Last summer, my husband and I had some new friends over for lunch. They brought along their two young boys. Toward the end of the meal, the 5-year-old, who was sitting next to me, looked at me and said, “You scare me.”
This was pre-Asperger’s, so like everyone else at the table, I laughed it off as one of those inappropriate things that kids sometimes say.
Still, his comment stayed with me. I couldn’t figure out what I’d done to scare him. He was a friendly, talkative little boy. I’d showed him how to get my dog to do a couple of simple tricks and had given him some bits of hot dog to use as treats. I’d asked him about his swimming lessons and whether he wanted a dog of his own. I’d cooked him a cheeseburger so he wouldn’t have to eat the fancy grown-up food. He’d even chosen the seat next to me at lunch. I thought we were getting along great!
And then, out of nowhere, he told me that I was scary. I was more puzzled than offended, but there was something about his comment that really stuck in my head. Sometimes when I’d catch people staring at me in a restaurant or a store, his words would come back.
You scare me.
A Hard Truth
Months later, I was sorting through boxes of photos and it hit me. There it was–there I was–staring back at myself from photo after photo with the dreaded flat affect. Since they say a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s how a flat affect looks:
And to prove that wasn’t just me getting caught at a bad moment, here’s one I actually posed for:
These pictures are hard to share. I don’t like looking at them. In fact, I almost never like looking at photos of myself. If I don’t have a blank expression, I tend to look like I’m faking a smile or making an uncomfortable, when-is-this-going-to-be-over expression.
As I was sorting through twenty-plus years worth of photos before we moved, I found dozens or maybe hundreds of pictures of myself with some variation of a blank, checked-out expression. I don’t know why I hadn’t seen it before but there it was. Standing in front of the Christmas tree. Attending a wedding. On vacation.
One after another, I tossed them in the trash bag on the floor beside me, tired of looking at this woman who was starting to scare me.
From my reading about Asperger’s I was aware of the difficulty aspies have in reading facial expressions, but it hadn’t occurred to me that I don’t project appropriate facial expressions–or sometimes any expression at all.
The technical term for this is flat affect, which means that a person displays reduced emotional expressiveness. It takes a five-year-old to put it in plain English though: you scare me.
Looking at those photos, hundreds of them in a row, for hours on end that afternoon, I finally answered the question why? Flat affect is unsettling to others–it makes me look bored, angry, sad or spaced out at inappropriate times.
To a five-year-old, who is probably relying more heavily on nonverbal than verbal communication to judge adults, my inappropriate or absent expressions were creating mixed messages. Though I was saying and doing “nice” things, the nonverbal expressions I was projecting weren’t the typical “kind, caring adult” cues he was expecting to go with my words and actions.
Maybe I Can Learn to Fake It?
The disconnect between my expressions and thoughts is frustrating. Not only do I have trouble verbalizing my emotions but my face keeps wandering off on its own and freelancing.
More than once I’ve had a professor pause during a lecture to ask me if I had a question. One day, curious about why this happened so often, I finally said, “No, why?”
“Because you’re frowning,” the professor replied.
Surprised at his reply, I blurted out, “I’m not frowning. This is my concentrating face.”
The rest of the class laughed, but the question was right up there with you scare me in how deeply it unsettled me.
Obviously I was projecting something different from what I was experiencing internally. There I was sitting in calculus class day after day, looking confused, but never asking any questions. This made my professor so uncomfortable that he stopped in the middle of his lecture to ask me what my problem was. I wonder if he even believed me when I told him I wasn’t confused.
I wonder how often people think I’m being deceitful because my verbal and nonverbal communication doesn’t match.
This is a problem that feels too pervasive to fix. I’m literally projecting an expression of some sort during my every waking moment. There’s no way I could–or would even want to–pay attention to what that expression is all the time.
There are also plenty of times when my expression does agree with my disposition, especially when I’m genuinely happy.
Here’s a photo taken around the same time as the above two shots, except in this one I was truly happy and look it:
Since that exchange with my calculus professor, I’ve occasionally tried projecting a specific expression. In class, if I noticed a professor glancing in my direction too often, I assumed that I was doing the confused face and tried put on my “interested but neutral” face. I also made sure to nod a lot, a reassuring sign to NTs.
