“Eye contact occurs when two people look at each other’s eyes at the same time. In human beings, eye contact is a form of nonverbal communication and is thought to have a large influence on social behavior.”
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As this excerpt suggests, eye contact is an act that we perform every day and is vital to our social lives. When the term “social behavior” comes up in the article, one can immediately sense that this is an Aspie issue. And one would be right. Eye contact is a notorious problem for individuals with Aspergers and has been known to make many Aspies feel uncomfortable or even threatened. The issue of eye contact when applied to Aspies is so prevalent, John Elder Robison, Aspie and brother of Augusten Burroughs (author of Running With Scissors), titled his memoir Look Me In the Eye: My Life With Asperger’s. Personally, I believe eye contact is so difficult for Aspies in particular (I want to be specific and mention the Aspie effect because A) that’s what my blog is about and B) I know people who don’t have Asperger’s may also have difficulties with eye contact, and I want to be as specific as possible) because it can be interpreted as aggressive (staring) or inviting. We’re aware of the cliché “the eyes are the windows to the soul,” and to an extent it is true: by looking someone in the eyes for more than just a brief glance, we are inviting someone, sometimes a complete stranger, to observe and dare I say judge us. Heck, eye contact is a powerful act even among “normal” individuals, as looking into the eyes of friends can convey feelings of camaraderie, solidarity and affection, while locking eyes with strangers can give off a sense of curiosity or sometimes even hostility. Locking on in this way can be unsettling; and for those of us with Asperger’s, we have a hard time dealing with anything that isn’t expressed in terms we can understand. Thus we’re confronted with something that not only is not immediately clear and easy to decifer, but may reveal more than we like, we panic.
My case, as you might suspect, is a little different. I actually have no problem with eye contact in a social sense. In fact, I sometimes get offended when someone isn’t making eye contact with me, such as when I’m at work and trying to get someone’s attention. I try to maintain eye contact when talking with people onstage as well as in real life.
However, I have had a few unsettling moments when I have made eye contact with someone, particularly when I’m onstage. Recently, I was performing a scene where I had to stand very close to my partner and look right into his eyes. Simple, right? Except because I was so close when I looked him in the eyes, I was able to clearly see myself reflected in his pupils. This unnerved me and made me want to look away immediately. Seeing myself reflected in someone else’s eyes made me feel very vulnerable — I literally couldn’t hide from myself onstage. That got me thinking, maybe part of the reason Aspies don’t like making eye contact is because we’re afraid to expose ourselves and risk rejection. Personally, I sometimes have a hard time expressing myself verbally, particularly when I’m in a heightened state of emotion. So whenever I lock eyes with someone whenever I’m in said state, I become afraid that they’ll somehow see something in my eyes that I can’t express verbally, and they’ll either take it the wrong way or find something I might not necessarily want in the open. Knowing this, I’m going to try to be more comfortable with the idea of prolonged eye contact in order to better serve my social life as well as my acting.