Tag Archives: social communication

Unreasonable Goals

When I was researching language pragmatics for my recent echolalia and scripting post, I came across an IEP goal bank. For those of you who aren’t familiar with these terms, IEP stands for Individualized Education Plan, which is a personalized document that describes an educational program designed to meet the needs of a child who is enrolled in special education. It includes, among other things, information about current performance, annual goals, services, accommodations, and progress.

Presumably to make these unwieldy documents easier to create, there are databases (goal banks) of scripted goals and objectives (sub-tasks of goals). One can search the goal bank for items that can be inserted into a child’s IEP with a small amount of customization. Of course, I couldn’t resist digging through the databases to see what types of goals autistic children are being asked to meet.

It quickly became obvious to me that I, as a 45-year-old autistic adult, could not consistently meet many of the social and communication goals and objectives that autistic elementary school students are expected to achieve. As I kept digging, patterns began to emerge.  Continue reading Unreasonable Goals

Conserving Spoons

If you aren’t familiar with “spoons” in the context of disability, take a few moments to read Christine Miserandino’s landmark piece on Spoon Theory before reading this post.


Spoons, by nature, are a limited resource. They’re replenishable, but not on demand. Sometimes we get a new supply each day and sometimes we have to ration out spoons over many days before our supply is restocked. And there’s no spoon store, so forget going out to buy some if you unexpectedly run out.

Conserving spoons is an essential skill. The most obvious way to conserve is simply to ration. More things to do today than you have spoons for? Eliminate some stuff!

That works fine when your day has lots of padding. It’s relatively easy to cut out things like “go out for lunch with officemates” or “participate in 500-comment Facebook conversation.” You probably won’t miss them much. But what happens when you’ve got your daily schedule down to only the most essential items–literally just the things you need to do to make it through your day without getting fired, flunking out of school, or starting to grow exciting new cultures in the kitchen sink?

Not only do you have to start choosing among cutting out essential activities, but life can start to look pretty grim. Extreme rationing is not a viable long-term strategy.  Continue reading Conserving Spoons

Social Communication Survey

Take a Test Tuesday and our surveys are back! I had hoped to get them up and running sooner, but it’s been a hectic month. Better late than never?

This week’s questions are related to social communication. You can answer here in the comments or anonymously at Survey Monkey. Everyone who identifies as on the spectrum is welcome to participate.

Go forth and ruminate . . .


1. Do you have difficulty understanding non-verbal communication with humans, but have the ability to tune into animal non-verbal communication really well?

2. Do you often take things literally as an adult or is this something you did as a child but learned not to as an adult? If you understand figurative language now, are you still aware of the literal meaning first?

3. Are simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions often difficult for you to answer? Do you seem to need to give more detail than others?

4. Do you usually need social information to be expressed in very clear, explicit, direct and concrete language or are you able to understand indirect communication due to learning the rules like a second language?

5. Do you find many idioms, metaphors and sayings confusing or illogical? If you understand them, do they still distract you when people use them? Do you use idioms yourself?

6. Do you tend to consider things outside of their wider context before you think of them as part of the whole? E.g. first considering something someone has said at ‘face value’ before remembering that person’s life situation; or considering the instructions written on a notice as words alone before considering the cues from the environment or people around it.

7. Do you find it difficult to prioritise? Or difficult to quickly make decisions? Does this affect your ability to resolve ‘ambiguous’ social communication or ambiguous instructions?

8. Do you often need to know the reason why the information is needed before you can answer a question? Or do you need to ask several clarifying questions before you can give a simple answer?

9. Do you have physical or vocal tics where you move part of your body involuntarily, have to exert effort to not do this in public and need to do it a lot more later on if you spend time suppressing them. For example, if you tend to click your tongue or twitch your nose but try not to do this around other people, do you have to do it a lot more when you’re next alone?


Prosody: Loud Voice, Fast Voice, Soft Voice, Flat Voice

Things people have said to me:

Dog training instructor: “Get excited! Look happier! Make your voice happy! You have to sound HAPPEEEEE! If you don’t sound HAAPPPPEEEEE!!! your dog won’t know that she’s doing it right.”

Random stranger, after a 5-minute phone conversation: “You don’t seem like a very nice person.”

The Scientist, after sharing something meaningful: “Do you have any feelings about what I just said?”

Phone interviewer, mid-conversation: “I’m glad I’m recording this. You talk so fast, I could never take reliable notes.”

