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jpfudgeworth
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23 Oct 2010, 2:26 am

It's nearly impossible for me to listen to what someone is saying when I look them in the eye. If I'm talking, it's easy for me to lose track of my words when I'm looking someone in the eye. Either case is pure panic. I can only communicate effectively with people by not looking at their face.



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23 Oct 2010, 2:41 am

I am 44 and Dx HFA only 4 years ago.

Up until my Dx I had learned the art of concealing my social awkwardness extremely well.
I learned to camouflage myself behind a well rehearsed and socially acceptable facade (NT Mask)

I learned to do this well, for as a child a would be abused and humiliated by my adopted parents if I did not look normal.

Managing the eye contact thing was the Jewel in the crown of this grand deception. I would endure the great discomfort by acting un-anxious. This way I survived the beatings.

Now post Dx I do not have to hide behind my persona. BUT because I know I possess the ability to act un-anxious if need be, I am able to relax into eye contact with people who interest me (be it sexually or philosophically ) and experience a deep emotional resonance with another person. (yes it can leave me exhausted after a while)

It's like having the ability to not Stick out as anxious can offer me waterwings to float upon this sea of stimulation that is social interaction.

The eyes for me really are the windows of the soul. So when professionals seek to ignore the pain and suffering they can see manifested in the eyes of a person with Autism, what does it say of them that we should have to endure this discomfort for their sake. However well intentioned many professionals are their ignorance is still hurting us.



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23 Oct 2010, 2:48 am

saoirse_starr wrote:
So I thought I'd ask you. How do you all feel about making eye contact? Were you taught to make eye contact as children? Do you think it was a good or a bad thing? How do you feel about the fact that so much emphasis is put on teaching children to make eye contact? How does it feel for you when you make eye contact with someone?


For me I realize that eye contact is a very important part of communication within NTs especially. I have learned how to make eye contact but it was after a lot, a lot of struggle. I wasnt able to make eye contact till I was 21 which was only a year ago. Before I just felt looking people in the eye as very intimidating and I couldnt do it. As a child, I was taught how to make eye contact to a some extent but it wasnt heavily enforced, my parents let that slide a lot. Some teachers and authority would tell me occasionally to look them in the eye and I never would I'd probably just look at there face, but not there eyes. Hmm...I think it should have been more heavily enforced but in an appropriate way. What would be the right way for a super shy, aspie girl, I have no idea? I think teaching the kid to make eye contact is important since amongst NTs eye contact is such an important form of communication. But then it should be done in an appropriete way, it shouldnt be forced and u shouldnt be scaring the kid. I dont find eye contact to be that important, at this point I just do it because its the norm. But if someone doesnt wanna make eye contact with me, it doesnt matter. I dont actually read a persons eyes or my eyes rarely convey much.



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23 Oct 2010, 3:53 am

I grew up being told to "look me in the eye when I'm talking to you" and related phrases which I'm sure most of us are familiar with. Also that it demonstrated I was paying attention (usually I was told this when I was accused of not listening) or that I was being honest).

The main factors for me is that it's very hard to concentrate on what the person is saying if I am looking at their eyes. It is much easier for me to absorb it if I look at something else like a fixed object. This apparently gives the impression that I'm not paying attention, but I'm actually paying more attention than if I had to look at their face. It's even worse if I'm talking. If I am talking I really have to look away to be able to make much coherent sense in normal situations. If I have to look at the person I tend to lose my concentration.

Due to early learning that looking at people was considered important (and being told this repeatedly growing up) I tried to do so, with little success. I do not think forcing kids to do this would be helpful, as it is uncomfortable and it makes it harder for them to accomplish other aspects of the communication. One thing I remember well that my father taught me was how I could look at the person's forehead or even just above their head, and from a distance of even a few feet they would not be able to tell that I was not looking at their eyes (I don't remember how this came up). I have used that a lot and it might be a helpful tip for these kids.

