Please accept my apologies for such frequent posting. Truthfully, for every post I write, I’ve got at least 2-3 new ideas stacked up behind it. I’m just trying to keep up with my brain! 🙂
I’m no expert on spectrum conditions, and I’m definitely not going to claim to speak for all Aspie/autistic people, but like most, I usually find making–and especially maintaining–eye contact extremely difficult. The same applies to shaking hands.
I had often wondered why that is.
I’ve also “turned the tables” and wondered why the social norms of looking at someone in the eye or jerking their hand up and down are considered “normal” and “necessary”.
Personally, I’ve begun to realize that staring into someone else’s eyeballs feels incredibly unnerving. To us, it feels unnatural and forced. It exerts the same pressure, uneasiness, and self-consciousness, and poses the same distraction, as an allistic (non-Asperger’s/autistic) person might feel if they knew they were on stage or on camera, painfully aware that the whole world is looking at them.
It has been said that “the eyes are the windows to the soul”. Well, I feel naked and vulnerable when I feel/know that someone is staring into my soul. I feel uneasy about, and uncomfortable with, giving anyone else access to such deep levels of my core; I’ll keep that to myself, thank-you-very-much.
Because of the non-verbal communication and information provided by body language, (including facial expression, which also includes the eyes), I have a keen sense (unfounded or not) that the other person is getting more information from me (involuntary on my part) than I’m able to get from them. It feels like the other person has an unfair advantage over me. After all, they can get information from me that I can’t from them. The playing field isn’t level; it’s lopsided.
Since I’ve sustained a few emotional injuries from being misunderstood and misinterpreted, I’m also afraid that my eyes will miscommunicate something I didn’t intend, and I don’t want to have to deal with the conflict or discord that often results from this misinterpretation.
Forcing myself to look into someone’s eyes also feels rude and intrusive, as though I’m staring at them, as though I’m invading their personal space. It just feels impolite and invasive to me. I don’t like feeling as though someone’s invading my boundaries, and I don’t like to feel as though I’m invading theirs.
I feel like I’m staring, and I was taught not to stare. I also don’t like being stared at. Staring leads to unfair judging, and I’ve been judged far too much already.
What confuses me (even more than attempting to penetrate someone’s soul) is, the “rest” of society thinks that if you’re not making eye contact, you’re somehow “hiding something” or being “less-than-fully-honest”.
I’d like to set the record straight on that one. I can say without a shred of doubt that people on the spectrum are some of the most honest people I know (remember the “too blunt” accusation?), far moreso than the average allistic. We’re typically pretty poor liars, and we tend to say what we’re really thinking, because we have little time for BS.
Essentially, one’s eye contact ability has less-than-squat to do with one’s level of honesty. Aspie/autistic people are known for their straightforward speech, and yet we tend not to look people in the eye as much; the “rest” of society in general is known for its double-speak, and they tend to insist on this mythical “must” called eye contact.
I feel the similar anxiety about–and baffled disdain for–shaking hands when meeting someone for the first time. I find the forced physical contact extremely intrusive, and it’s painful when the other person is committed to making a firm handshake.
The tight grip, however momentary, is also unnerving. For a split second, it can be downright frightening. What, are they trying to separate me from my hand? I have to kick my higher thought processes into even higher gear to remind myself that the other person isn’t trying to abduct me.
Then, the internal questions flow forth: did s/he really have to actually reach across the invisible personal boundary and grab my hand? Did s/he really have to grip that hard? Don’t they realize there are pain-sensing nerve endings in the hands and fingers? Why do they insist on touching me, anyway? They just met me! We don’t even know each other! What the hell?? How did this become “a Thing”?
Then I began to realize that the excessive firmness of the handshake is an attempt to convince the other that one is self-confident. Except that it can get out of hand and become almost a contest between the two hand-shakers (“my handshake is firmer than yours. See? I’m uber-comfortable with myself. I’m the dominant party here.”
To me, this is nothing but pointless posturing.
I know that greeting someone by shaking hands is “expected”, but it’s never exactly Expected. In fact, I secretly cringe when meeting people, and this is one of the reasons why.
And so it goes…just two more examples of societal “norms” and customs that, although I was born into this culture, I may never understand.
And (to be blunt, true to form) I almost don’t care if I never do.