Autism: Why I Don’t Do Eye Contact


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, ADHD, autistic, 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, Autistic; 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, Autistic; 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, Autistic, 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, Autistic synesthete, USA

Because I completely shut down and can’t think or talkand 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 absurdly 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 Autistic 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 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 irises rearranges with the urgency of your desperation.

-Leonidas, 49, composer, ASD, father, traumatic brain injury, ADHD, PTSD, synesthesia, agoraphobe, DSM constellation

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13 Responses

  1. I don’t make eye contact because I used to go too far the other way and make too much unnecessary eye contact with people who used to get “creeped out” by me staring at them. My main reason for that was ASD but also down to being a bullying victim. I kept eye contact in case they might try some sort of bullying.

  2. I usually don’t think about it until later, and when I do it, it seems like an invasion of the other person’s privacy.

    1. How can it feel like an invasion of their privacy if THEY’RE giving you THEIR eye contact?

  3. I am not autistic (ADHD, 39) but so many of these reasons…it is uncomfortable, it is distracting, it is far too intimate…I can look at someone’s eyes from across the room and see them, up close it’s overwhelming and reserved for those I have intimate connections with. Looking into your eyes and in turn allowing you to see me in mine is speaking without words…I almost have no capacity for verbal speech simultaneously.
    I cannot guess what E’s (ASD, 9)thoughts or reasons are, but based on observation I would say that he uses it when he is intent on conveying something, or making sure we understand. And also only with people he trusts.

  4. I have Asperger’s syndrome and I absolutely do not like making eye contact during conversation! It’s very overwhelming to me 😔 in several types of ways. For instance, I cannot focus on what the other person is saying if I make eye contact because I’m too focused on the irrational thoughts in my head! Thoughts like “I wonder if I look cross eyed,🤔”…”OMG I’m acting so weird”! And “Dammit I suck at holding a normal conversation”! Basically the conversation turns out much more successful if there’s no eye contact involved!! LoL!

  5. Firstly I just hate eye contact for being one of the many stupid and meaningless things NTs place too much importance on. Plus I have spent my life around crazy NT egotists who think I am “disrespecting” them if I don’t comply with their babyish demands to be made to feel important by being to be stared at, and they always respond with crazy bullying. I’m 44 and it still happens every time I’m around NTs. They think not being stared at constantly is the worst thing that can happen to them, it’s the ultimate proof of how immature and irrational they are. They think if they can force me to look at their creepy eyes, they have established some symbolic power and control over me, when really they’re just expressing their immature and demented need to “feel special”.

    I used to like making men look me in the eye when they orgasmed, but I never want to be that close to another so-called human ever again. They all just disgust me.

  6. I have never considered that I may have a problem with eye contact. If anything I make too much eye contact. And when I do, I can see intentions. I can also see that the person recognises that I see their intentions. I guess by the fact that I have no facial filter. Disgust is evident with me. And honestly, I am disgusted more often than not… Peopling is overrated.

  7. “Look me in the eye and say that … “. Oh yes, my mother always knew how to tell if I was telling the truth or not (or thought she did). If I couldn’t look her in the eye … then it wasn’t true. Simples! Only … I could never look her in the eye. Or anyone else, for that matter. It made … makes … me feel uncomfortable. So I have to look away almost at once. And that meant … whenever my mother challenged me over anything … whatever I had to say was disbelieved. Because I couldn’t look her in the eye and say it. So I must be lying, right? Which meant I gave up trying to be heard. What was the point. Let others tell my truths for me, because they would be believed, And when there were no others to tell my truths, as often there weren’t, well, my mother was going to believe what she wanted to believe, and I couldn’t tell her otherwise. Better to leave the truth undetected, than to attempt to tell it and be disbelieved. I was already branded a congenital liar. Why make a bad situation worse? And all because … I could never … look her in the eye and say it …

  8. I struggle to hold eye contact because it’s uncomfortable and I have difficulty keeping my eyes completely still for a long time. I always feel guilty like I’m being rude by not maintaining eye contact at all times, which is why I often try to mask by forcing myself to hold eye contact. It’s so frustrating because American culture places so much emphasis on eye contact as the most important thing ever but in the rest of the world people don’t care as much about eye contact. In some countries such as Japan and Turkey, eye contact is even considered rude.

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