It seemed to help–it at least reduced the number of concerned looks in my direction–but I’m not very motivated to do this on a regular basis. I’ve seen other aspies talk about how acting lessons or practicing in a mirror helped them overcome flat affect. I admire their commitment to doing this–it sounds like it would take a lot of time and practice to get right.
Then again, if I had a job that required a lot of contact with the public, I might have the motivation to put more effort into improving the type of nonverbal cues I project. Maybe somewhere down the road it will be something I’ll decide to try but for now, I’ll just go on scaring small children and bewildering acquaintances.
60 thoughts on “You Scare Me”
I think you look rather contemplative, in deep thought. I rather like it as I think something new and marvelous could come from the moment. 🙂
Aw, thank you. The thing that struck me about these photos is that in the first, the other people in the photo are all engaged in an animated conversation and in the second, the person standing next to me is grinning broadly. So perhaps, what bothers me is the context of these expressions, if that makes sense.
Still, I am often contemplative and sometimes marvelous things do come of that. 🙂
I can relate to this very much. I only recently realised that when I talk to someone, I don’t register or see the expressions on his or her face. I cannot see and talk at the same time. So I started looking at people’s faces when they are listening to someone else, and was ‘shocked’ to see all the emotions flitting over their faces. And it was a short step from there realising that my face does not do that, I am either frowning or expressionless when I listen. And it probably unnerves people and makes them not want to talk to me much.
As for practising expressions – I find that when I concentrate on my facial expression, I stop listening. I can’t do both.
All this is rather new to me, I don’t know what to make of it yet.
And yes, I absolutely hate to look at pics of myself too.
It’s a startling thing to realize, isn’t it? I really appreciate you sharing your story because it helps me to feel less weird to hear that others have the same bewildering, frustrating sort experience.
Wow… No wonder I always have to stare into space when I talk. And stare into space again when I really want to listen to someone talk.
Absolutely hate to look at pictures of myself.
I feel the same way. I can be positive I’m projecting “neutral/interested” and find out later it was coming across as pissed off/bored. Can’t count the times a cashier has said “smile!” or “It can’t be that bad!” when I was just trying to remember if I got everything I planned to. Not a fan of the “expression police!”
Oh my gosh, yes, I’ve had complete strangers tell me to cheer up or worse, ask me if everything is okay. Which leads to me projecting an actual, very intentional pissed off expression. 🙂
I never realized this was an issue until I read some of my medical records where a psychiatrist consistently wrote “Inconsistent Affect” in her notes. Interestingly enough, she did NOT recognize my Asperger’s. It was years later when I recognized it after much research and reading, and brought it the attention of other doctors. They too don’t see how she missed it, especially that she kept writng that in her notes. Essentially, my facial expression and mannerism did not correlate to what I was describing (i.e. happy face when describing depression, etc.)
The same issue caused another doctor to literally call me a liar! He said in his report that when describing neurological symptoms I was pleasant and unaffected, while the symptoms have caused severe distress if they were in fact true. They did cause me severe distress! And they were true! Because my expression did not correspond with my words, at minimum I was not taken seriously; and at worst accused of lying. It was a terrible experience.
I’ve often wondered if people think I’m lying at times because of the affect issue. I get a lot of unexpectedly hostile reactions that I can’t find an explanation for.
That’s horrible that a medical professional actually discounted your self-reported symptoms because your expressions didn’t match up with your words. You’d think a doctor would know better!
I don’t see these 3 photos as expressionless, but as you say in another comment, your expression might be off in the contexts you was in. The way I see the photos:
1. Thoughtful, introvert, imagining things (visual thoughts)
2. Thoughtful, intelligent, speculative, sceptical, and imagining things… visual contemplations in progress. (A very nice photo by the way!)
To me photo 2 signals ‘intelligence’ and ‘visual imagination’, and ‘don’t try to bullshit this person, because she’ll see right through it!’
3. Happy and in good company – lovely photo.
If I was your professor and you had the expression in photo 2, I would hope that you had a question, because I would expect it to be an interesting question. I would also possibly feel slightly intimidated because of the sceptical look… if I thought your possible question may be beyond my knowledge!
