The sixth chapter of Aspergers on the Job is titled “Please do NOT fill in the blank”. Here are thoughts on Rudy Simone and discussion about this chapter. Stephanie is one of the fantastic APC Coaches and Doug is the founder of APC.
Doug: This chapter focused on the challenges of facial expressions and eye contact of those with Aspergers’s syndrome. Eye contact is such a tricky thing. I’ve seen many with Asperger’s give me great eye contact, sometimes too much eye contact. Other times those with Asperger’s avoided eye contact as much as possible. Is eye contact a sensory issue, behavioral, motivation, or a combination of those factors?
Stephanie: I think eye contact is a combination of those factors. Some people have just learned that it is important to do (behavioral) and they will make the effort to have eye contact. Others will not make eye contact like Simone described in the chapter because of the sensory issue involved that makes it too difficult. I’ve also read about situations where adults with autism will tell others that they can either pay attention to the conversation or make eye contact but they can’t do both because of all the effort it takes.
Simone also brings up the issue of facial recognition difficulties. I had a situation about a year ago where I ran into one of the clients I work with out in public. At this point we had been working together about 2x a week for almost 6 months. However, when I saw this individual we were in a setting that was different than the one where we usually meet and this client said to me (after I initiated a hello), “Hi. I’m so sorry but I’m horrible with names”. Even though this person knows who I am they weren’t able to recall my name immediately because we were in a different setting, a different context. Again, the issue of context comes up and I feel that it has a lot to do with the ideas that Simone addresses in this chapter.
Doug: I’ve had a similar scenario you have described happen to me four or five times with our clients.
The end of this chapter suggests an interesting activity with questions to go along with it. The activity is to practice eye contact for a day and journal your thoughts and reactions to it. The questions are: 1) How does it feel and why do you think that is? 2) Are you a confident person? 3) If not, why not? 4) What can you do to improve your confidence.
I attempted this activity not so much for a whole day, but over a few days in my interactions in the community. I found it was a mixed bag in terms of people who would give you eye contact. It’s just an observation due to this activity, but the general population may not have as good eye contact as we are led to believe. I was pretty comfortable giving eye contact. However, once the eye contact was returned I didn’t feel as comfortable. I was fine for about a second, but after a second or two I become less comfortable and then was more likely to look away. Therefore, maybe eye contact is all about confidence? I generally think I’m a pretty confident person, but now after doing this activity maybe I’m not as confident as I thought I was. Thats enough psycho-analysis of myself for now Rudy Simone.
Stephanie: That’s so great that you did that activity! I’m impressed! I think just knowing myself that I would have a hard time with it. I can initiate it but then when it is returned for a significant period of time I have to look away. So if the general public isn’t doing it as much as we think, why is this an essential skill that we need to teach others? Or can we just teach them when it is important to have eye contact and in what situations it would be okay to forgo it? So many skills that we speak of are situational. In addition, you raised a good point. That a lot of eye contact is about confidence and self-esteem which tends to be low in many of the adults I work with. So maybe the deeper issue is helping build self-confidence and then the rest will follow much easier?