Sunday, April 11, 2010

Using My Side Glance Instead of Direct Eye Contact

“I feel at times that I sneak at being a person. I take a 'side-glance' here and a 'side-glance' there. By using my 'side-glance,' I can sneak at what others are doing. Since I feel inside out and upside down, everything I do is indirect. I know this to be true, but I don't understand why. I have to be indirect and that is one of the rules I must live by. Looking directly at someone is wrong and I cannot do it. Every time I look into someone’s eyes (and I only do this with a 'side-glance') their eyes hurt me and stop me from moving forward. Eye contact is forbidden. This is one of the rules I have to live by. My survival depends on it.”

What is this autistic boy telling us? He feels he needs to sneak outside of himself and does this by using what he calls a side-glance and not by using direct eye contact. Looking directly at another person feels like it breaks an internal code and will stop his forward movement. The side-glance does not seem to break the rules he lives by. The side-glance probably is a safer means of existing and does not forfeit his forward movement, which seems to be compromised by the use of direct eye contact.

This autistic boy has opened up an important point regarding communication and specifically about eye contact, which has been discussed previously. He is talking here about how he has compensated for his lack of eye contact. He does not want to stop his forward movement so he has learned to still be in the world by using his side-glance. This allows him access to the world, but does not put him into a situation of feeling his forward movement will be stopped.

As mentioned previously, I discussed how the autistic person comes to use eye contact. This occurs once he has mastered claiming and talking about his feelings. He can claim his feelings and use them as part of his communication when a caregiver/therapist understands and recognizes his feelings. In a sense he will be able to give up his side-glance and use direct eye contact when he feels seen and recognized. Until he can do that he has no way to represent his feelings in relationship to others. In this case this autistic child found a way to be in the world, but not one that is familiar to most people who have had an attachment. He knows he cannot use direct eye contact so he uses what he knows which is what he calls his side-glance. The use of a side-glance probably is less anxiety producing. He can control his environment by sneaking out a side-glance and not be afraid that he will be expected to communicate in a way that he cannot literally do.