(the above does not aim to invalidate your experience or the explanation for the kid being scared of you)
Thank you. I didn’t take it that way at all. Getting all different sorts of opinions is helpful because I tend to see things only one way. Getting to see myself through other’s eyes is revealing and actually a bit of a boost to my self-image. 🙂
I think that it’s the contextual inappropriateness of the photos that bothers me most, yes. I’m looking thoughtful in a time/place when the others in the photo are looking animated, engaged in conversation or happily smiling because we’re posing for a vacation/holiday/special event photo. It’s funny that you say you’d be intimidated by how skeptical I look in photo 2 – I get that a lot. Thank you for letting me know who I look to you in these photos. I find it impossible to be objective about my looks.
I think being objective about one’s own looks is very hard/impossible … except maybe for professional photo models.
It was a great idea to post your photos and get other’s feedback! Assumption about how oneself looks in the eyes of others is actually a quite vital self-image component so I think it is great to get feedback on some photos.
I’ve always felt very surprised when I saw myself in photos, particularly in profile or from behind. Now when I am 40+ I have started to get used to the fact that the aspects and angles of my looks that are visible to others, are totally different from those I see:-) for obvious natural reasons.
Recently I have also realized the visual misrepresentation of the face I’m presenting to the world and the expression I think others are seeing. Living in the age of technology, as we do, I am faced with anxiety when using Skype. I would avoid it completely except it is the only way I can visually connect with a daughter and toddler grandson living 1,300 miles away. It unnerves me to see my image in that little box because it doesn’t look like I see myself at all. Basically it involves all the things I hate about using the phone plus the visual aspects too. I’ll continue to use it out of necessity, but it is very uncomfortable.
Oh, I really sympathize with you about Skype. It’s brave of you to use it when it makes you so uncomfortable. I’m sure your daugther and grandson are glad you’re able to overcome your discomfort so they can see you across all those miles.
I am thankful for you writing this and giving examples of flat effect. Be glad someone married you etc. I have been living a life of loneliness and now I am in the process of being fired from a job because it got recorded on a job performance review for working in a child care place that I was exhibiting this during their observation and evaluation of me. I was really nervous. I have hooked up with voc rehab for the first time because I did not know that I had a disability until July of last year. I will be turning 49 this year.
I’m sorry you’ve encountered so much difficulty because of this. I hope that learning about your disability and getting connected with voc rehab will be helpful. Theoretically, a workplace should offer supports and accommodations, including overlooking something surface-oriented like flat affect if it doesn’t affect job performance. I’m not sure how consistently that actually plays out in the workplace though. 😦
Thanks! There is a little more to my situation. The teacher I had been working with for a year started to complain about me not adequately interacting with the children. The children were not verbal at all and they were age 12 months- 18 months. So they finally placed me in a room with children that are 18 months -24 months that are quite verbal. I liked that a lot better because it made my job more fun. But, I think that they did this not to give me the benefit of the doubt but to use another teacher to document that I have a problem. The other thing the teacher complained about was that I had periods that I would zone out. I was unaware I was doing that. And I felt that I was communicating sufficiently with the children. No professional has said I am an aspie. They just suspect I am and suggested that I go for further testing. They only confirmed some kind of cognitive impairment.
Flat affect definitely can look like zoning out, even if you’re actually quite engaged at the time. I usually have no idea that my face is looking blank unless someone calls attention to it. Some people who have written about coping with AS have mentioned taking acting classes or using a mirror to work on facial expressions, but I don’t think I could consciously monitor my expressions all of the time.
It’s such a tough issue to cope with. I wonder if it’s also possible that the other teacher has some sort of ax to grind and used this aspect of your presentation against you? People have all sorts of hidden motivations. 😦
I’m still in the self-diagnosing phase of whether or not I’m autistic (read: highly suspect that I am). I’m not sure if I’ve had the flat affect, but now that you mention it…. I did have a teacher who thought I was glaring at her, and she brought this issue up with my family, who capped it off to my having big eyes LOL but maybe there’s more to it than that! I did practice in front of a mirror, and try to act interested, so I think it’s been less of an issue over time. Though I actually picked a workplace culture that really emphasized social activities and boy has it been a huge learning curve. Looks like I will be taking part in some acting classes.
Having big eyes is a funny explanation! I’ve found that nodding a lot helps offset the glaring impression. I’ve tried making eye contact and intermittently glancing away but sometimes I feel like that makes me look nervous or shifty.