Many people, in many situations: “Shhh. Keep your voice down. The whole floor/house/airport/neighborhood doesn’t need to hear your story.”

More people than I can count (sarcastically): “Don’t sound too excited about it.”

Who Needs Prosody? Not Me

The first time I ever heard the word prosody was when Jess was in high school. She went to a performing arts magnet school, where she majored in creative writing. Occasionally her report cards would mention that she was working on prosody as part of a poetry class.

Naturally, I assumed that prosody was some sort of poetry reading technique and didn’t give it another thought.  Continue reading Prosody: Loud Voice, Fast Voice, Soft Voice, Flat Voice

_________ing an Uncooperative Body

I don’t know how to title this. I don’t know what verb to put in that gaping blank space. I don’t even know if body is the right word.

Maybe brain is more correct, though my brain keeps reassuring me that it knows exactly what it’s doing. It points fingers at my uncooperative mouth and unruly hands, blaming the execution when I’m quite sure something must be going wrong further up the line, in the commands or perhaps the translation from thought to action.

And yet . . .

It’s clearly physical, too. Physiological? I watch my hand go astray as it writes letters that I’ve know how to form–that I’ve been writing without conscious thought–for forty years. Even as my brain is putting on the brakes and mentally shouting at my fingers that an “S” doesn’t look like that, my hand carries merrily on, barely finishing an extra loop or a backward curve before I bite my lip and, with a level of concentration more commonly seen in first graders, trace over the letter until it looks right.

Less obviously physical, but just as confounding, when the word in my head doesn’t match what my fingers type or my mouth blurts out, it feels like an accident of the body. A localized failure to follow orders.

And yet . . .

The brain directs the body, is part of the body. So let’s say body. It’s all a little less scary that way anyhow.

That still leaves the verb. The action. What is this dance that I’m doing with my uncooperative body these days?

All I know for certain is that I need an -ing form, denoting an event in progress.

Taming an Uncooperative Body?

I wish. Taming implies making something easier to control. What’s happening has its own timing and progression. The best I can do is to try to keep up with the changes as they make themselves known, one by one, steadily more strange.

Wiling an Uncooperative Body?

I should know by now the outcome of “just try harder” in these situations, but I still fall for it. Occasionally sheer will works. I’m pretty good at forcing myself through unpleasant tasks when necessary. But with writing? Having a conversation? Mostly I end up cranky, with an achey head and a strong desire for a nap.

Ignoring an Uncooperative Body?

Ignoring worked for a while. When the oddities and slip-ups and errors were an occasional thing, I could pretend they didn’t bother me, that I was being a silly perfectionist. They were annoying, yes, but still easy enough to ignore. We’re past that point now, and have been for a while.

Accommodating an Uncooperative Body?

I tried–and continue to try, though with less enthusiasm–to find accommodations that work. I’ll talk instead of writing, I assured myself. I’ll use text-to-speech to check for errors. I’ll switch to handwriting, slow down my typing, outline, make notes, scaffold, revise as much as it takes. Give up Facebook groups and commenting and reading a zillion blogs and articles, reduce my communication load and stop volunteering for projects. I’ll have silence day and learn sign language and only write on “good” days and settle for a word that’s close enough when I can’t find the one I really want.

Each one worked for a while, until it didn’t anymore. A series of Maginot lines and my brain invaded Belgium every time.


Fighting an Uncooperative Body?

At times, I do, out of stubbornness, a refusal to give in, pride. I’m angry a lot these days. At what, I don’t know. Myself? Why? It makes no sense to be angry at myself for something I’m not purposely doing. Maybe at life, circumstances, the way irony is only truly ironic when it’s happening to someone else.

Maybe I’m more frustrated than angry. Maybe the exact descriptor of the emotion is irrelevant. Instead, if I say that the headbanging urge arises too easily and too often, does that convey what I’m feeling? If you’re autistic, I suspect it does. I guess that’s where the fighting comes in. Because I have to still that urge, patiently walk myself back from it, seek another outlet for that feeling. That takes energy, effort, sometimes just plain blunt force. I’m thankful for a lifetime of practice.

Mourning an Uncooperative Body?

Probably too strong and certainly too final a word, but there’s an intense sadness and feeling of loss that walks beside the anger. My ability to express myself in writing has always been one of the things I thought no one could take away from me. I assumed it was a constant.

