One of the drawbacks of being aspie, at least for me, is mind blindness. Keep in mind that Asperger’s is a spectrum disorder, not a black and white diagnostic tool to define the brain function of an entire group. It’s basically a description of a variety of problems that some people can have that ‘normals’ don’t.
Mind blindness in general means that I’m not supposed to be able to ‘read’ faces. I miss little facial cues that indicate how the other person feels. I might not notice someone is fantastically bored with me yapping on and on about something I’m obsessed with. Very typical stuff you read about aspies.
But sometimes it goes deeper than that. I have a facial recognition deficit problem, kind of like people get with brain traumas. Even when people are familiar to me, I don’t see them in my head the way they really look. In the past I have been mildly laughed at for describing someone and getting the hair color wrong, and I just saw them within the week. I also do this with eye color, and if I were to get really detailed, I couldn’t accurately describe someone’s nose as pointy or round. It’s not so much I can’t remember as I’m so easily able to switch pieces and parts around in my mind. I can reconstruct faces much like computers do. Aspies are notorious for thinking in pictures, which means I can construct extremely detailed scenes and symbols for everything I hear or read or think.
The facial recognition problem gets a little amusing. I worked a hotel desk for a couple of years and saw thousands of faces come through. Some of the regulars got a little miffed if I didn’t greet them like old friends or family members. Some of them would stand around and talk to me and I wouldn’t even remember I’d spoken with them previously until they asked about something I’d said before. One older couple was truly hurt when I didn’t remember them at all, even though, checking the computer records, I had checked them in myself not just the month before, but every month for six months. I had to apologize and explain I have a deficit in facial recognition.
Conversely, I’m a little creeped out when people walk up to me in Walmart or somewhere and start talking to me like they know me. I carry on a conversation just fine, but I never remember who the heck they were. One time I asked the person what their name was, and they were so put off that it spoiled the rest of the conversation, which was quite short, and oddly, I never got the name.
I tend to lose people I’m with easily in public because I don’t see them in a sea of faces, so I try to remember what they are wearing. Sometimes this backfires, and I wind up following other people around, to no end of cracking up on Scott’s part. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve surprised other people in Walmart thinking they were Scott when I was done absorbing myself in a label. I have this thing about jars and labels, kinda distracts me.
Likewise, I get tv personalities mixed up like crazy. I never could keep Dan Rather straight from a couple of other news reporters. There are a few actresses I can keep straight because I’ve seen their movies so often (usually scifi movies), and by now Harrison Ford is iconic in my head, but I had no idea Steve Carell, Dan Burns, Maxwell Smart, Evan Baxter, and the mayor of Whoville were all the same guy. Do you know how many times I saw the complete Star Wars trilogy before I knew who Mark Hammill was? Probably dozens.
There are some faces I never forget, usually because the person has made a huge impression on me in some way. This doesn’t happen very often though.
I didn’t realize that being like this is considered so defective until I ran into a person last year that specializes in doing therapy with patients who have suffered brain injury. I was at a fundraiser laughing with someone about meeting them all over again 5 minutes later, and this woman happened to be in a nearby chair. She was very intrigued that I have this much difficulty with facial recognition and was still able to hold jobs for years. She asked me how I identify people, and I said it’s an overall thing. One person is tall and has a certain voice, another person is round and has a certain chuckle, another person reminds me of a cartoon and cracks me up, stuff like that. It’s not that I’m completely unable to recognize a face, it’s more like it doesn’t get properly catalogued. If I have to go by a face alone with no other identifying characteristics, I get confused. I have found pictures of several celebrities that have Scott’s eyes and nose, and for some reason he reminds me of an uncle when he’s tense, and his hair is like this or that person, and pretty quick, it’s all a jumble in there. It’s like I don’t see the whole face and tag a name to it. What I see are similarities that some parts have to dozens of other faces I’ve seen, and the rest kinda just blurs in my mind.
So if you walk up to me to show me your new colored contacts, don’t be surprised if I have no idea who the heck you are.