Have you ever met a person and knew right away that you could be friends? If someone were to ask you what it is about that person that you liked so quickly, you would probably say it was something about their eyes. They probably had kind eyes. You see, you had the chance to make that eye contact, to see if that person was honest and kind... or not. It’s something that happens almost unconsciously, this eye contact thing.
In this society, we gain trust by looking in someone’s eyes. It shows that we are not afraid to show them the “window to our soul” ― that we’re not lying to their face. When we shake someone’s hand, there is supposed to be some sort of eye contact that goes along with that so they know we are honest. We’re supposed to look them in the eye, shake their hand and give a quick nod of affirmation for the introduction that just occurred. If you don’t make that eye contact, you’re considered “rude” or “shifty” or “untrustworthy.” It’s sort of an unwritten societal rule that we all abide by ― well, almost all of us. You see, autistic people have a really hard time making eye contact, and that’s kind of a big deal.
As a caregiver to my little Noah, I often wonder what the lack of eye contact means.
You see, I ask myself about a bazillion questions throughout my day but most of them are meaningless.
Do I have enough gas for all the errands I have to run tomorrow?
Are my favorite jeans clean?
What will I make for dinner tonight?
Where are my favorite jeans?
But then, there are tougher questions that pop into my mind, usually out of thin air. I’ll be thinking about how I have to do the dishes and then...boom...some unbelievably overwhelming thought will come out of nowhere. The questions I ask myself about Noah’s eye contact usually conjure into thought something like this;
I need to empty the dishwasher and.....does the ‘no eye contact’ thing mean he’s not listening...or is he not hearing?
I wonder if Noah will be left handed.....does it mean he’s not bonding?
I need to take the chicken out to thaw for..... what if this is all my fault?
You see what I mean? Out of nowhere. That last question really bothers me and I use it throughout the day a lot more than I probably should.
The answers to these questions have the potential to be life changing. What if he really can’t hear? What if he really is missing out on some bonding experience that could be “the difference” in his mental makeup? What if it really is all my fault?
The bottom line is I had to find out why autistic children don’t....can’t....or won’t make eye contact so I started my very professional research on Google. Isn’t that where everyone starts?
There was one article I read that said autistic people could be using their peripheral vision more than “focused” vision and could detect motion and outlines better than smaller, more intimate things like eyes and faces. I thought maybe that made sense.
But, It was more than that. I kept searching.
I finally ended up stumbling across this YouTube video of this pretty, young autistic woman named Amethyst. She hosted a show on a YouTube channel called “Ask an autistic”. She sits in front of the camera with her big eyes and short cropped hair and answers questions very openly and honestly about autism and she uses her own life experiences to help “neuro-typical” people understand. The very first one I clicked on was about eye contact. I found it very enlightening. She says there are two main reasons autistic people don’t like eye contact.
The first reason is because many autistic people suffer from something called “sensory processing disorder”. It means that they can’t process all the stimuli that are coming at them at one time. All the lights and voices and background noise that my brain can block out and ignore are in the forefront for Noah. He has to make the extra effort to block all that other stuff out just to hear me. If he has to look at my face too, with all those micro-expressions that he can’t read, it’s just too overwhelming and often physically painful. Noah is still a little young to know if he has sensory processing disorder but bright lights or loud noises don’t seem to bother him too much at home. He doesn’t like big crowds, though. He hated Mardi Gras. The floats nor the beads amused him in the least.
The second reason is because, even if he doesn’t have sensory processing disorder and it’s not physically painful for him to look into my eyes, it still takes a few extra seconds for my words to translate in his head. He has to think about those words and what they mean, and all while he’s listening to the siren two blocks down the road and the dog barking in the back yard and the TV on in the next room. It’s all so much. Looking at my eyes and face is too much information for his brain to process.
I watched that video (a couple of times) and then sat back in my chair to think about my precious little Noah.
Now, I think I get it.
He either has to look at me or he has to listen to me. He can’t do both. I think it would be like me trying to take a written test while on a roller coaster.......and someone is saying “look at me, look at me!”. I can’t imagine what he must go through.....and he has to do it every single day. It must be exhausting.
I have , for so long, been trying to get Noah to look me in the eyes. I would point to the bridge of my nose and say “Noah, look, you want the sucker? Look at G-Maw and I’ll give you the sucker.” He would sign “please” and “open” and he would point, and sometimes it worked....he would look me right in the eye. But sometimes it didn’t......
And he still got the sucker.
Now I know..... He wanted the sucker so badly that he was trying every sign he knew to get me to open it. It takes a lot of concentration on his part to manipulate his little fingers into the right sign while, at the same time, blocking out the roller coaster in his head. (Not to mention his G-Maw saying “look at me....look at me”.)
As usual, I have learned a lot in this process.
For instance, I learned that if you want to know how an autistic person feels, then you should ask an autistic person. I know Noah can’t answer my questions yet but, until he can, I can turn to the sweet brown eyed girl named Amethyst on YouTube and there might be more YouTube channels like hers I can find.....more research.
Most importantly, I’ve learned that the saying “the eyes are the window to the soul” isn’t really true. While I absolutely love the eye contact when I get it, that’s not his only window.... Noah has lots of them.
Most of the windows that allow me to see his soul are in his actions.....like when he climbs in my lap to snuggle and just be still or when he’s hurt or scared, and he runs to his mommy for comfort. Or when he’s angry......well, trust me, you don’t any windows to know that.
Most people will give you easy access to their windows; all you have to do is look at them. It’s different for Noah.... you can’t see his unless you get really close and you have to look in unusual places to find them but when you do, the warmth and love you feel is as if you’re looking through a stained glass window. One of those giant ones that throw bright, vivid colors and prisms of light in every direction. It truly is a beautiful thing and I am grateful to be a part of it.
I have looked for another quote about windows and souls but couldn’t find anything appropriate so, of course, I’ve come up with a few of my own.....
“The eyes are only one window to the soul. You have to look for the other ones..... and those are really worth finding”
“If the eyes are not able to be the windows to a person’s soul, then allow their actions to be.”
“Actions speak louder than eyes.”
“Say it with your actions, not just your eyes.”
Because, another thing I’ve learned from my beautiful little blue eyed wonder boy is this; shouldn’t we all act the way we feel?
Then nobody would have to guess.
This was taken from my blog, gmawandnoah.simplesite.com