Friday, July 16, 2010
Look me in the eye!
I'm currently reading a memoir written by John Elder Robison. It's titled Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's.
I am only a a bit into the book and already some of what was written hits close to home... at least in the sense that it's perfectly logical.
Early in the book, he exclaims that he was constantly told he was being bad because he wouldn't look people in the eye's while they spoke, or while he spoke to them. This is sometimes true of myself. Not necessarily because I can't or feel uncomfortable doing so, but because it's easier not to. His explanation was completely logical and true (at least for me). He explains that looking someone in the eye is creepy in and of it self, but more so, when speaking it's important to concentrate on your thoughts and the words you are about to express. It's far easier to do so when you aren't staring someone in the eye.
I notice that when I'm talking to someone and telling a story, I tend to gaze off into the distance. I'm not necessarily looking at anything. Instead I keep my focus blurred so that I can look into my own thoughts to conjure up the correct words to describe my thoughts. I don't think this makes me autistic... however I thought they way this autistic person struggled with it and chose to explain it fit really well. I sometimes notice the person I'm talking to turn around and try to see what I'm staring out. I'm generally not staring or looking at anything... so they see nothing. I suppose it's rude, but it helps me concentrate.
Another thing that he explained that was painfully insightful was how adults treat children. As a child he had social issues. He didn't read cues whether they be verbal or facial expression. Instead he said what he was thinking. If I said, "look at my toy truck" he may respond with, "I like dogs." He explained that through interacting with other children and starting to see patterns of their responses was the only way for him to realize his mistake. Adults were partly to blame and this is why. When he was talking with adults and would continue to change the subject saying whatever thoughts ran through his mind, they would play along. They'd humor him. He never knew his social interaction was odd or even rude. Children are who reacted properly to his random words and therefore taught him another basic social interaction... speaking!
And lastly, his facial expressions were not always appropriate when in certain situations. He walked into a room over hearing a friend of his mother's say that someone died in a car crash and that it was very sad. He immediately smiled and was reprimanded for such a sociopathic and act. He felt bad and said he was sorry, but only to appease his mother and this friend. He explained that his mind felt happiness and grateful because it was not he who perished in a car crash, nor was it his brother, parents or any other loved one. So he felt glad that he and his loved ones were safe, therefore smiling at this revelation. He didn't feel sadness for the boy who died because he didn't know them. He recognized intellectually that it was a sad occurrence, but he didn't FEEL sad. He went further to explain that it doesn't make sense to him that people can feel sorry or sad or devastated over the deaths of strangers. He wonders how much of it is true feeling and how much is a cry for attention. He wonders how much of it is a reaction to fit in a mold of reactions we expect. I can almost relate to this. I rarely truly feel anything for people I don't know. I am likely to feel more for a fictional character in a book I became well acquainted with over pages of descriptive words than a 4 paragraph news article discussing the death of hundreds in a terrorist bombing or plane crash.
Needless to say, I don't associate myself with Asperger's or any other form of Autism. I do however, recognize the logic of this man's words. I am glad I'll have a nice plane ride to read more and when I'm done I will be picking up his brother's memoir: Running With Scissors A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs who was born Christopher Richter Robison... who his brother called Snort till he was 3 and then Vermint till he was an adult. Much like Amanda and Kyle will remain Troll and Twirp to me for a lifetime.