Last week I started my dysFUNCTIONAL series with I Don’t Want to Shake Your Hand. As I said last week, these posts are peeks into my soul. They are about knowing our own norms, knowing what makes us comfortable and knowing that our behavior is perfectly functional and okay.
Have direct eye contact with the person you are speaking with.
Eye contact is something that has always gotten me into trouble. I am constantly multitasking and even though I know it comes off as rude and as though I am not listening, more often than not I am catch myself involved in a least one other task while speaking to someone. It isn’t that I am not listening to the person talking to me or engaged in the conversation, it is just something that I do without realizing it.
The first time I can remember my little quirk getting me in trouble was in the second grade. I was always doodling, writing or something while my teacher was talking. I was listening, if called upon I could answer her questions, but my mom was called and I was labeled as disengaged and a possible problem child.
It was at this time that my mom allowed me to be tested for the gifted program and thankfully I went from being labeled as the problem child to the bored child, was finally given more options to engage my mind, and not expected to keep that locked gaze as teacher spoke to the class.
More recently, my lack of eye contact has become a problem because Matt NEEDS you to look him in the eyes when he is talking to you. Most people assume that children on the spectrum follow the typical “avoids eye contact” scenario, but for Matt it is not so. He needs to know that you are fully engaged in what he is saying to you and needs to read your facial expressions while having the conversation.
He is constantly frustrated with me and asking me to stop whatever else it is I am doing to make that eye contact. It is a struggle for me to shut down everything else and fully engage in just that conversation, but I do it, because I know that is what he needs right now.
My hope is that one day I will be able recognize others needs for me devote 100% of myself when we are speaking and that Matt will be able to recognize that people can’t always devote 100% of themselves.
Navigating social norms when your instincts and comfort level do not fit the mold is a tricky but it is okay. I am happy to embrace Matt’s quirks and mine and find ways to work with them. Just remember, that if I seem disengaged, I’m not, I’m really not trying to offend and if I realize what I’m doing I will be more than happy to look you in the eye.