However the other problem I created by trying to "correct" the looking at people was sort of a fixed gaze that I would turn on people in an attempt to show them I was paying attention when they were talking (I couldn't really pay as much attention but I could maintain it). More so if it was somebody I was closed to and cared about, and didn't mind studying their face/eyes, or I could just sort of give them an unfocused stare. Ironically, this staring actually made THEM uncomfortable. So it is a mistake to tell kids that eye contact is the key. In fact forced eye contact also seems to make other people uncomfortable (though I think they feel like I'm listening more so than staring at the floor/wall nearby, but they don't like it). I only remember liking to stare into the eyes of people I was interested in romantically. However, this made them uncomfortable and I did get asked to stop.
So the staring at the face/fixed gaze is also not a solution in my opinion as it doesn't seem to be what NT's are looking for. I haven't really captured the type of eye motion that is considered normal but I think it would be more effective to give them coping skills rather than telling them to look people in the eye, because it can be very difficult and it can be overdone as well.

One thing I've noticed is, it's much easier to get by not looking in the eye around men. Men seem to talk to each other more side to side or looking at the same object, or distant items, the ground, etc as opposed to staring into each other's faces. Sometimes when men stare at each other they get mad and see this as a challenge (I've never had a guy get mad at me for doing my fixed stare, but I am a woman... I've seen NT guys get mad at each other for looking fixedly so this is another reason not to tell aspie kids to look people in the eyes because it might be interpreted as a threat). Women talking to women and I think to some extent women talking to men are expected to do more looking in the eye, from what I can tell, and facing each other. Plus there is more touching and gesturing, which makes things more difficult. In terms of coping, I think the reactive cues such as nodding, and saying "mm hmm" and so forth when the other person is talking are easier (though also difficult and distracting) to include to show somebody you are paying attention than learning how to look at their face at the appropriate times. Maybe include random glances in the vicinity of the face. Honestly I don't know how well this comes off to NT people (not like "normal" certainly) but I've gotten better reactions with it than either the looking away fixedly or staring, despite the reduction of my concentration.



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23 Oct 2010, 5:18 am

Quote:
So I thought I'd ask you. How do you all feel about making eye contact? Were you taught to make eye contact as children? Do you think it was a good or a bad thing? How do you feel about the fact that so much emphasis is put on teaching children to make eye contact? How does it feel for you when you make eye contact with someone?

If it turns out that eye contact is a good thing then I'm happy to be proved wrong - but I'd rather it was because people actually with autism told me so, rather than professional "experts".


Hi Lana, I think we do all appreciate your move here.

There is a big misunderstanding of what eye contact is.

- On the aspie side, very often, people suppose they have to stare in the person as long as they can while talking or listening. There is a confusion between eye contact and starting

On the first second we look at the person normally,
Then we have a sudden self-awareness that triggers a flow of questions that comes stronger and stronger,
"Oh I am looking at him"
"Does he looks at me the same way I am?"
We start to loose track of the conversation
"I should look him into the right eye"
"Or maybe the left is better"
We start to feel insecure
"What was he saying"
"Dang his eyes are moving too"
"He sees my discomfort"
We feel the pressure raising as the questions come faster and faster, less and less focused on the situation.
"I remember talking to him last year"
And then the need to discharge, just looking elsewhere resets the cycle.

Often aspies don't realize what is the need of the eye contact, what is its purpose. They just think they have to stare for the staring and instead of solving a simple problem they just add another one, instead of maybe looking shy, distracted, annoyed, tired... (compassionate/trust side) their stare is directly ruled as "this person is crazy" (mefiance/danger side) and between the both behaviors and outcomes, the aspies are lost.

- On the therapist side

Eye contact is a must have on a conversation or interaction between two people. It is an acknowledgment.

I am here
I listen to you
I understand you
I agree/disagree

So you train children to focus their eyes on the person talking, you try to postpone the discharge reflex as late as you can. The basic assumption is that by fixing that eye contact it will somehow bend the aspie towards this "acknowledgment". And you came to this forum to challenge this long shot assumption. Are you really working on the awareness of the autistic child? or are you just making a cosmetic change in order the child to be socially acceptable?

