Eye Contact – Seriously?
We hear a lot about autistic people not being able to make eye contact. I confess to not being 100% sure that I know what ‘eye contact’ is supposed to be. I mean, surely you’re not supposed to actually look directly into someone’s eyes, that would be too weird.
To me, staring into another person’s eyes is an act of aggression. It is an act designed to intimidate, as it is used to send a message about status and personal power. The only time I can envisage me doing this is when I’m either just about to have sex with someone or I’m planning on hurting them in the very near future.
I aspire to operate on a higher level than this. Words alone are capable of expressing complicated concepts and emotions, so I don’t see the need to augment these words with information gathered using a primitive technique like looking into each other’s eyes. Getting information from another person’s eyes is the equivalent of dogs sniffing each other’s bottoms.
I do realize that it is considered ‘polite’ to look at someone when they are speaking to you. This has a practical use, as it lets the speaker know that the other person is listening (at least in theory). I do look into people’s faces when they speak to me, but I certainly don’t look into the eyes. I may look at their nose or mouth or just stare randomly in the direction of their face.
It does make me feel uncomfortable on the whole, but this varies slightly depending on how well I know a person. I am constantly trying to calculate what type and how much ‘eye contact’ is appropriate and to give what looks like an approximation of this. Getting this calculation correct is hard work, as too little would make me appear ignorant and too much would make me appear threatening. The constant effort of trying to do what is expected of me is stressful and exhausting.
It is said that looking into a person’s eyes gives you a lot of information, which is one of the reasons why I try not to do it. If I were to make ‘eye contact’, the other person would receive information about me too, which is the last thing I want. I have developed my own methods for working out what people are thinking, so using ‘eye contact’ would mean that I would lose my advantage.
If forced to look directly into a person’s eyes, I tend to un-focus mine in the hope that this provides a barrier to information transfer. This trick has proved invaluable when ‘persuaded’ to take part in staring contests with my niece, although I am reluctantly forced to admit that I nearly always lose.