Thursday, June 30, 2016

Eye Contact Examined Six Years Later


Six years ago I did the first personal social experiment of mine in the "Great Sunglasses Experiment". Doing that would lead me on the journey of The Aspie Traveler, but this past weekend I worked a USAC .25 national event at Pikes Peak International Raceway and when I’m flagging during the day I use reflective glasses much like the glasses I use six years ago and there is a great deal of comfort using them because I am immune to eye contact issues. The weather in the Colorado Springs area, though, is ever changing and a strong storm was just north of the track and blocked the sun and I had to switch to my night glasses as we went into a delay for wind (I had never witnessed a wind delay before, but 40mph winds made things a bit tricky) and as I sat down with the new staff I found it to be uncomfortable.

As mentioned last week there are a lot of new faces among the USAC .25 crew and I have enjoyed my ability to hide my eyes from everyone. This isn’t because I want to avoid them, actually the whole crew is fantastic, but still I struggle with eye contact. The new staff are aware of my diagnosis and I was very open with them as there were four of them sitting on the wall and I was standing and I said, “This is actually uncomfortable because I have no idea what to do with my eyes now.” There was comfort and discomfort at the same time because I felt at ease enough to open up about the issue of eye contact while at the same time feeling utterly lost in the discomfort of having issues with eye contact. Questions were then asked about what it feels like and where I typically look which then I went into a miniature presentation and things became a bit easier, but afterwards the ill-at-ease feeling returned.

I learned so much six years ago during that experiment and the power of being able to hide, but is being able to hide such a good thing? Obviously, when out in the sun all day, I am going to protect my eyes, but is it a good thing to use them to avoid eye contact at the track? The amount of relief I experience being hidden is ever so relieving as I struggle day in and day out on having absolutely no idea how to hide my struggles with eye contact.

Struggle? Yes, it isn’t just the discomfort of making eye contact but it is the constant state of readiness and alert on watching an area to make sure eye contact isn’t going to happen and if it does I have to ready the backup plans and prepare for the possibility of sustained eye contact which then I have to come up with a contingency plan on how to get out of it. There’s more than just the discomfort of the moment of eye contact because there’s also the fear of it and the constant state of alert and that’s what I experienced when I was with the staff in my clear glasses.

This topic is another one of those strange contradictions because I know I should make eye contact but it’s just so discomforting. I want to be a part of the world and at the same time I want to be hidden from it. This is the struggle, this is the battle I face each day. I can watch two people meet, shake hands, and make eye contact without any hint of a battle, and yes I do mean battle because for myself that’s what it is. For those that don’t have to deal with this I don’t know if I can ever put into words just how tiresome this all is. If you do deal with this then I probably don’t have to write a word more to describe this because you know this all too well. There are some things that can be described in great detail on the way it makes a muscle tense up, or how certain sounds create a surge of adrenaline, but when it comes to this topic the strange contradictory nature of Asperger’s reigns supreme because I want to be a part of that grand world out there. I want to be a part of the world and understands what makes it tick. And I most certainly don’t want to be isolated, but the grand world is scary, eye contact seems to be the initial thing that makes the world tick, and being isolated brings a grand scale of security and safety albeit with a high cost. The cost of feeling alone, misunderstood, and wondering what it’s like out there? What is it like to be a part of the world? What’s it like to not be on constant alert and watching out for the potential for eye contact? Often times eye contact issues are minimalized and may just misunderstood as a sign of disrespect, but from my side it’s greater than that and is a major factor in all that goes on. Avoid it and feel safe, but avoid it and be alone. Sure, I can hide behind the glasses but then how long will that work, how long can I be a phantom? What’s the solution? I don’t have one, but this is the struggle, and these are the elements in play.

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