16 People With Autism Describe Why Eye Contact Can Be Difficult

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For some people on the autism spectrum, making eye contact can be a stressful, distracting and sensory-taxing experience. Far too often, though, outsiders view avoiding eye contact as “rude” or “antisocial,” when this isn’t the case at all.

In an effort to better understand how this experience feels for many on the spectrum, The Mighty asked our readers with autism who find eye contact difficult to share a description of what it’s like.

This is what they had to say: 

1. “It’s abstract to me and can be draining. Looking at someone else in the eye means I am taking in everything about them as a person, and I become overloaded. It’s a constant stream of extra sensory or processing information on top of what I’m already trying to sort through in my head. It can disrupt any thought or speaking process I have going on and zaps my energy quickly.” — Laura Spoerl

Quote from Laura Spoerl that says, "Looking at someone else in the eye means I am taking in everything about them as a person, and I become overloaded."

2. “My eyes take pictures of the things I see, and I can mentally go back and revisit these pictures in my mind for a very long time. If I look into your eyes for too long, I become overcome with so many pictures of your eyes. It is overwhelming, and I have to look away to give my mind something else to process.” — Sydney Brown

3. “It’s just feels yucky.” — Tom Bowes

Quote from Tom Bowes that says, "It's just feels yucky."

4. “To me, eye contact feels like I’m being stared at, like I’m being scrutinized and judged. It makes me uncomfortable because I feel like I’m under immense pressure, and the tension builds and builds until finally I have to look away. It feels almost confrontational, which causes me a lot of anxiety. It’s just too much pressure, and I can’t keep eye contact for very long unless it’s with someone I trust… But despite how my eyes may wander, or if I’m even looking in another direction, make no mistake; I am still listening, and I am still interested in what you have to say.” — Emma Wozny

5. “It can feel like you’re standing there naked. It’s very difficult to form a coherent thought with all of this going on in your head. My trick for making eye contact more bearable is to make ‘eye contact’ with peoples’ eyebrows. Nobody ever knows the difference.” — Megan Klein

Quote from Megan Klein that says, "It can feel like you're standing there naked."

6. “As a child, I didn’t give any eye contact at all, but I now give it (or let people believe I’m giving it) in certain situations but not in others. If I’m stressed about something, I likely won’t be giving any eye contact, and in general I’m not a fan of it. It’s hard to explain why eye contact is difficult, but a lot of the time it feels spooky. It feels as though someone is looking right into your very soul. That’s why it used to be absolutely unbearable and still is in certain circumstances.” — Alex Lowery speaks about autism Facebook page

Quote from Alex Lowery that says, "A lot of the time it feels spooky. It feels as though someone is looking right into your very soul."

7. “For me, it’s difficult because I feel like the person I’m making eye contact with may be able to see just how socially awkward and odd I am. I force myself to make eye contact when speaking to a person, but it can actually make my eyes burn or water while doing it.” — Jill Toler

Quote from Jill Toler that says, "It's difficult because I feel like the person I'm making eye contact with may be able to see just how socially awkward and odd I am."

8. “When I make eye contact, the world around me blocks out. I can only process the immense pain and discomfort that comes to my brain. This pain goes if I look away.” — Lucy Clapham

Quote from Lucy Clapham that says, "When I make eye contact, the world around me blocks out."

9. “I find direct eye contact too confrontational, and I don’t handle confrontation well.” — Liz Stanley

10. “It’s sometimes physically painful trying to maintain a constant stare straight into someone else’s eyes. It does not mean I’m not listening or have something against the person talking to me, it’s just an uncontrollable struggle to maintain eye contact.” — Chris Amor

A quote from Chris Amor that says, "It's sometimes physically painful trying to maintain a constant stare straight into someone else's eyes."

11. “If I try to look at you when I’m trying to say something I have a hard time getting what I want to say out because I can’t separate the processing that takes place with both tasks.” — Nell Rus

12. “For me it can be a physical pain; it feels like burning with too many emotions, and I just can’t take it in all at once.” — Rosie Howard

Quote from Rosie Howard that says, "It feels like burning with too many emotions, and I just can't take it in all at once."

13. “There’s plenty enough for us to concentrate on mid-conversation without the demand to do something which, quite frankly, feels very unnatural to many of us. You can have my eye contact, or you can have my concentration. Choose whichever one you value more.”– Chris Bonnello, from Autistic Not Weird, told The Mighty in an email

14. “It is a very uncomfortable feeling. It feels like a threat, like an invasion. I find it much easier to make some contact with people I am familiar with.” — Deidra Tucker

A quote from Deidra Tucker that says, "It feels like a threat, like an invasion."

15. “Eye contact is hard for me because I am easily overwhelmed by lots of different input. When I am trying to listen, follow, or contribute to a conversation or just manage all my different sensitivities, it is easiest, most comfortable and least painful for me to not make eye contact. I listen and focus better when I am not making eye contact.” — Erin McKinney told The Mighty in an email

16. “For me, it just feels unnatural.” — Emilyanne Wachter

Quote from Emilyanne Wachter that says, "For me, it just feels unnatural."


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