I wonder if you could find an acting coach who would specifically help you “act” for the situations that arise in your job? That seems like it would be a great shortcut to getting the hang of whatever is required for your workplace.
I think this lady did have hidden motivations and still does. I think that when I get the official termination notice it will be based on them feeling uncomfortable with me and being ignorant of disabilities. I also have a lot of times when my brain just needs rest. I can best describe it as an old phono record that gets a scratch in it and skips when played. Sometimes I feel like my brain makes the skip and then re-engages to play through. My brain gets a good work out in a day. I think when I do have episodes of flat affect my brain is either active or just needing a rest period. If I forced a smile at the moment, it might be too big of a workout
Thank you for sharing. Quit interesting.
I too dislike when I have to be photographed. I have often hidden in the back, and I don’t like to look back at the old photos.
Thank you for reading and commenting!
I find it so hard to look at myself in photos. I’ve been trying to get over it and see myself in a more positive light, but it’s not easy.
Holy crap I just realized why I sucked at fast food work as a teen.
Because, yeah. I was told “Stop frowning!” “You look angry!” “I get that you’re flustered because you’re new, but you can’t let the customer know that!” and I was always like, “What? I’m concentrating. I don’t want to get it wrong, and this is how I look when I’m concentrating.”
I just realized why I was always asked if I didn’t like math by relatives who saw me working at some derivation or other even though it was one of my special interests as a kid.
I just realized why people always think I’m upset by what I’m reading.
Until I read this post, I would’ve said, “I don’t have flat affect! I smile when I’m happy!”
… but my sister used to call me Eeyore. Because I always looked glum.
… but my teachers used to ask if I was bored in my favorite subjects.
… but I’ve always had instructors offer extra help when I’m concentrating on the quiet perfection of rightness, not when I’m actually having trouble.
… and the “This is my concentrating face!” thing – jeez, I’ve said that more times than I can count. Is that what flat affect looks like?
You scare me.
Holy crap, I just realized why most people find me standoffish/intimidating/aloof when they first meet me.
I had the same comments made to me when I was a teen working in fast food! I was just trying to get everything right…and honestly, I couldn’t get why if I was getting someone’s order right, what difference my facial expression made.My happiest days back then was when I got pulled to work in the kitchen where that didn’t matter.
Holy crap yes, I totally get you there!
Especially since “Pay attention to facial expression” and “block out distractions to concentrate on task at hand” are mutually exclusive. I can do smiley concentration, but only when I’m doing something I both like and find relaxing. Smiley concentration in overstimulating environment is not possible.
… add that I get smiley when I’m scared (people who know me can tell the difference between my, “I’m scared almost but not quite to the point of tears” smile and my “I’m really happy” smile, but those who don’t can’t), and I get scared when I screw up.
Customer: You got my order wrong.
Me: *nervous grin* I did? I’m sorry.
Usually that would lead to the customer complaining to management that I wasn’t taking it seriously and/or was being rude.
So, uh, yeeeah. My facial expressions were all wrong for front-of-house, and I’m bad at acting.
I did really well on fries, though, and I’m pretty sure I was the only one in the store that actually enjoyed that station.
Hmmm, I wonder if this is why they stuck me in the drive thru almost immediately? A lot of days all I had to do was take orders over the headset and not even see people. I get asked all sorts of questions that are incongruous to my actual mood. I’ve given up on doing anything about it because it seems like way too much work.
I couldn’t do drive thru. They tried me on it once and only once. One of only two meltdowns I had working there – I have crap audio processing, so without seeing the person in front of me (I lipread in chaotic sound environments because I can’t split voice from background noise), I got every order I took wrong, and on my break, I broke down in tears in the break room and got sent home early. This is also a large part of why I hate phones. My hearing is fine, but my ability to discern between noise A or noise B = not so good.
