I love noses. I always have, but it wasn’t until I started reevaluating my life through the lens of my newly diagnosed autism that it began to make sense. Autistic people have long been known to avoid eye contact. In fact, that is one of the most prominent and partially true stereotype about autists. We have difficulty doing that “whole body listening” thing that is deemed Very Important Indeed by society writ large. And a lot of that whole body listening is really about making and maintaining at least the illusion of eye contact while we talk. For most people – i.e. those we call neurotypical or normal – that is so obvious that it almost doesn’t bear stating.
What happens though when the eye contact is distracting? Or even hurts? The question for many folks like me is whether you want me to look you in the eyes OR process what you are saying because you can’t have both.
Why would that be?
Have you ever heard the phrase “the eyes are the window to the soul”? Well, looking into someone’s soul can be, let’s just say, disorienting for those of us who really feel an intensity of connection through the gaze. So if I’m getting lost in the connection, the feeling of being swept away by someone else’s being, I cannot just hear the words you are saying about this week’s meeting. I’m sorry. I’m busy with your soul.
Eyes are intense patterns with a lot of depth.
Many, but certainly not all, autistic folks are really good at spotting patterns. We also get lost in the depths of the details at times. No matter what color your eyes are, there are variations in color or resonances of depth – OR NOT! How cool! I’m sorry, were you talking about bills? I’m busy in the details of your eyes.
Trying to ignore intensity for the mundane is a stabbing pain.
When I look into your eyes, all of the above is true. That means I have to ignore the patterns, the intensity, the connection in order to hear and process the words coming out of your mouth. I have learned to do this after years of practice, but it hurts. It feels like someone is stabbing your emotional center, your regulatory center of all emotions with a sharp stick. It’s possible, but it has a steep cost.
And that is why I fell in love with noses. Noses are generally quite near eyes and you can focus on the nose while making fleeting eye contact with very little effort. And it turns out if you stare at a thing, even if you are mostly ignoring it in order to process the conversation, you will come to love that thing.
So hit me up at @pagingdocb on Twitter or through here and let me know what you did to reduce the intensity of eye contact. Double bonus if you share an interesting face with a great nose!