My skill with words wasn’t just a strength, it was (is? I don’t know anymore) part of my identity. Writing is an integral part of who I am–one of my oldest and dearest special interests, one of the things that defines me. And I’m sad and scared and angry that it’s possibly dying or, at the very least, deserting me for a while.

Where do you escape to when you’re trying to escape the very thing that has always been your most comforting safe space?

Questioning an Uncooperative Body?

Who is this person I’m becoming? There’s an incongruity that’s developing in the gaps of who I am and who I think I am (was? have been?), between the aspects that continue to be strong and the areas that I’m struggling with in ways I have no contingency plan for.

When I’m not writing or talking or listening, I feel as whole and competent and as much myself as ever. I go out to run in the morning and the ideas flow just as they always have and I think “yes, today is the day.” Then I sit down at the computer, stupidly optimistic, eager to write what’s running around in my head and quickly begin to wonder what kind of tricks my brain is playing on me, what made me believe that today–unlike yesterday or the day before–that today would be the day that I could get from thoughts to words so easily.

Disguising an Uncooperative Body?

Increasingly there is the need to disguise my confusion. How often can I ask The Scientist to repeat himself until his frustration surpasses mine? How often can I reasonably tell him that I need silence because listening to speech, trying to link one sentence to another, holding the fragile tenuous meaning of his words in my head until I can respond requires more effort that I can manage in the moment?

How odd does it look to others when my response to the repetition of a question is “sorry, I didn’t realize that was a question” followed by a request to repeat it one more time? How much easier it is to nod and smile and make affirmative noises and hope I’m getting it right.

Of course, The Scientist is on to me and has started repeating himself when his question is met with confused silence or a tentative guess at an answer.

Living In an Uncooperative Body?

My first instinct was “living with” but there is no “with” here. I can no more live with my body than I can be a person with autism. I am my body, uncooperative or otherwise. Increasingly, I find myself gravitating toward activities that don’t require language. I read less, write less, talk less, watch TV less, run more, walk the dog, workout, listen to music, cook, take long bike rides, swim, play games, tend my container gardens, watch The Scientist fish.

Accepting an Uncooperative Body?

I don’t have much choice on this one. The more frequent and pervasive my language problems become, the more I’m being forced to accept that this is the status quo, at least for now, at least until I know otherwise.

There is also the fact that while I’ve lost a fair amount of my communication ability, I’m still able to communicate many things verbally and in writing. My expressive and receptive language has become literal and concrete and often requires more effort than I’d like, but it’s still functional in ways that matter a lot to me. I should be thankful for that. But the sense of loss is still strong at this point and I’m having trouble getting to a “glass half full” way of looking at things.


And so I’ve run out of verbs. I suppose, secretly, I’d hoped that finding the right verb would mean finding a solution, but I can’t write my way to answer on this one.

Not all posts are about answers, though. Some are simply here to say if you found anything in these words that you relate to or you’ve been in this place or you’re in a place like this right now–you’re not alone. And neither am I.

Let Me Repeat Myself

In the comments on the Why Talking is Hard post, a few people mentioned that they have a tendency to repeat themselves when speaking and, oh boy, can I relate to that. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my tendency to say things over and over to someone, because it’s a rather embarrassing habit to have as an adult.

The underlying causes are probably a bit different for each of us, but I’ve come up with a few ideas about why autistic people are often prone to repetitive speech:

Poor inhibition

This feels like the most obvious culprit. Once we get started on a favorite subject, look out. We just can’t seem to stop, even when it’s obvious that the other person is getting bored or uncomfortable. Part of infodumping is often going over the same facts or stories repeatedly, as if we aren’t sure the other person is really grasping why this subject is so freakin’ awesome.

Poor inhibition is a component of impaired executive function–a plain old lack of ability to put the brakes on speech. Infodumping or monologuing about a special interest feels closely related to poor inhibition. Repeating the same information within an infodump is likely an extension of the phenomenon that leads to infodumping in the first place.

Basically it’s all one big case of “Help–I’m talking and I can’t stop!”


This is more of a “broken record” kind of repetition. It’s asking someone the same question or making the same statement over and over, even though the other person has already answered or acknowledged it.

I do this a lot to The Scientist, especially in relation to making plans.

“Let’s run tomorrow morning.”

Ten minutes later: “Tomorrow is a running day, right?”

A half hour later: “I want to run in the morning. Oh, wait, I said that already, didn’t I?”