* Here is my vision on eye contact: I have fought, survived and thrived 35 years undiagnosed. I have to say eye contact was never a problem in the sense that it did not triggered disinterest, suspicion, or discomfort (in that common consequential order) Now I am digging and slicing every single move or thought I made in my life unfolding the articulations I either never noticed before or I thought everyone had.

The technique that naturally emerged in me is simple, I just throw 1 to 2 seconds glances during the conversations: I stare when the conversations starts, I stare when something I say of I hear is important. I stare in the conclusion. The rest of the time I just look around on some random objects or in the distance (I don't try to stop my flow of ideas, I bend the flow of ideas towards the conversation "why he dressed that way"), still acknowledging either with my head, my eyebrows or some "umh-hum". And it is efficient beyond what any NT can achieve, not only I confirm my presence but I add more value at the critical times and what I receive back is more trust. I disagree? my last concluding eye contact will be a la Joe Pesci...

I don't know how old are the children you are working with but you can't really fully solve the eye contact unless the child fully understand the content of the exchange and the practical need to look social (it would be like understanding the handshake). For me, any attempt to force the eye behavior for the sake of the eye behavior, without meaning may breach the most practical orchestration that has a self sustained rewarding cycle. Worse, without the meaning, it could add another layer of frustration with unpredictable reactions.

Eye contact is one Asperger effect among many other, they can all be used the same way. But even if an aspie succeed to walk the thin line that exist between self-acceptance and public acceptance there will be one last question: what is the meaning.

PS: Maybe I was not very clear in my ideas or my words, feel free to ask any precision


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23 Oct 2010, 5:33 am

The first thing i want to say is that i like your approach of the problem. it's respectful and shows empathy, a thing i rarely see in NTs, as strange as this may seem to you...
i still remember my first eye contact experience. i had just entered school, i was 6, and the teacher told us to listen while she read us a story from a book, we all had the book on our desks so i followed the story reading along ( silently of course). She told me to look at her when she was reading, she said "i told you to listen to the story!" ( she must have said it more than once to get this upset i guess) and i replied "i'm not LOOKING at you but it doesn't mean i'm not listening..."she came over and slapped me.
( after school my mother yelled at her and told her that if she was still tired after the summer she should go back on holidays lol)
So from that moment on i understood it could mean trouble if i didn't look at people when they spoke, and taught myself to do so.
as to how it feels: it makes my heart beat. it makes me sweat , and my natural instinct is only to look people in the eye when i want them to back down. it's an agressive behaviour on my part, so when people keep up the gaze i feel intimidated and start panicking.
i know i have to do it, but it can't last too long or the fear turns to anger and i tend to snap at people for no reason...it's just not a natural behaviour to stare at people AND like them. of course with all this going on in my mind i have trouble understanding what they say to me in those occasions and misunderstand , mostly my mind seems to see hidden agendas behind the simplest of sentences, because it's in "fight mode".
think of it as staring at an angry lion. not wise. scary. weird also :P
as for forcing the kids to do it...the best would probably be to train them gently, but not insist on it at all times, they also need to be relaxed enough to learn other things such as conversation structures and such.

edit: superapsie, your post wasn't there when i started typing, but i must say you explained what NTs try to achieve when making us sustain eye contact very clearly. i agree there is a misunderstanding there. the purpose of eye contact should be explained in detail and all the variations of it, AS kids are never going to infer "show me that you're listening to me and that you care about the conversation" when hearing "look at me".... i felt told off when i heard "look at me", maybe i imprinted the wrong message too, explanations and details would have saved me years of trouble ( still not resolved )



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23 Oct 2010, 5:46 am

jpfudgeworth wrote:
It's nearly impossible for me to listen to what someone is saying when I look them in the eye. If I'm talking, it's easy for me to lose track of my words when I'm looking someone in the eye. Either case is pure panic. I can only communicate effectively with people by not looking at their face.


Same here. When I speak I usually look down and to the side, if my body is facing someone, and similarly when listening. Otherwise I can't really hear them. I speak quite well and am good with words, and I feel like I need to close off my eyes to give full energy to my speaking efforts.

