Friday, July 22, 2011

The Peanuts Factor

From the earliest of ages I was a big fan of anything Peanuts. No, I'm not talking about the actual nut, but rather Charles Schulz's Peanuts.

Each year he coming of Christmas was marked with A Charlie Brown Christmas as well as Halloween with It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I wasn't so much a reader of the strips, but I watched the television and movies they had. I can't tell you how many times my dad rented Bon Voyage Charlie Brown; And Don't Come Back!

Now why is any of this relevant? Back on Monday when I went to the Barnes and Noble in Grand Junction, Colorado I saw the complete collection of the Peanuts strip. I looked at the mammothly sized book and picked it up to feel how heavy it was. It was quite heavy, but when I looked at the main character, Charlie Brown, I felt a rush of emotions and a realization that, "Oh my goodness! He has a nose!"

A nose? How is that relevant? This all goes back to the issues of eye/face contact and I truly don't think I had ever paid attention to Charlie Brown's face in all the years I watched growing up. Instead of looking at the face I always looked at the yellow and black shirt design that he wore. Then I started thinking about the other characters in Peanuts and realized I did a color association instead of facial recognition to remember who was who.

I find this absolutely compelling as this would mean that I had issues looking at faces even back then. I always thought that I had decent eye/face contact as a child and slowly regressed due to the logic of, "eye contact sometimes initiates a conversation, conversations are open-ended and difficult therefore eye contact is bad."

I held the book for almost a minute forcing myself to look and then I also noticed that Charlie Brown has a small doodle of hair. I had never noticed that either. As I said, I did color association. I knew Linus either from the red shirt, or blue blanket. Lucy was easy as she was just blue, Peppermint Patty was green, Sally was actually remembered by the distinct hair color as there was enough.

There have been several studies I have heard of that measured where people on the spectrum watch movies. Well, not where they go and watch movies, but rather where they are looking at while watching a movie. Many times, from what I have been told, people on the spectrum are either watching off to the sides, or have a pinpoint view of the person who is speaking's mouth. I remember clearly I looked at the color of clothing, or the person's mouth. It's true that when I watch something and am looking at the person who is speaking's mouth it is a real pin point vision.

What I'm amazed at, and never knew until holding that book, was that even with an animated show like Peanuts the lack of eye contact is there. Why is this? I know why I shy away from eye contact now using my logic, but back then? What is it about the face that is so mysterious?

I will admit I don't have the answer... yet. I want it though and I know my mind will be thinking about this a lot this weekend. I do know about the color association, but could my young mind have simply been overloaded by the amount of info in looking in the face? I say now that, "direct eye contact is like looking into a person's soul" but could I have known that at the age of six? Or is it simply that there is just to much info in the face and I didn't know how to state it then?

There are so many questions with so little answers and I apologize for that. I wonder how where other people on the spectrum look, especially with something animated like The Peanuts. I also wonder if anyone else ever did a color association to remember the people on the screen?

I don't know, I have been leaning towards doing the Sunglasses Experiment again as my eye contact was better after that and I had much clearer thoughts on the eye contact issue. Maybe I need to readdress this post after a month of sunglasses.


  1. Interesting post, Aaron. I grew up needing glasses and developed a way of knowing who people where by their gait and hair color, the manner in which they stood, but not by what they looked like. When I got my glasses as an adult I was astonished that people had faces, all of them different. I still don't really see faces, but the way people move and stand, since I never learned how to see them.


  2. Aaron, my son, Bronson...who is on the spectrum on autism, is IN LOVE with everything Charlie Brown! My husband and I found it so interesting that you loved him as well!

  3. I usually find myself looking somewhere at the bottom of the screen, as if wanting to read subtitles, even if there aren't any. I don't know if that's caused by me always trying to get better at English by comparing subtitles and what was said (I loved learning English!) or just because that's where I look because of my autism.
    I do have to say that when I talk with someone, I usually end up looking at their foreheard or their chest. (Sometimes other girls ask me why I look at their breasts. Trust me, I don't. Well, not intentionally.) So it might just be the place where I look.
    Because I look around people like that I do recognise people by hair or clothingstyle usually, also on television. This does get less as I know a person longer (talking about years here).
    One day I had a friend for about half a year or something and I went to pick her up at school. I didn't know her last name yet back then (I do now), so after asking where her class was, the person behind the computer asked me to identify her by picture, since there were more students with her first name. I looked and really wondered over one picture if it was her or not. What was wrong? She was blonde there. I knew her as having dark-brown hair with red streaks (she turned out to frequently dye her hair). My doubting also made the lady doubt if I knew her at all. She told me the classroom after I convinced her I'd take my friend to her to verify she's actually my friend and she could alarm people if I wouldn't do that within half an hour.
    Some other time I manned the information desk at a convention. Someone suddenly stood in front of me and said 'recognise me?'. He had a costume on that only allowed for his eyes to be visable. I stared long and hard, but couldn't recognise him. He pulled down the part that covered the lower part of his face with a smile and I immediatly recognised him. It was my ex I've been together with for 4 months! All my friends told me they recognised him the minute they saw him walking around the convention and couldn't believe I didn't recognise him. Surely having been his girlfriend I would recognise his eyes? No. Sorry, no. I apoligised to him and told him it didn't mean anything regarding the relationship we had or something. Luckily he understood.

    I didn't take notice to it before, but I think I do the same thing with cartoon characters too. Might try to take notice next time I watch a cartoon.

  4. I know what everyone's teeth look like. Eyes...not so much. I actually asked my daughter just yesterday..if her dad's eyes are brown? She said no. Oops. Oh well..what he doesn't know, won't kill him.