The other meltdown was the result of management having me work a double shift with no break or water on a hot summer day and doing a spot performance review in the last hour illegally (they’re allowed to do performance assessments here, but legally it has to be no more than 3/4 of the way through your shift or 6 hours into your shift, whichever is sooner) and I melted down from the unfairness of it because damn it, nobody could make those quotas during a summer evening rush when they’d opened the store at 5:30 and hadn’t eaten or drank and it was 40C in the kitchen and it wasn’t right of them to try to write me up for it. My supervisor agreed: she risked her job for me over it by threatening to quit on the spot if it went in my record. And when management found out that I’d been there 14 hours already they were all, “Why didn’t you say so?” and I was just *shrug* because I couldn’t talk outside of scripts because I’d mostly shut down about three hours before just from sheer exhaustion. After that, I developed scripts for, “I’ve been here since ____ and I was supposed to leave at ___. Can I go home?” and “I’ve been working since _____ and haven’t had my break yet. When can I go on break because I’m thirst/hungry?”
Fast food is such a grueling environment. You were lucky to have an understanding manager. Even though I struggle with auditory stuff at times, I think I found drive thru easier because it was isolated (order taker station was down a long quiet corridor) and I didn’t have the distraction of seeing people. I found it hard to take orders at the counter because the sounds from the grill behind me and the public area in front of me were so distracting. I liked cooking but rarely got to do it because I was too slow and tended to make a mess and getting yelled at for licking my fingers clean (bad cooking habit that I still do).
Oh, and I had meltdown at work once because I was made a “crew trainer” and one of the new workers said I was mean and insensitive and I got so mad I went outside and punched the stockade fence around the dumpster a few times. Then they sent me home.
The only time I ever hit anything working fast food was when one of my coworkers bumped me as I was taking fries out and I got a grease burn on my arm. I cursed out loud (my boss was going to yell at me for it, then saw I had a severe burn on my arm and sent me to the sink). I hit my leg and the paper towel dispenser a few times to help myself deal.
Not sure how bad the burn was since I didn’t go to the hospital, but it took a few months to heal fully. Because it was small, I didn’t go to the hospital, though in retrospect, I probably should have just to be safe.
Ah, yet another aha moment. I’ve been told to smile. And people have definitelymistaken what I’m feeling inside. Mostly when I’m too tired to do my normal “act.”
I used to hate being in photos, but I’ve learned how to smile for them. I like it when I smile in public because I’ll look up and a complete stranger smiles at me. When I have a “scary” look on my face I do sometimes notice people looking alarmed, but then I soften up and give them a smile to put them at ease, and then they smile, and THEN I’m smiling for real. It’s kind of cool. I’ve had to smile for various jobs, and I try to think of things that make me happy so that I don’t have a fake scary smile. People have even told me that I have a beautiful smile.
When I’m walking on my commute I often hum or sing my favorite songs quietly to myself, and sure enough I’m happy, and all these strangers start smiling at me. For all I know, they are thinkIng, “oh there’s that weird autistic lady who’s always humming. It’s so nice to see someone happy on her way to work instead of the hundreds of zoned out drones who trudge by here every day.”
Whatever those strangers are thinking, you obviously make them smile and brighten their day. I’ve noticed that when I’m truly happy and smiling, it’s contagious. It just happens so rarely around strangers. Reading your comment makes me want to change that.
Thank you for your wonderful blog, I love the way you write and the way you as a person comes through – I’ve just come across it in the last few weeks. It’s been a joy to read, and all the comments. I am on the verge of being diagnosed, have had problems that I’ve struggled with most of my life (I am in my 50s). There is so much that I can identify with here. I have never come across the photo thing before – but it so applies to me. I hate having my photo taken, especially if it’s posed. A work colleague has just started a photo wall, and commented that she was lucky to find one of me (I don’t like looking at it). I find the whole expression (face, body, speech) thing is so difficult, I have learnt to do this, but it never feels natural, unless I am really happy and relaxed, then I look ok. There’s also a photo of me on the net to do with my job, taken by a local newspaper photographer, (I can’t emphasise enough how much I really didn’t want to be in the pic!) and I cannot bear seeing it, it really troubles me that it’s out there, as I’m so careful with ‘my image’ and when, where and how it is seen.
The – ‘you scare me’ comment – I had a similar experience – I passed a man with a little boy (about 5 or 6) in the street, the man said something to me (can’t remember what) and I smiled, but then I heard the boy say ‘…but she smiles too much.’ !! Like you this comment has always stayed with me – it happened about 15 years ago.
…and the thing about people thinking you’re being deceitful because your verbal and non-verbal communication don’t match. Years ago a manager once accused me, in a round about way, of being ‘duplicitous’. At the time I didn’t know exactly what the word meant, when I looked it up I felt very hurt as I had been trying to respond to what she was saying absolutely truthfully and fairly – a work colleague had overstepped a remit on a budget. I could list a whole range of examples like this, some quite traumatic.