When I decide to make some eye contact, everything else gets kind of drowned out and I can't remember what they said. But I try to put it in sometimes, at key points in my speech, perhaps, and when I've already lined up the next few words.

I am much more comfortable speaking to people when, for example, we're both sitting and facing the same direction, like on a bench, because then you'd be too close to turn your head and stare at them so you can both just look forward to talk/listen.

I often also find my eyes flicking around to different objects in the room, or area, and the landscape or arrangement of items kind of becomes tied to the conversation in my memory.

It's also worth noting that I am much better making eye contact with some people than with others, and I have not yet figured out what the difference between them is, if any.



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23 Oct 2010, 5:52 am

ediself wrote:
my natural instinct is only to look people in the eye when i want them to back down. it's an agressive behaviour on my part,

...

think of it as staring at an angry lion. not wise. scary. weird also :P


oo, yes, this! Eye contact is extremely intense, for me, and I have used it successfully when required in controlling humans and getting my message across. Only when things are getting tense can I actually stare someone in the eye, and they then invariably feel quite moved by it, often looking away themselves and becoming much shyer.

Maintaining strong eye-contact can really disarm humans, it's powerful stuff.



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23 Oct 2010, 5:54 am

90% of the time, I'm fine with eye contact, but I'm in the minority when it comes to Aspies, and it also depends a lot on who I'm talking to and how I happen to be feeling on any given day.

Never the less, I don't think you should be forcing anyone on the spectrum to do anything they don't want to do - especially if it causes distress and pain for them - just for the sake of making sure they fake being an NT.



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23 Oct 2010, 6:07 am

TBH, I personally don't have a problem with eye contact unless it's towards people I dislike. Looking in their eyes is like looking at a monster! My eye contact is actually on the other end of the spectrum in that I stare.

I am teaching English to Japanese kids right now and one of my students is HFA. I never force him to make eye contact cuz it is not important to me, as long as he is looking in the general direction of whatever activity we are doing. I often have to take his arm and guide him away from his private world and back into the classroom. I don't think there is anything wrong with doing that. But, when I was young, I was forced by a teacher to make eye contact with her (cuz I hated her!) and I have never forgotten or gotten over that.



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23 Oct 2010, 11:45 am

My thinking is that eye contact is best taught intellectually, when the child is old enough to understand. And then the person can choose on their own.

Although, well, for me, eye contact isn't uncomfortable, but there have been times when I've needed a reminder. I think there are kids for whom a gentle reminder to make eye contact can be useful. The trick is knowing those kids from the ones where eye contact is uncomfortable.


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23 Oct 2010, 12:30 pm

i don't agree with teaching it at a young age. the stress level is perhaps hard to explain, but i will try. i was DXed at 34.

as a child, if i was comfortable looking straight at someone, i would. even if they were looking away. i have been told this is "staring". i have never mastered glancing, though i can sometimes remember to count off a certain number of second before breaking contact.

however, in any situation where i am upset, or annoyed, or uncomfortable, or attracted to someone, or stressed, or in unpleasant company, i do not look directly at someone's eyes or face. it made teachers and my parents very upset.

my mother would grab my face and yell at me to look at her when she was talking. i would panic and start to to sense that darkness was closing in all around my field of vision. my heart would race and i would feel like i might vomit. i would shake. my mother and the things around me looked 2-dimensional. all of the speech and other noises started to sound farther and farther away. i think this was fueled by fear/adrenaline?

what bothers me the most, is that when NT people insist upon eye contact is during those occasions when it is important to them or convenient for THEM. when THEY want to know i understand them or care what they are saying. it has nothing to do with me at all.

if i find it too hard to give eye contact, it someiomes relates to not being comfortable making that connection with people. forcing me to look at someone is forcing an intimacy that does, indeed, have a tone of violation.

p.s. i was a teacher for 5 years and i never, ever, insisted on eye contact from students when they were in trouble. if children are ashamed of some misbehaviour, they will naturally turn their eyes downward. defiant children will look you straight in the eye. not totally universal, but generally true.


