I asked some of my autistic friends, and this is what they had to say:
Because I forget that it matters to you when I’m focusing on what you are saying.
-Carol Millman, Vancouver, BC
I don’t make eye contact because it is very intimate and distracting, and your eyes aren’t symmetrical, and you’re not always looking at my eyes, and your words and body language are saying two different things, and I’ll forget what I was saying because ALL THE THINGS. Also, what is that buzzing sound?
-Jen — ADHD, Aspie; Minnesota
Because I feel like my eyes are on fire. The intensity and intimacy is overwhelming. My brain can’t process everything you are saying when I look at you. Eye contact makes me feel physically overwhelmed.
-Fiona Tweedlie, Aspie; Glasgow, Scotland
Because I worry that by trying to maintain eye contact, I give off suspicious and untrustworthy vibes as I become visibly more and more uncomfortable.
-Bry ASD/ADHD; ESL Teacher, California
Because it feels like you can see right into me and know everything about me. I have nothing to hide, but I don’t like to feel that vulnerable.
-Brandi, 37, ASD, Dyspraxia; Early Childhood Teacher Aide
Because it makes me forget what I’m saying or stop listening to you.
-Shay, 35, ADHD, Dyslexia, ASD, LGBTQ; Portland, OR, USA
Because eye contact can be emotionally and cognitively exhausting, making conversation much harder. But really, even if it were just that I don’t want to, why is that not enough? I’m tired of justifying my needs to a skeptical audience. Nobody is entitled to more of my attention than I care to provide.
-Myk, ASD, writer and software engineer
Because it’s as comfortable as pushing two polarised magnets together.
-Naomi, 36, BA(hons) GDL, MA, ASD, ADHD, LGBTQ
Because as soon as I become consciously aware of it, it gets weird, and I do it ‘wrong,’ and then I can only concentrate on the weirdness and the awkwardness, not the conversation.
-Rach, 51, ASD, ADD(I); Midlands, UK
Because it’s like shining a spotlight on my brain, and I soon start panicking and thinking about how anyone is supposed to know how much eye contact is appropriate– and then I’m no longer participating in the conversation.
-Sam, 33, ASD; Netherlands
Because it feels deeply personal and uncomfortable. I feel as if I’m violating both you and myself. Due to how it makes me feel, I’m unable to hold a thought and communicate effectively when engaged in eye contact. I may engage for a millisecond here and there for your sake, so you don’t feel uncomfortable, and I don’t appear rude. I’d rather stare at your necklace or top of your shirt. Substantial eye contact is easier for me with people I know on a deep level.
- Jamie, 42, Aspie, Wisconsin
Because the flashes of disappointment, abject apathy, scorn, and derision that don’t match your words hurt too much. I can see how you feel about me.
-Solomon, 17, ASD synesthete, USA
Because I completely shut down and can’t think or talk… and instantly remember my intense hatred for anyone named Amantha.
-Patrick, ageless, ASD, ADHD, selective mutism, PTSD, future lgbtqia+ icon, bird whisperer, equal parts beauty and brains, arguably the greatest comedic neo-noir erotic soap opera writer of our generation, The part of the USA that stupidly calls soda, pop. #Queen
Because I can’t maintain both eye contact and concentration. Also, because I become hyper aware that I am being looked at, which is very uncomfortable. It feels intrusive and overly intimate on both ends.
-Brittney, 29, ASD, GAD; VA
Because my feelings for them, either positive or negative, are strong and overwhelming, and I may give too much away with a look about my current state.
-E.L., “Just E.L. is fine”
Because of that whole ordeal of being known.
-Riora, something hard to qualify
I switch between two extremes, each have an unnerving stare that I need to read emotion on people. Most people feel like I’m staring through them. Or, when I’m completely overwhelmed with life it takes very little to trigger me. Eye contact on some days feels like an lamp shined in my eyes in a dark police interrogation room. “Where were you on the night of…?” Terror. You’re hurting me. The judgment. Cornered Animal.
-On the Aspie Side, 43, ASD, GAD, PTSD, lil Rhodie
Because I can see the nakedness of you, like I’ve walked in on you while you were undressing. It’s somewhere between the jagged edges of the eyeliner you apathetically applied 5.4 hours ago, before you cried in your car 4.9 hours ago. You pushed the bleeding black line back up with your oiled fingertip like you were trying to keep all of your brokenness in a cage behind the bars of those spider-leg lashes that cling together defiantly like abused children. Because I see the lie in “WATERPROOF” that’s on your department store mascara in all caps and feel bad that you bought it… the product and the lie.
Because those crows feet are the most true thing about you, and the most beautiful. Because those lines are your story, more than the slaves forced out of your mouth in perfect lines with periods at the end. They’re the things you hate about yourself because they tell your secrets, like how you used to be a child so long ago before you forgot how to laugh.
You pull and stretch at those lines, those dancing parentheses that offer an aside to the desperation in your eyes. The Botox and night creams and whatever else you can throw money at to hide the best parts of you, like how you survived so long under the Tyranny of Sameness. You see those lines the same way you see me, as a reflection of what’s wrong and broken and as something to be warped and augmented back into hiding. I do them honor by staring at them before you erase them, too. Those lines are more alive than the reconstituted lines you speak.
Because the mosaic of your eyes rearranges with the urgency of your desperation.
-Leonidas, 49, composer, ASD, father