This is a word that really resonates as I have only realised recently that this is how I have got by for what feels like the whole of my life. There are so many moments, just in a day (if I’m not at home on my own or with my lovely partner at home) that I realise are triggers to depression – they are moments when I realise that I haven’t passed, some kind of ‘slip’ that gives me away… I am in the early stages of reassessing my life in the light of a possible diagnosis or not (at a centre that specialises in diagnosing women).
Keep on writing!
Thank you! I’m so glad you found the blog and are enjoying it. There is an amazing and enthusiastic group of commenters here.
I have one photo that I use for online stuff and I think the reason I like it is that my face is partially concealed. If someone else wanted to take and use a photo of me for a job thing, etc. it make me really nervous and uncomfortable, so I can totally sympathize with you there.
It is traumatic when people mistake your intentions due to body language that you aren’t aware of or can’t control well. I get odd reactions from people all the time and I know it’s because I’m sending crossed signals but I have no idea how to sort out what they are or do anything about it. My body really does have a mind of its own.
Good luck with the diagnosis process! It’s excellent that you have access to a center that specializes in women. Please let me know how it goes. 🙂
I linked my personal website to my user name for this site, and I’m not comfortable with this yet – didn’t realise that this is what happened, could you remove the link? Sorry, couldn’t find another way of contacting you!
Fixed it! 🙂
Thank you so much for doing this so quickly! Saved me lots of turmoil…
I have worked with people who have aspergers and my stepdad is an aspie too. But guess what, I often look flat / confused / grumpy and I’ve had very similar comments re being intimidating or scary, even when I’m being a softie but especially when I’m deep in thought! I have borderline personality disorder which has a deep impact on relating socially and interpreting social cues. It is not on the autism spectrum and I understand there is an argument for aspergers to be removed from the spectrum too, but I often wonder whether there is a neurological connection. Certainly I find people with aspergers and v v much easier to get along with than anyone other than those who have the same condition as me. It’s also nice to know I’m not the only one to find’busy’ patterns smells etc disturbing 🙂 Sending best wishes and many thanks for your post xx
You actually sound like you have a lot of aspie traits too. I’m not sure about BPD, but all of the spectrum conditions including Aspergers are neurological in origin, so perhaps something to investigate more.
“…whether autism manifests more subtly in females and is misdiagnosed, for example as an anxiety or personality disorder”
I’ve pasted this link which might be useful (one of many that I’ve found over the last few months in my ‘leave no stone unturned’ kind of way):
Thank you for the link – I just added to a post I’m working on about gender and autism. 🙂
Glad it was useful!
So much I want to say about all this, but can’t find the right words… yet.
When I saw that second picture, I was immediately reminded of this (skip to 1:15:22):
Bloody hell, it’s uncanny. Perfect pokerface, I don’t know why you wouldn’t want it.
Only happens when I’m concentrating…for some reason, apparently, I look “angry” and have been told to “cheer up” or asked “what’s wrong?” The rest of the time, no problem, I just don’t bother with the supposedly “appropriate” expression when deep in thought.
I really feel for you because I know how comments like that can hurt and cause lasting blows to your confidence and overall happiness. I am only a self-diagnosed aspie, but I have experienced the same thing. In my youth, I was always told to “smile” or asked “are you mad?” No, I wasn’t mad, I was perfectly content. And I did have overhear a child that I passed somewhere in public tell her mother that I was “scary.” From years of waitressing, I learned to develop the “customer service smile” and the “genuinely interested in others attitude”. But the early comments left me angry and now when I’m not in a customer service situation and someone asks me “what’s wrong” or “are you angry?” I pleasantly (but internally bitterly) reply, “no, my relaxed face just naturally looks angry” and hope they are as offended as if they had asked an overweight (but not pregnant) woman when her baby is due. And, even though the first two photos you show do look emotionless, I have noticed that a lot of people (non-aspie, so called “normal” people) pose like that in pictures, so don’t be too hard on yourself 🙂
On this subject watch the informative ‘Bitchy Resting Face’ video:
Wonderfully informative post. Thanks for this. Just mentally flipping through pix of my Aspie partner. I call his look: “Deer caught in headlamps.” And if it’s not that look, it’s with his eyes closed, and we have plenty of those pix, too. It’s like he just cannot figure out what at all is appropriate when in front of a camera (and he takes incredibly long to take pix on his easy-to-use iPhone, and I can rarely get him to take a decent pic of me on my phone- but that’s all a different story).