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PangeLingua
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23 Oct 2010, 12:57 pm

If someone is talking to me and I make eye contact with them, it is usually harder for me to follow what they are saying. I usually start tuning out what they're saying automatically.

If I am trying to talk and I make eye contact with someone, my mind goes blank and I can't put the words together. I cannot make eye contact and talk at the same time. Period. The most I can do is throw an occasional glance at the other person, if what I'm saying isn't too complicated, but if I'm really focused on what I'm saying then I won't be able to do that.

Whenever I have a conversation with someone who is very insistent about making eye contact, I have the choice to either look at them, which is extremely uncomfortable and will result in my not understanding anything that they are saying, or to look away and just nod or something to indicate that I understand. I think the latter is better, because it's better to really understand the person and be able to respond than to just look like you understand.

So for me it seems to be more of an information processing issue than feeling that the eye contact is aggressive, though I do find it uncomfortable.



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23 Oct 2010, 1:03 pm

jpfudgeworth wrote:
It's nearly impossible for me to listen to what someone is saying when I look them in the eye. If I'm talking, it's easy for me to lose track of my words when I'm looking someone in the eye. Either case is pure panic. I can only communicate effectively with people by not looking at their face.

I can't listen to a person and look at her. Because if I look at her, I don't follow the conversation .
NT persons look at someone without really see who their are talking to. Indeed, autistics people have to detailed what they see, whereas NT don't care about details, they just want you to know that they are listening. NT persons can't even say how the other person is dress up or her eyes color after a conversation.



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23 Oct 2010, 2:00 pm

Atama wrote:
jpfudgeworth wrote:
It's nearly impossible for me to listen to what someone is saying when I look them in the eye. If I'm talking, it's easy for me to lose track of my words when I'm looking someone in the eye. Either case is pure panic. I can only communicate effectively with people by not looking at their face.

I can't listen to a person and look at her. Because if I look at her, I don't follow the conversation .
NT persons look at someone without really see who their are talking to. Indeed, autistics people have to detailed what they see, whereas NT don't care about details, they just want you to know that they are listening. NT persons can't even say how the other person is dress up or her eyes color after a conversation.


oh , is this the reason they are so comfortable then? i just thought they were generally tougher or something. i think i missed one point in what i said before: indeed if i am relaxed enough to look a person in the eyes , i will either totally blank out and detail everything i can see in their eyes, and grow more and more uncomfortable as the conversation goes because i can intermitently hear how deeply focused they are on what they are saying, and realise i have no idea what they are talking about. then i start sseeing this flickering look of wonder in their eyes, and i know there must be a lot going on in their head, a lot more than what is showing, and i basically go into paranoid mode. ( they can SEE i'm not listening oh god what can i answer * "mh mh?"* little nod* oh my god did i just nod about her cat dying jesus i need to get out of there) that's basically it. and that's when i start off relaxed lol.
i think i can link it to what i said about staring being an agressive behaviour to me: if i stare, i need to keep my mind as blank as possible in a defense against the feeling that the person in front of me might feel threatened. this is not on conscious level by the way, but i think it might explain the blankness: look as unthreatening as possible WHILE staring. it's hard to do, so in order to show no emotion i try to feel none. then i start to panick because the other person is in conversation mode and i wasn't. am i totally unclear here? i suspected as much..........



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23 Oct 2010, 4:35 pm

ediself wrote:
oh , is this the reason they are so comfortable then?


It's true! I wouldn't even think to pay attention to someone's eye colour when I'm having a conversation with them. It's difficult to describe, because eye contact is something I never think about when it's happening naturally - and even when I start concentrating on it it doesn't take up as much of my focus as it seems to for all of you. I can think "right, must look at this person... okay, I can probably look away now.. should look back again now" and still pay attention to the conversation. And that doesn't happen to me very often. Most of the time making eye contact and knowing when to look and when to look away just happens without me thinking about it. It's hard to say what I pay attention to - not the person's eyes or clothes. If anything, it's their facial expressions and body language that I'll notice, but a lot of the time even if I look at them, all I'm thinking about is what they're saying and how I'm going to respond.