Which doesn’t stop me from wanting to say it another ten times as the evening wears on. With practice I’m learning to silently think the question or statement and then remind myself that it’s already been answered. That works in a mostly-but-not-always kind of way.

This aspect of repetitive speech feels like lack of inhibition combined with compulsive thinking.


This is the one that eventually earns an exasperated “Would you just let it go already?!” response from whoever happens to be unlucky enough to be on the receiving end. It’s the kind of repetition that other people quickly tire of because it comes across as irrational and anxiety-laden. A worst-case scenario that just won’t die.

Catastrophizing = poor inhibition + perseveration + anxiety.

Normally, when I repeat myself in a perseverative way, the other person’s response temporarily quiets the need to do it again. But when I’m catastrophizing, the other person’s response is unfulfilling and I continue to say the same thing in different ways, trying to elicit a more reassuring response. Which is impossible, because no response other than “yes, that highly unlikely disaster is sure to happen” would be satisfying.

Short term memory deficit

This one occurred to me while watching the videos that I made for my attempt at video blogging. At times, I simply forget that I’ve already said something or made a point. I forget what I was talking about, have talked about or wanted to talk about and get stuck in a loop of similar thoughts that keep coming out in slightly different ways.

I also noticed that I echolalically repeat myself, reusing phrases or words within a conversation. It’s hard to say why–maybe as touchstones or because they’re caught in my conversation buffer. The funny thing is, it’s rarely the same words or phrases that get repeated from one conversation to the next.

Missing social cues

I think sometimes I repeat myself because I’m not getting the social communication cues to confirm that the other person has heard me. I need very obvious cues, like verbal affirmation. The cues that work for typical people–sustained eye contact, affirmative body language–are usually lost on me.

If I don’t get the expected verbal affirmation, I keep repeating what I said until I’m sure the other person is getting my point. Closely related to this is the difficulty I often have in actually making my point verbally. In way, my repetition is an attempt to edit my spoken words after the fact, which I don’t think is how talking is supposed to work.

Behavior is Communication: Are You Listening?

Behavior is communication.

This has become a catchphrase in the autism community. And for good reason. It’s certainly true.

A child runs from a store and experts assure the frustrated parent that behavior is communication.

A parent asks for advice about why their recently diagnosed child bursts into tears at bathtime and experienced parents nod in sympathy. “Behavior is communication,” they say.

A child refuses to eat anything but raw carrots and pancakes and the child’s occupational therapist isn’t the least bit surprised. Behavior is communication.

A child flaps at a wind-up toy that’s stopped moving and the experts . . . somberly intone that the child doesn’t know how to communicate . . . that he isn’t aware of the adults around him and is “trapped in his own world”, unable to share his joy with others.

An adult walks away from an autism researcher who is treating him as less than competent, preferring instead to tend his garden, and . . . cue the tragic music as the researcher looks on gravely and the viewer is made to believe that the autistic adult simply doesn’t know how to have a proper conversation.

What’s going on here?

Why is certain behavior treated as communication and other behavior treated as a failure to communicate, often in the same person?

Somehow a phrase that started out as a positive step toward understanding autistic behavior in the absence of language has become associated primarily with meltdowns, self-injurious stimming, eloping and other obvious signs of distress.

Why is that? Do autistic people only communicate distress through their behavior?

In case the answer to that question isn’t obvious: No, we communicate a whole range of emotions and messages. But much of it seems to get lost in translation.

That toddler flapping at the wind-up toy? It looks to me like he’s saying, “that was fun, do it again!” It’s not his fault that the so-called experts in the room don’t speak autistic as a second language.

Going Beyond the Obvious

Meltdowns. Elopement. Biting. Hitting. Crying. Refusing to eat certain foods. These are not the only autistic behaviors that are communication.

Stimming is communication. It’s not enough to simply assume, “this person is stimming so they must be stressed or anxious.” Sometimes stimming is about anxiety or sensory overload. But it’s about so much more than that, too.

My stims are a language unto themselves. I have a stim for every mood, and while the physical movements may sometimes be similar, the feelings that go with them are distinctly different. My happy flapping is different from my grossed out flapping. My excited bouncing is different from my nervous bouncing. The autistic body is constantly communicating and it’s saying so much more than “I’m in distress.”

“Lack of communication” is communication. Autistic attempts to interact with others are often overlooked because they are atypical.

