Monday, June 11, 2012

Effectively faking eye contact

"Look me in the eye" isn't only the name of a great book by John Elder Robinson, an adult aspie.  It's also a refrain familiar to any aspie, from childhood on up.  Our inability to easily look at eyes leads to all sorts of problems from childhood through adulthood.  We're called liars and untrustworthy simply because we can't make eye contact with the ease that nypicals can.

This issue has led to trouble for me.  I can recall a specific incident when I was in elementary school, prior to being diagnosed.  I was being accused of doing something I didn't do by two other girls in my class and taken to the principal's office.  After giving my side of the story and them giving theirs, the principal declared that I was a liar because I wouldn't look at his eyes.  I was punished and they got away unscathed, leaving me confused and angry.

Why couldn't I look at eyes?  Why did it stress me out so much?  I still don't know.  Even today, I don't understand why it's so hard for me to look someone in the eye.  I can do it briefly now that I'm older and trained to resist the discomfort, but in a stressful situation or when I'm concentrating, that ability goes out the window.

To substitute, I've learned how to fake eye contact.  It takes a bit of practice, but I can do it now without thinking about it.  The technique was simply a modification on the techniques used to train me to look at eyes combined with my natural ability to unfocus my gaze and appear to be looking straight through a person.

Here's how I do it:

I select a location that I'm comfortable looking at which is close to or on a person's face.  This can range from their upper chest to the top of their head, including their nose, mouth, ears and forehead.

Once this location is selected, I focus on that place for a few seconds to a minute, before I unfocus my eyes and flick my gaze to another area I'm comfortable with.  If this means going from their chin to the top of their head, the unfocusing keeps me from having to look directly into their eyes and it's brief enough that most won't notice that I'm looking through them instead of at them.

Occasionally, I'll meet their eyes for a moment at what seems like a key point in the conversation, just to give that full acknowledgement that they have my attention before I look back at the area slightly away from their eyes.

A note of caution here: If the person you're talking to has a deformity or injury of some kind in one of these areas, avoid looking at that spot.  Staring at an injury is insulting and can make the person feel uncomfortable or make them angry at you.  The same goes for women, particularly those with large chests or low-cut shirts.  Don't look at her chest as she will likely perceive you as staring at her breasts, which is insulting and gives off the impression that you're a pervert.

This technique has been working well for me for several years.  Most people either don't care or aren't paying enough attention to tell when you're not looking directly at their eyes.  Try it for yourself and let me know how it goes, and feel free to share your experiences with eye contact in the comments below.

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