I’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.