“He can’t be autistic, he looked me in the eye!”
It’s a common misconception that autism=no eye contact and therefore any eye contact=not autistic. This misconception is even held by medical professionals who should know better. Plenty of autistic people can and do make eye contact; especially those good at “passing” as a neurotypical person. But that eye contact is often forced, uncomfortable, and can even make understanding what is being said to them impossible.
I am not officially identified/diagnosed as being on the spectrum. There are a lot of indications that I am, and the RDOS has me at “very likely” on the autism spectrum. This is what eye contact is like for me:
In high school I started studying things like psychology and how to read body language, in the hopes of understanding the aliens around me. I found out then that eye contact is important to the average homo sapien, and that there is a both not enough and too much. I’d never thought of it before, but ever since then when I am in a social situation I tend to stress about it. I do not do it naturally. Sometimes I stare too much when I’m listening. Sometimes I can’t process what is being said unless my eyes are in an up and too the right direction or a down and to the right (my right) direction. Sometimes it’s painful to try to make eye contact with people, even my kids. Sometimes I probably stare too much. But which ever way it is, it is never natural for me. Social anxiety kicks in and I start spending so much thinking power wondering if I’m doing it “right” and am appearing interested but non-aggressive, that I totally miss what is being said to me. Which is embarrassing and ramps up the social anxiety even more.
Here are what some official autistics have to say about eye contact:
- Ollibean: Autism and Eye Contact
- Radical Neurodivergence Speaking: Conditioned Eye Contact
- Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism: Eye Contact: For the Recipient’s Validation Only
- Amythest Schaber: Ask An Autistic #21-What About Eye Contact? (video)
- Finally Knowing Me: An Autistic Life: Looking at Eyes
- Iris Grace Painting: Answers from the Spectrum, Eye Contact
- Musings of an Aspie: Unpacking Asperger: Autistic Gaze
- ETA: A Stranger in Godzone: Another Thing NTs Get Wrong-About that eye-contact thing.