I’ve said in the past that my autistic nature has given me difficulties when it comes to socializing with other people. Much like using the back of a screwdriver to hammer a nail into a wall, my clever mind is an acceptable tool for socializing with others now that I am grown up and increasingly intelligent. However, my mind is not a natural fit with the social abilities of those without my condition.
This is perhaps where empathy comes into play. I can be made to understand an emotion that is described to me, or if a person explains why it is they are feeling a certain way. However, if empathy involves being able to look at a person and know how they feel from that, then my empathy is only so capable. Over the years I have been able to develop this skill, but reading the emotions of a person with no verbal cues is not a skill I like to rely on.
My mother always told me to look at people’s eyes when I talked to them. It was another lesson that took a long time for me to learn, and one which I have trouble seeing the application of. I am told they are windows into the souls of others, but to me they might as well be made of glass.
My mother always told me to look at people’s eyes when I talked to them. The lengths she went through to get me to practice this was not trivial. I remember a book that my mother and one-on-one teacher worked to make for me. I remember a particular picture they wanted to take for the book, and the lengths it took them to get it.
They wanted a picture of me looking at a person when I’m talking to them, but in my mind two conflicting commands were made of me. One was the general command of ‘look at the camera when someone is taking a picture of you.’ The second was for the immediate need of the picture. ‘Look at your brother.’ First my teacher tried this with another student. She was more patient with me, but when I thought I was done my mother decided she would have a go with my brother. I did not understand what was going on, so when she yelled at me I was confused and upset.
My mother always told me to look at people’s eyes when I talk to them, but to what end? I don’t know. When I was little, I couldn’t see the soul of another through their eyes, and I can’t say this is something I got much better at with practice. I don’t know what to look for in a person’s eyes. Every time I try to get better at reading a person’s eyes, it doesn’t take long for me to forget that I am trying to do this.
Of course this is not to say that people are automatons in my eyes, but to say that I tend to see the cover that the individual presents themselves to be. I have trouble pealing away at that layer to determine how a person is feeling. I depend heavily on straightforward communication to convey how I feel, and hope for that in those I speak with. If the person is being fake with me, I may catch it if I catch them in an inconsistency, or a lie. I pay close attention to words and have a good memory for them.
In other words, I use cleverness and cunning to socialize. It’s an intellectual exercise for me, as I have said in the past. My mother told me to look at people’s eyes when I talk to them, and of course I do out of habit and politeness. More importantly, however, I am listening and committing words to memory.