Talk about eye-contact. Do you make eye-contact? Why or why not? Does it make you uncomfortable?
I sometimes feel as though I have a different perspective on this to other people I see writing about eye contact. This is mainly because I see an awful lot of people talking about making an effort to look like they’re making eye contact without actually doing so, and talking about how much they dislike it, things like that. For a long time this didn’t make sense to me – it sounded as though people were deliberately looking/not looking at people’s eyes. I realised fairly recently that perhaps I’m just lucky that very few people in my life have made a big deal about the amount of eye contact I make, either to ‘tell me off’, or otherwise make me feel self-conscious about it.
To actually address the prompt – I don’t think I make eye contact – or if I do, it’s little more than incidental. I’m not sure exactly why this is. As I can’t think about making eye contact and doing whatever else I’m doing (e.g. talking or listening) at the same time, it’s not something that I think about unless someone makes a point of mentioning it, which is why I didn’t understand the way other people were talking about it – I don’t deliberately avoid it day-to-day, it just happens that my eyes seem to do their own thing, and that ‘thing’ doesn’t involve orienting to other people’s eyes. I doubt I could ‘fake’ eye contact, either, for the same reason – if I’m having to put my energy into keeping my eyes in one place, I’m not going to be able to concentrate on whatever else it is that’s going on. The main exception to that would probably be watching people’s lips, as if I can’t hear them very well I have to concentrate on trying to lip-read instead (but again, I think as soon as I went to reply I would pretty much lose control over what my eyes were doing).
I haven’t had an awful lot of direct feedback on my eye contact, oddly enough. I can only remember it coming up once in school, when one of my teachers first found out I was being assessed, and for some reason came up to me and tried to force me to look her in the eye. The guy I saw for CBT a couple of years ago made a point of mentioning it when we were doing a video recording thing (he was recording us talking and getting me to watch it back and identify signs of ‘social anxiety’). The psychologist at my last assessment got to the question about eye contact, and just laughed and moved on without asking for a response, which I suppose is a fairly decisive indictment of my lack of eye contact.
Having said all that, the lack of feedback actually makes me curious. As I’m not really paying attention to what my eyes are doing, I only tend to find out through what other people think. Obviously I’ve constructed this theory as to what’s going on with my gaze, but I suppose it’s possible that I could be completely wrong and actually, in at least some circumstances, my eye contact appears good. Perhaps I should ask some people for their opinions.
Speculation aside – I think I said that I’m not sure exactly why it is that I don’t (deliberately?) make eye contact. Certainly, I tend to become uncomfortable when made aware of it, but I don’t know if that’s just self-consciousness or not, and maybe it’s easier to look at someone’s eyes of my own volition than to try to ‘perform’ under pressure. The time(s? I’m sure there has been more than one, but the episode with the teacher is the only one that springs to mind just now) I’ve been under pressure to make eye contact, it’s been quite an odd sensation. While I can’t be certain this is an accurate explanation of what it felt like at the time, in retrospect, I think of it as though I’m looking down a cardboard tube with someone’s eye at the other end – but ramming the tube quite hard into my eye socket whilst doing so.
In short – in the past, I’ve found the huge amount of discussion of eye contact in autistic circles difficult to understand. While lots of people seemed to be expressing confusion over non-autistic people’s apparent obsession with eye contact, I was a bit bemused at this apparent obsession with what non-autistic people think about eye contact. I now think it’s likely that I’ve just got off lightly in terms of being called rude or forced to make eye contact.