Did you know that an autistic person may express interest in something by studying it for a long time rather than directly engaging at first? Many of us like to understand how all the parts of an object work or how a person responds in different situations before we feel comfortable interacting. And persistent questioning, monologuing, or echolalia–often dismissed as unidirectional communication–are all signs that an autistic individual is seeking to connect.

Eye contact (or lack thereof) is communication. But it’s not the kind of communication that most people assume. If I’m staring off to the side while you’re talking to me, that’s a sign I’m intensely concentrating on what you’re saying. And if I’m making intentional intermittent eye contact? I’m more focused on “passing” to avoid looking odd than I am on listening to what you’re saying.


And that’s just one simple example of how using a neurotypical “dictionary” to interpret autistic behavior and body language can lead to chronic miscommunication. Understanding that behavior is communication is a good first step. But it’s not enough to look at autistic behavior and guess, based on neurotypical experience, reasoning and cultural norms, what that behavior means or doesn’t mean.

Only through accurate translation of autistic behavior can real communication occur.

For that to happen, autistic individuals–including autistic children–need to be allowed to communicate a broad range of messages in the ways that are natural for them. Forcing a child to make eye contact or to stop flapping is the equivalent of forcing them to speak a foreign language. It’s telling them that if they want to use behavior to communicate more than distress, they’ll have to speak another language because theirs is substandard and the people around them can’t be bothered to learn it.

“Behavior is communication” has to apply to more than just a small subset of behaviors or it’s no better than “quiet hands” masquerading as acceptance.

This post is part of the 2014 Autism Positivity Flash Blog happening today



Interpreting the Heider-Simmel Animation

For this week’s test, it’s important that you know nothing about the test so you’ll have to take it and then read about it. First, watch this short silent animation (1:30) of some geometric shapes:

Now write a brief description of what happened in the animation. If you need to rewatch the video to refresh your memory of the details, you can. Just don’t read anything about the video before you finish writing your description.

Done? Okay, now it’s safe to read on.

Continue reading Interpreting the Heider-Simmel Animation

Do The Thing!

Yesterday morning, The Scientist and I unexpectedly had to Do A Thing that neither of us had ever done before. For some reason–probably because I’m an eternal optimist–I volunteered to go into the town hall to find out how to Do The Thing while The Scientist waited outside with our dog.

Right inside the door there was a Help Desk so I approached the woman seated behind it and said, “There’s an office where I can Do This Thing here, right?” and she said, “Yes but, here let me spend ten minutes explaining five different excuses why you can’t actually Do That Complicated Version Of The Thing here and will have to drive to a nearby town to Do The Thing.”

That sounded inconvenient but I was so focused on Doing The Thing that I took the Post-it note with the address of The Other Place To Do The Thing and figured it was an unplanned hour lost from my day, but if that was what it took, fine.

Outside, I explained about the ten minute conversation with the five different excuses to The Scientist who said, “Grumble grumble grumble” and, instead of admiring my informative yellow Post-it note, immediately went inside.

Sensing that confrontation was afoot, I walked the dog around the parking lot, still clutching the Post-it note.

Sometime later–but certainly less time later than the hour it would have taken me to follow The Lady of the Five Excuses’s directions–The Scientist emerged from the town hall and told me that The Thing was done because, in fact, it was possible to Do The Thing there.

Fine. Awesome. Great job.

Not really.

I had mixed feelings about his ability to Do The Thing, especially after I’d just been told by the same person that “no, absolutely, definitely, certainly not possible to Do The Thing here.”

The Scientist was clearly having his own mixed feelings. We decided to grab a coffee and talk over our giant stew of feelings because that’s what married people do and that’s especially what we do.

What Happened?

Sitting in Starbucks, we proceeded to dissect our contrasting experiences. I felt a bit like Watson to The Scientist’s Holmes as he explained how he’d managed to Do The Thing.

He told me that while he’d been waiting outside for me, a town employee walked by and The Scientist said, “Hey, do you know how I can Do The Thing” and the guy said, “Sure, there’s an office in the basement. It’s not my My Thing but there will be someone in The Thing Doing Office who can help you.”

That explained a lot. I’d taken the woman at her word because she’d told me that The Thing Doing Office couldn’t help me when I’d specifically asked. Clearly, she didn’t want to be bothered interfacing between me and The Thing Doing Office when she could just send me away and go back to reading ‘Divergent’ instead.

Which is no surprise. This happens all the time, right?

But here’s what is surprising: the way The Scientist and I viewed what had happened.

