sensory input – I believe I read it in ‘The Introvert Advantage’. That’s a big thing for me that I’ve found, especially when I’m in a crowded room, or at the store, even driving down the road – If I get overloaded with seeings colors, faces, I have to look at the ground, or the ceiling; anything to reduce the input of images. Reducing optical input also helps me sort through loud sounds and competing conversations so that I can pay attention to what I want and fade out what I need to ignore.
    Bathrooms are sanctuaries in disguise for ‘hiding’ from noises, crowds, escaping conversations. Just sit down and breathe deeply for a few minutes; sometimes I just have to stop moving, close my eyes, and consciously force myself to take a deep breathe in order to stay in control, something that has gotten easier as I’ve gotten older and started understanding AS better.

    1. I’ve been paying more attention to my eye contact and I’ve found that I can do it in short bursts while the other person is talking but rarely when I’m talking. So yes, it definitely feels like a way of controlling sensory input. Eye contact is too distracting and overloading most of the time. So I guess people can have the appearance of me paying attention or they can have me actually paying attention, even though I appear not to be.

  9. I’m just starting to read about AS and am in the info-gathering stage of determining whether or not I might be on the spectrum, but, like so many others, I read things on your blog and other sites and think “Yes. This is exactly me.”

    My husband pointed out that he never considered the Aspie diagnosis because I’ve gotten so good at “passing” in social situations. The first thing he said was, but you make eye contact when talking. I shook my head and said that I learned to do it because I was on the speech team in HS and was forced to look around the room, but my preference is to stare downward when talking to people, especially those I don’t know. I asked him to watch for that behaviour and he’s now agreed with it. My biggest challenge with this is whenever I’m asked to present identification at a store or an event or especially at an airport. The NT world expects that you will look them in the face when they are checking your identification, and I will instinctively stare down until the person checking my id insists (usually rudely) that I look up. It’s very uncomfortable for me, but I realize that it’s just another way I will need to work to adapt to the NT world around me.

    1. We definitely learn to mask a lot of traits as we get older, so it can be hard for people to immediately pick up on some of the typical aspie traits in us.

      And I learned something from your comment! I had no idea that people expect you to look at them when they’re verifying your ID. From now on, I’ll keep that in mind. I definitely look at my ID in their hands, probably to be sure I remember to get it back. I’ve noticed that in that situation, the person will often try to engage me in conversation, which usually makes me glance up at least briefly (probably their intention). Interesting . . .

      Good luck with your information gathering and self-discovery process. It sounds like you have a supportive partner in your husband. 🙂

  10. Eye contact hurts, it feels like being stabbed in the eye.
    You have recently taken to videoblogging, I like your posts but for me audioblogging would be perfectly fine because I anyway can’t look at you while you are talking. There is an ocean and lot’s of time between you looking at the camera and me looking at your blog… and still, I am unable to look at you.
    In fact, I can’t even look myself in the eye in the mirror.
    For more than half a century, I have relied on taking in the world around me out of the corner of the eye. But now I need reading glasses. People told me enthusiasticly about multifocal glasses. They seemed a good solution for the hassle with putting on and taking off the glasses, so off I went to get me some. The optician explained to me that I would have to learn to move my head to optimally use the glasses and even demonstrated it to me. Didn’t seem a huge problem at the time. And I heroicly wore those beautiful glasses for three months, learnt to move my head in accordance. And then it was enough, I couldn’t do it any longer. It was not the fact that I ran into doorjambs and furniture more often than usual, I’ve no problem with that. No, I noticed that I felt much more uncomfortable around people because I couldn’t take them in through the corner of my eye any more. Now I am again living with half- moon reading glasses perched halfway up my nose that leave my peripheral vision free to roam.

    1. I made very little eye contact with the camera in those videos, probably because I find eye contact so suffocating and frightening. It’s interesting that you still couldn’t look at me even though I was mostly looking away.

      Your reading glasses experience is interesting. I never considered how confining those types of glasses might be when it comes to cutting off peripheral vision. You might be interested to know that in his original study Asperger talked a lot about how the children he saw mostly used their peripheral vision to take in the world around them and he considered this to be a strong identifying trait of people with Aspergers.

