Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Aye Aye, Captain

The thing about mental health is that it isn't always visible, it's not like a skin condition, or blindness or alopecia. As Asperger Syndrome (AS) manifests itself in social impairment and other subtle things it is something that is very much hidden. So much so that even the afflicted often don't know they have it. This is good for those of us with AS as it lets us tell who we want and keep secret from who we want.

Or can we?

Without a shadow of a doubt, there is one sure-fire thing to look for in someone with AS, a symptom above all that you can actually visualise…the lack of eye contact. Now as with all things AS, making poor eye contact doesn't mean someone has AS…but if someone has AS they'll almost certainly make poor eye contact.

They say a lot of communication is non-verbal, in fact they say most communication is non-verbal. Well, let's say I don't read non-verbal communication? Why should I look at you when you're only giving off information I can't see? You ever want to focus on something so hard you just close your eyes to block everything out but what you're focusing on? I'm not going to close my eyes when we talk…that would be crazy. So I'll do the next best thing. To stop being distracted and to focus on the words you're saying I won't look at you, I'll look at the wall or something. If I look at you and your expression changes it means I have to wonder what you're doing and what my response should be. If I can't see your expression change I don't have to react to it. I'm only interested in what you're saying so just let me listen. If you want to convey something non-verbal to me then learn to use your words better.

It's not just the lack of need to look someone in the eye...it just feels uncomfortable, I feel exposed and nasty. I don't know what's being asked of me. It's like the other person is trying to establish a bond that I'm not hapy with, like a hug from a stanger.

I tend to deal with some people better than others. When my boss talks to me I try and force myself to look. Mainly cos he's always bollocking me about being aloof. When my co-workers talk to me I try and look at them cos I know it means something to them. I can vary between holding eye contact if we're in a factual conversation, down to making eye contact briefly and frequently but only for a moment before looking away again if we're having anything else. However if you’re serving me a Big Mac or I'm paying for my petrol then forget about it…seriously.

However there is one kind of person I just can't look in the face. There is also a faint tie to my childhood in this respect also, as there was someone in my school with this "trait" much like I have a co-worker with it now - the person who speaks every line like it's a joke. I'm sure you know the person…they're not funny, not at all, but they want to be. So they speak every line with a comedic intonation and a put-on smile cos they know that when they smile the rules dictate you smile also. Well I don't follow the rules, I hate the tone you use to speak when nothing you say is funny, and I hate the grin plastered all over your face. I can't genuinely react to any of it so I can't look at it. I found it hard to deal with as a child, but with my co-worker as we are in a technical environment I use the "thoughtful look away". I look intently into the near distance as if deep in thought, contemplating what they're saying as if it was a great mystery. Or I'll just look at my own monitor as if what I'm doing is so important I can't look away, but I'll still try and talk to you.

It's an annoying trait only found in people with no sense of humour at all, people with very little personality. Rather than be funny, they paint what they say with the trappings of funny as if that on its own makes it funny. And as nothing they say is funny they don't bother discriminating, they just do it with everything they say. Seriously. They can tell you what they had for breakfast but their tone will rise and their grin will widen as if delivering a punchline. I HATE IT. If you're the type of person who only ever gets "nervous laughs" to your constant verbal diarrhoea then just stop doing it…people aren't laughing cos they find you funny, they're doing it cos you're making them uncomfortable.

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