To me, having to go to another office to Do The Thing was inconvenient but I was so focused on Doing The Thing that I didn’t think beyond, “This is a little annoying.” I took the information I’d been given at face value because I had no other contradicting information to weigh it against. The social nuances of the situation–especially that the other person’s objectives might be different from mine–didn’t occur to me in the moment.

To The Scientist, the woman was a bully who was taking advantage of my lack of information and trying to make less work for herself by turning us into Someone Else’s Problem. As he recounted his conversation with The Lady of the Five Excuses, I noticed that many of the details he included pertained to the subtext of the conversation.

The things that rarely occur to me on the fly. The things that I can usually pick out later, after much analysis of a situation. The things that I was only starting to realize as we compared our experiences. In other words, the pragmatic (rather than the literal) use of language.

I was so focused on getting my goal accomplished–on using language as a tool to gain factual information–that I didn’t question the motives of the person I was asking to help me.

The Scientist, with the added assurance that he’d gained from his conversation with the town employee, did.

And that, in part, was the difference between our interactions with The Lady of the Five Excuses. When I Do Something New, I usually research it first. If I’d had time to prepare to Do The Thing in advance, I would have gone online to read about Thing Policy and Procedure. I would have Made a Plan, complete with a script. When The Lady of the Five Excuses gave me her song and dance routine, I would have known she wasn’t being straight with me and called her on it, backed up by an encyclopedic knowledge of Thing Policy and Procedure.


The Scientist, on the other hand, isn’t much of a researcher when it comes to minor interactions. For him, the casual chat with the town employee plus his ability to read the social nuances of a situation–It’s 8 AM and The Lady of the Five Excuses doesn’t want to deal with your complicated problem–are enough information for him to go on. When you factor in his in-tact pragmatic language skills, he’s doing a lot more on-the-fly interpretation and adjustment during a typical interaction than I am.

Not Usually This Naive

At least I’d like to think so. But I am literal. I see Help Desk and assume help will be forthcoming. And I’m goal oriented. I want to Do The Thing. A person says “Here’s how to Do The Thing” and my brain just goes straight to “Yes! Let’s Do The Thing now!”

There’s also this: I usually make up for with facts what I lack in pragmatic language skills.

If I know that I’m going into an unfamiliar situation, I go armed with plenty of background information. Then I run a continuous comparison of the information I’m receiving against my known facts. I also rely heavily on pattern recognition–people who are lying tend to fit one of a few predictable patterns.

Maybe my bullshit detection program wasn’t running in high gear. I’m usually pretty good at detecting when someone is trying to put one over on me. And at pushing back. Hard if necessary. This was a low stakes situation, though. Spending an additional hour doing something isn’t a very high cost.

If I hadn’t had The Scientist’s experience with the exact same person to compare my own experience against, I would have been inconvenienced by Doing The Thing in the Less Convenient Place, but I wouldn’t have thought beyond that. The social implications were secondary to Getting The Thing Done on that particular day.

A year or more ago, I might have felt a need to justify my thinking to The Scientist and he might have felt the same. It was a startling reminder of how much has changed in the past year to sit there in Starbucks with him, enjoying our coffee and marveling at how differently we see the world and how, as long as we’re each happy with the way we see things, that’s just fine.

Unpacking Asperger: Autistic Gaze

After finally reading both Hans Asperger’s and Leo Kanner’s original papers on autism, I’ve decided to do a new series looking at their original ideas and how those ideas evolved into today’s perception of autism. I’m calling the series Unpacking Asperger because the topics I’ve outlined are mostly drawn from Asperger’s paper with some contrasting concepts from Kanner’s work.

Let’s kick things off by unpacking the origins of commonly held beliefs about why autistic people often don’t make eye contact.

Both men wrote a great deal about atypical gaze patterns in autistic children. Kanner believed that autistic children deliberately avoided looking at people, but often fixated on looking at objects. Asperger, on the other hand, observed that “autistic children do not look with a firmly fixed glance at anything, but rather, seem to perceive mainly with their peripheral field of vision.” He went on to say that contrary to their appearance of being detached or absent, the children he studied often perceived and processed a great deal of information about the people and things around them.


While the differences between the two men’s theories about gaze may seem insignificant, they actually point to two distinct ways of thinking about autism. Kanner’s emphasis on the deliberate avoidance of looking at people frames the atypical autistic gaze as an issue of deliberate social withdrawal.  Continue reading Unpacking Asperger: Autistic Gaze