Face it! #prosopagnosia #autism.

IMG_2606I’ll put it out there – I’ve had a very challenging time of it recently.

It’s a funny thing finding out you’re autistic late in life. I still sometimes wake up in surprise at my ‘newfound’ situation – and lately find myself astonished at some random moment in my day when my autism is revealed to me as such.

I thought these ‘quirks’ were just me – and they are. But they are also autism. These are the ways in which being me are autistic. It’s quite glorious and freeing – but I also get to grapple with how disabled I can be in many situations, particularly interpersonal ones.

The other day I stumbled on a new old friend – prosopagnosia – a form of face blindness. I can actually recognise faces and can be remarkably good at remembering where I know a face from (once I rolodex and pin down the exact circumstance in which I got to know the face in question). This is so satisfying! For years this skill even tricked me into thinking I was quite brilliant at recognising faces. It’s a good example of how compensation skills can mask disability.

So, it was surprising to me that some years before my diagnosis, I was presented with a room of 6 years olds whose features I found confusing to the point of blankness. Seen as a group I just couldn’t tell them apart – the fact that they moved around so much didn’t help either! Vestibular issues are at the heart of many of my visual/spatial challenges and so this figures.

More puzzling still was the time I thought a photograph of a man was me. This should have  provoked more curiosity on my part than it did – but my bemusement at the time was quite drowned out by the mirth it caused my family who rolled about at my mistake. I myself found it quite hilarious, I must admit.

Looking back I see how contextual my facial recognition is. The evidence before my eyes was suspect even to me. What a big nose I had! What were those shadows on my face? All I could do was shrug at the loss of looks age seemed to bring!

Turns out it was not my nose, and the shadows were sideburns (!) but the point was that it should have been me, because the photograph was taken during a boat trip in which I was there. Other family members appear. They are  sitting exactly in front of where I was sitting on the boat, (precisely where the male interloper seems to sit). Working backwards I now realise that it’s the angle that’s wrong – and so I simply don’t appear. Some strange man (who I don’t remember being there) is sitting where I should be! He’s right in front of my niece – where I should be!

Context overrode all visual evidence to the contrary.  Blimey!

This episode was brought to the fore more recently when a similar blunder occurred. I mistook two random men in a photograph for two collaborating artists (one of whom took the photograph). Here the narrative which drives their creative project overrode the obvious evidence before my eyes. It was potentially embarrassing – but at least I can now say that I am in some ways quite face blind. My strategies are incredibly honed – and I do hold faces in my mind (I love looking at faces too), but this becomes weakened and breaks down easily it seems.

It’s more evidence of the quite different ways in which I piece the world together, and the myriad ways in which I must work harder and can get left behind.

It also makes me prey to misunderstanding, and frankly abuse. It’s not fun finding out you’re vulnerable to manipulation, but it’s important to face it (and take protective measures).

I’ll end this post on that delicious pun.





Published by soniaboue

I am an artist.

17 thoughts on “Face it! #prosopagnosia #autism.

  1. Well this is fascinating and really resonates. I don’t have face blindness, but am utterly thrown if people are out of context. When my son was in nursery I couldn’t pick him out from the sea of tiny people, so would rely on what he was wearing and the shape of his hair to pick him out.

    I have walked past close friends in the street because I wasn’t expecting to see them there.

    When I’ve done tests for faceblindness (not clinical) I’ve had no problems, so I’ve always wondered if it’s a case of me choosing to the path of least resistance instead. Processing faces is hard work, so I choose not to do it in contexts where I don’t expect to know people. It is too difficult for me in situations where there are many faces and movement (information overload). But with nothing else to focus on or distract me I am able to fully recognise people.

    Great post! Thank you.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Ah Rhi – we sound quite similar in some ways! Brilliant to swap notes and think it through in more detail. I really didn’t know the man’s face wasn’t me so I guess I am more dependent on contextual clues to make a face come together? I can memorise faces and hold them in my mind – though the features float about a bit! TY for reading 🙂 xx

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Looking back it’s extraordinary how I managed so many years of classroom teaching when all the evidence now points to this being the last career I should have followed! My particular problem is also one of context. If I see someone in the street who I know from behind a shop counter, say, or a meal out, I’m usually stymied. I typically recognise a face but forget the name, and vice versa — I remember author’s names and publications more readily than a work colleague whom I see on a regular basis.

    And on a famous occasion, after being congratulated by a college principal for a concert performance I was at a loss to introduce my partner by name, who was stood beside me! (The scene in Fawlty Towers where Basil feigns fainting to avoid introducing someone whose name he’s forgotten rang so many bells for me.)

    So, yes, prosopagnosia is an old friend. Thanks for highlighting this disability!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I’m like Rhi too.
    I think I mistake males more than females. I mistake other males for my son (usually from a distance so I’ve not embarrassed myself). I can get stressed when someone expects me to pick someone out of a group photo.
    Yet I’m fascinated by faces and even had an artistic period where I was into portraiture.
    I rely heavily on gait, shape and voice recognition which I’m particularly good at.
    I can recognise actors by their voice and sometimes by unusual shapes their eyes or mouth makes.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. I experience face blindness too, and mine mostly affects my ability to recognize myself. When I was younger I solved the problem by making faces at myself whenever I passed a reflective surface, which works surprisingly well! These days I have a facial piercing which let’s me be pretty confident that the reflection I’m encountering is me. Great post, prosopagnosia is so interesting, people should talk about it more!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks for this revealing post. I too find it challenging when I see people out of their normal habitat. Peter Vermeulen wrote a book on Context Blindness, maybe it’s part of that. Without photos I would forget what I even look like….and it’s getting worse with aging.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I have a degree of face blindness- I find recognising people out of context very challenging and rely heavily on voice and gait. Names are also very difficult; I’m not sure if this is part of the same problem. I can recognise my own face and those of my family, but cannot picture them in my head.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hello there, my name is KaidenGStone I am a writer and artist and photographer, based in the U.K. I am writing a FICTIONAL novel, with the main protagonist, that has Aspergers and High Functioning Autism. I would like to gain more understanding of specific abilities and skills people have. ( None of your information will be in the novel, you have my word, that it will only be used to help me with character profiling research). Any information would be greatly appreciated. Regards Kaiden.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My sincere advice is don’t write this book unless you are yourself autistic – we have enough books written by non-autistics about ourselves which are not helpful at all. Autistic savant is a very overworked genre and most of us are not savant. You would be reworking an old and extremely tired trope. My honest advice is don’t go there. Many thanks!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes I have read her reply, however, both of your comments are the only two negative comments about my novel that I have had from over 20 people I am currently talking to on this subject. So as much as I apprcieate your response, I would have simply like to know why you would appose this. Could I send you the synopsis so you can gain a better understanding of what I am writing, so I can gain your (individual) feedback ??


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