      1. Indeed, it was through that eyes problem that I got the first hint that I might be autistic. I wasn’t able to answer a question in some or other questionaire about partner’s gesturing, I didn’t know after 25 years if there was any or not. Then I remembered that I never knew wether males I’d met wore glasses or beards. And I very vividly remember walking in a park with a toddler and a baby in a pram, some lady stopped us to look at the baby in the pram and exclaimed something about brown eyes. I understood only then that the child in the pram had an eyecolour different from mam, dad and sibling.

  11. Well, I definitely thought I was a lot better at that than I was… I did reasonably well, but like you Cynthia I cheated. Without those prompts, most expressions to me look like they could be described as confused or, in one case, constipated. I wonder if confused is how I feel most of the time around people and I project that on to them. I like your description of it being a physical sensation, not being able to look somebody in the eyes for any longer, or at all. I can’t even look in my own eyes in the mirror, unless I’m inspecting them for some reason. It’s like a magnetic pull – away from that area. Long before I felt I was ASD, I knew that I was afraid of how much people could see in me if they were allowed to see into my eyes.

    1. Isn’t it funny that this extends to our own eyes? I had no idea my eyes were green until I was in my 40s. I always assumed they were brown because I’d never looked at them very closely!

  12. Eye contact is threatening to me too, but I thought it was because I was so heavily immersed with animals instead of people for so many years. Direct eye contact is a challenge and sign of rank among many animals (and a good way to get bit if it’s angry). At the time, my goal was to make a life around animals and not people, so it kinda stuck.
    I’m mostly okay with direct eye contact with people I know, although I’d much rather not some of the time and definitely not when we’re arguing. I hate looking at strangers unless they have some really strangely colored eyes and basically something to distract me from the fact I’m looking at their eyes. I’ve gotten to where I can look at them for a few seconds when I don’t want to,but I scare people easy because i have a very predatory gaze.

  13. i scored like 90%, which was surprising to me because i truly did not see any emotion in most of the pictures. for all the ladies, if there hadn’t been choices i would have just picked ‘sexy eyes’.
    i worked by process of elimination, i.e. ‘it’s definitely not these two, and i guess this one is more likely, therefore it’s this one’
    i was wondering if this is just what everyone does or if you’re actually supposed to automatically see something (and how that could be possible), when, and here is the interesting part: around number 30, i was looking at one of the less obvious pictures, and it was like something in my head shifted, and i could SEE emotion in the eyes. all of a sudden, i was like, ‘oh, teasing, of course’. this only lasted a second with a few of the pictures, but it was enough to convince me that NTs can in fact immediately register an emotion. and moreover, maybe i do, too, on some level. or i could, with training.

  14. Perhaps it’s because I’m self-conscious about the uneven balance of social power in these situations? The other person is clearly gathering social data from my eyes but I’m not able to do the same. Ironically, given my small range of often inappropriate expressions, what they’re gathering is probably as useless as the fragments of nonverbal communication that I’m picking up from them.

    Yes, exactly.

  15. I cheated, too. It is true that you don’t have a multiple choice of a few select emotion to pin on a person. And often, for me at least- I find it excruciating to look at a person’s eyes for long enough to read this anyways. If I am comfortable enough to look a person in the eyes, I don’t need to read that to know what they are thinking .. I already know them well enough to pick up on other things.
    I try to “pass” by looking at a person’s face, but I usually just can’t stand to make eye contact. Even if I manage to with people who I don’t know well, or are not close to me, it is fleeting at best before I go back to staring at the wall, or the sky, or a light. I am far more likely to watch your hands than look at your face.

  16. I am wedding photographer, and I find when I’m talking to someone, I can’t listen. And when I’m reading something outloud, I’m not actually reading it. Multitasking could be part of the problem… but as with all AS….I think it highly depends on the person, their innate wiring, and how much they have practiced doing the individual skills.

    So you’re right in one sense… that it isn’t just one reason. It’s an inability to switch types of tasks, having no practice because of behavior avoidance put together.

    at least for me 🙂

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