Gaze Aversion: An Autistic Adaptation

Here is a wonderful new post that states what for me has long been glaringly obvious.

Encouraging Eye Contact May Disturb Autistic Kids’ Thinking

Terrific! A concise statement of what I have been thinking for quite some time now. Mother Nature doesn’t make mistakes. There is a reason for our behaviors. True, we can change them if we so choose, and, believe me, I have made many adjustments in mine. Gaze aversion is such a powerful instinct, however, that it obviously (to me) serves a deep function. As Stephen Mark Shore has put it, “I can either talk to you or I can look you in the eye. Which would you like me to do?”

“When trying to retrieve information from memory, or solve a complex problem, looking at someone’s face can interfere with the way the brain processes information relative to the task. This is, in part, because faces are such rich sources of information that capture our attention…”

Autistics capture and process way more information than neurotypicals, in my experience. So we don’t need a constant gaze. An occasional glance at a face gives us more information than we need about the emotional state of the person we’re with. Asking us to look into that face while trying to do other processing is like asking us to take a written test in a room where a live rock band is playing and light are flashing. It’s just impossibly distracting.

And, I might add, this isn’t just about kids. Many of us, as we gain wisdom and experience that come with aging, have adjusted our behavior in this realm, to use more eye contact in settings where that does not threaten to compromise our ability to process information. But, at least for me, gaze aversion comes on strongly if I am formulating a complex thought or engaging in any considerable amount of deep thinking. It’s not something I can (or want to) change.

 

 

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