This actually made me reconsider if pursuing an adult diagnosis makes sense. I strongly identify with this. As an adult I feel like I’ve learned to fake it somewhat better, but it definitely takes significant concentration and energy, so if I’m stressed or overwhelmed it’s awful.
In my first teaching job my principal actually mocked me about this to my face after she saw me have a difficult conversation with a student, saying that I might be verbalizing that I cared about him, but it didn’t come across at all. I’m beyond glad to be at a different job now that’s a much better fit, but I still wonder how much this plays into why I have so much difficulty making friends with coworkers. (And I definitely have flat affect in almost all pictures if I don’t know they’re being taken, and if I do know I generally look awkward. *sigh*)
Thank you so much for writing this. (Even if at this point it was years ago.)
Hm, I have something like this, just didn’t know how to call it. Some people told me I looked sad when I was just with a neutral face. Then I discovered that if I smile a little lightly, or without showing teeth, it still looks like I am with neutral face.
I’m really glad you posted this because you sound just like me! Even the faces, especially the second one. I had your exact same situation in class like exact except I said “this is my concentratey face” cause that’s what I like to call it. People always seem to get me wrong or think I’m upset. I find myself not knowing what’s right to do in many situations. At the check out counter I say hi and stand there holding out the money for maybe even minutes sometimes before she takes it. I notice this after the fact of course but I just don’t know where to look or what to do with my face. Well I’m probably boring you. But you’re not alone and its glad to know I’m not…🙂Thanks a lot!
I had the same comment stated to me earlier this evening. I parked my car in front of the library to return a book and a young teenage boy about 15 yrs old said “wow, nice car.. That is a nice car” (not sarcasm, I drive a bright red mustang convertible) I said thank you as I was walking across the sidewalk up to the library steps while looking at him and he said “I’m sorry, don’t scare me” as he’s putting his hand up and backing away. I was so confused and kept thinking about it all evening that I had to look into it online and you’re right! Upon further review of looking at my photos, there is blank stare… Expressionless…my cold glassy grey intense eyes glaring… a death stare..shooting daggers!! It made me wonder if all aspies like us have that distinct marker.
That is so interesting! I had this as a child. My parents pointed it out. Since then I actually have the-opposite-but-similar effect where, I tense up my face TOO much, but also completely unaware that I’m doing it. It happens in every social situation, even when I’m pretending to talk to someone else (like into a camera). So now these days I focus on relaxing my face as much as possible. And remind myself that the Smile is of the eyes not the mouth. I noticed that I carry too much tension in my face anyway so it helps with being able to relax on the spot.
People ask me if I’m angry a lot. Usually I’m not thinking about anything in particular and just relaxing when they ask me this. It has always confused me. I also had problems in my ASL class a couple semesters ago because part of the language is facial expressions. My teacher took a few points for not doing the right expressions on the midterm but when I couldn’t do them right again on the final she docked me a whole letter grade.
In a way I can relate to your situation. I have Aspergers and encountered problems with inconsistent or blank facial expressions. These problems have been with me for my entire life before I was diagnosed with Aspergers. People have often thought I was upset with them when I wasn’t, thought that I was confused or had a question, or in a more severe case, women have felt uncomfortable with me. Some women have interpreted my blank facial expression as mentally undressing them since I look so absorbed in thought while looking in their direction. It’s upsetting since I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable around me or misinterpret my intentions or emotions.
This resonated so much with me! I remember one day during my MA I was heading to a class, deep in thought about the material we were going to be covering, when a professor from a different class saw me and stopped me. “Karen, what’s wrong?” she asked, looking incredibly concerned. This confused the hell out of me, because nothing at all was wrong! Then I realized that I’d actually been staring at the ground and scowling as I walked. She’d thought I was terribly unhappy because of it. Thankfully, when I assured her that nothing was the matter, I was just deep in thought about something, she believed me and we laughed it off. Far from the only time this has happened to me, though!