July 16, 2014

Autism and Faceblindness

fuzzy blurred out faceblindness head on OneQuarterMama.ca
A fuzzy blurred out face to depict faceblindness

A lot of Autistic people are already socially awkward in general (like me!) but another aspect that some of us suffer from is faceblindness. This doesn’t mean we don’t see faces at all, it just often means we sometimes don’t recognize people we’ve met before. One thing I know I do, and studies have confirmed, is we often look at parts of faces rather than whole faces. A lot of the time I look at mouths and noses instead of eyes. It’s less stressful to look at eyes and looking at a mouth actually helps me understand what is being said. I’m not that bad at reading lips because of this.

I'm not sure if I suffer from faceblindness per se, but there are times I don’t initially recognize people. I can see someone and then doubt that I know them. Or if they look like someone else, I won’t be sure they are the right person. Staring in order to try to decipher this is not usually socially acceptable, so either I shy away and don’t say “hi,” or I say “hi” to people I don’t know. If I have made the wrong choice, then I can look like I’m ignoring someone I do know, or just really friendly and weird (because here in the big city, we don’t usually say hello to people we don’t know). Luckily, most people I have met before are quicker than me at recognition and will say hi first, but then it can take me a minute to place who they are.

At the same time, I can sometimes know I’ve met someone before and cannot for the life of me remember their name or where I met them. Then I sit there trying to figure out where I’ve met them. Other times I can totally remember names, but not the face. My facial recognition skills are totally unreliable and inconsistent. I may recognize people within the same context, like my office for example. If I see them outside of work, I may not.

I have inadvertently insulted many people by not immediately recognizing them or remembering where/when I met them. It’s a shame because we can get along and have a great conversation, but then I can accidentally ruin it when we meet again. I have spent evenings talking to people and when I get home, I see a friend request on Facebook and can’t for the life of me figure out who they are. It’s embarrassing. Maybe I should warn people up front that I have this problem so they hopefully won’t think I’m slighting them. I read Brad Pitt tried that, but no one believed him and they felt insulted anyway. Then again, I'm not Brad Pitt, so I may give it a try.

As with many things, it's best to give others the benefit of the doubt. It's not about you or an insult if someone doesn't recognize you, even if you've spoken many times.

Here’s the Wikipedia entry on faceblindness and here’s a little test you can do to see if you suffer from it.

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