Here is another area in which someone with AS-DSM IV typically has deficiencies – the whole area of eye contact. I’m sure, if you’re reading this, you may recall one or more occasions, in school, where you got an earful for looking out the window or towards the back of the classroom instead of looking up at the blackboard. Someone with AS may not see the importance of paying attention to eye-contact; ignoring eye-contact can at best, give the wrong impression, and at worst, can get you into all sorts of trouble.
When in a one-to-one conversation
There is a perception that this is a situation where one would expect to find eye-contact the easiest. Not strictly true. Especially, I find, when the other person is doing the majority of the talking and you’re doing the majority of the listening, and the conversation drags on, and your attention slowly but surely diminishes. You will have a tendency to let your eyes pan away from the other person. It takes a bit of effort to stay focussed on the other person, to try and avoid giving the impression that you are not paying attention. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t blink (i.e. close your eyes for a few milliseconds to allow your eyelids to keep the surface of your eyes moist). Blink frequency ranges from about 3 to 30 blinks per minute, and it depends on environmental factors (exposure to heat, cold, dust etc.).
That said, you should avoid staring (i.e., keeping your eyes fixed at a certain point for a long period of time, without moving them away, even briefly). This means you should look at the other person’s face for about 3-4 seconds, then glance away, for about 1-2 seconds, but where? The next headings will explain.
When panning your eyes, be careful where you go!
Panning your eyes, for short periods, is important, to avoid gazing, but it’s important to recognise places where you should avoid looking. For example, if you are in an office, or around reception, and you see some material lying on the desk that you sense could be confidential, or otherwise outside your viewing rights. If the material does turn out to be something you are not supposed to see, there is the potential for a lot of trouble, although you have no intention of saying a word to anyone about what you may have just seen.
Another thing to be careful about is if there are women in the room, you should try to avoid looking at anything apart from the head and the hands, for a prolonged period of time (more than a a couple of seconds). Suffice it to say you could give the wrong impression on many fronts.
Some ‘tricks’ worth trying
One trick I have discovered, fairly recently, is when I am in a one-to-one conversation, and I am panning my eyes around, and come across something on the desk that I sense may be of a confidential nature, and something inside tells me I shouldn’t be seeing this, would be to put a sheet of paper down onto the desk on top of what I have just spotted. Or alternatively, if I happen to be holding sheets of paper in my hand, is to hold the paper in such a way as to block my view to what I think I shouldn’t be seeing.
Another pointer to help, would apply in a job interview situation, where good eye contact would be very important. To control the tendency to look downwards, would be to look in a slightly upward direction. Let’s assume you are sitting on the opposite side of the table from the interviewer(s), and there may or may not be a picture hung on the wall behind the interviewer(s), mounted at a level above the heads of the interviewers. You should try to aim your viewing somewhere between the heads of the interviewers, and the picture on the wall behind them.
What might help would be, rather than sitting up straight, to sit so that your torso inclined slightly backwards, but not too far backwards (i.e. in a slouch position). That way, you would not have to strain your neck so much in order to look in a slightly upward direction. One comparison worth noting is a cyclist on a racing bicycle and a cyclist on a recumbent. The cyclist on the racing bike has his torso leaning so far forward, that he has to strain his neck, in order to see the road ahead, while the cyclist on the recumbent, who has his torso leaning backwards, has little or no such difficulty looking at the road ahead.