Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Reverse Prosopagnosia?

It happened again, this time at Michaels, the arts and crafts store. I saw you go into the store. I watched without saying anything, because I know sometimes I am wrong, but this was you, I swear it was. Still, I waited until I heard you speaking to your companion. Yes, it was you, I was sure now, so I walked to the end of the Prismacolor counter, up to the endcap where you were standing and said a long drawn out, amusing I thought, hello, and you looked at me like I might be crazy. At least I think that's what that look means. Then you were someone else, suddenly. Wrong again.

I call these events "reverse" prosopagnosia, since they are opposite the more common occurrence in which the other person says hello, not me, and suddenly they are...well, still nobody I know. Sometimes those are easier, sometimes I can "fake it", but most often the person catches on that I don't have a clue who she is or where I know her from. But still, that's easier, being seen as merely oblivious and/or uncaring. As opposed to insane. As opposed to suddenly, every clerk in the store is asking if they can help me find anything, help me at all, help me get the hell out of there as soon as possible.

Shopping while autistic, dining while autistic, walking down the street minding one's own autistic business, chirping a bit, repeating the fact that seven times seven is forty-nine, stopping perhaps to howl in the Speedway parking lot, these are not approved activities in our society. Like saying hello in a silly way to a stranger, they draw unwarranted suspicion and fear.
That really is a shame. None of these activities is harmful or threatening to anyone. They are natural to me, as much as chatting about celebrities, politics and sports are natural to NTs.
Most of us hide our "stims" in public if we can. I find that I do this less and less, at the risk of alienating NT acquaintances who are embarrassed to be seen with me. They accuse me of "acting out" or "giving up" sometimes. They remind me of those heterosexuals who would require gays and lesbians to stop "flaunting" our sexuality. To blend in. To be invisible. To not dare ask for or demand equal standing with those who adhere to social norms.
Autistics aren't even there yet.

We haven't had our Stonewall. We haven't been de-medicalized. I have had the occasion several times lately to speak about autistic civil rights. I bring this into conversations whenever I can. Outside our own autistic community, the idea is often seen as bizarre, if not ridiculous. And I believe that this is not out of spite but of ignorance and fear. People don't know us. And if we keep hiding our stims, keep up the act of "being normal", how will they ever?
Hostility toward gays is still rampant, but impressively less so than thirty years ago. The biggest factor in this is that some (not all, not most) gays and lesbians stopped hiding who they were. People started to realize that the people of whom they spoke so hatefully were members of their families, people they respected. Among enlightened people at least, being gay is no longer shameful; prejudice is shameful. But first they had to see us.
In an ideal world, I would say to the person I mistakenly greeted, "Oops, I thought you were someone else. I'm autistic". And that would be no big deal, she would know what I meant and be less afraid. Unfortunately, as things stand, such a statement might have made her more afraid.
I wish I had said it anyway. It's the sort of thing I think we need to do.


  1. OH... -what an awesome, perfectly stated, ON Target -- magnificent post this is!! The sparkling, clear, clean water of truth-I'm thrilled to get to take a good swig. Truth cleans the soul and feels so good. Your courage, honesty, clarity and integrity are helping AS people find PRIDE, COMMUNITY and DIGNITY. You are among those who will make Stonewall happen for AS men and woman. Your inspiring candor and stencil clear examples will open the eyes of anyone who is willing and ready to see the truth -- family, friends -- coworker. Walking through the posts of this blog is one fantastic trip. I am savoring the journey.

  2. Nice post. I have prosopagnosia, too.

    I also believe in "reverse" things. I don't have reverse prosopagnosia, but I do sometimes do something else that I call "reverse" but even though I talk about it quite often, right now I can't remember what it is. Sigh.

  3. I remember now. "Reverse brain syndrome." This is when you go one way but meant to go another, or you said one thing but meant the complete opposite. Things like that.

    Sounds like you have reverse brain syndrome, too. :)

  4. Stop being Autistic, will ya?! lol

    I must acquire this look of becoming one with the shelf of productos that I'm analysing. To the point that inst really semana like i beling there, because so often, people walk up to me and ask me: "do you work here?" Regardless of where I'm in sweats or a suit and tie.

    Other times the people who work in the store must instinctively detect something "different" about me and them its what I call "fear of the unknown" kicks in and, as you eloquently depicted, they take it upon themselves to focus all their attention on me to facilitate my purchase and get me the hell out of there as soon as possible before something "abnormal" happens or maybe I scare some if the other customers away, it, who knows, maybe I might, *egad!*, help one of such customers when they approach asking me if I work there. xD

  5. This kind of thing happened to me constantly when my brother decided to turn orthodox on me and moved to an enclave and sometimes I would meet him on his way home from his job and I would have to stop and "excuse me, are you my brother" practically several times along the way until I finally met with him. No, not all Orthodox Jews look the same. In fact there are distinguishing features between them, but for someone who is already occasionally bad with recognition and not able to recognize people's faces from behind as you're walking up to them, especially when they're all practically wearing the same uniform... It makes it frustratingly difficult, but also more understanding about people who initially think that we as autistics all seem the same. xD

    My brother's ears must be ringing. lol

  6. I notice that on some days my motor movements are like that. I turn left instead of right. Press the unlike button on Pandora when I meant the like button *grrr*. Self incriminate myself when I mean to do the opposite. Choose a task I did not intend on completing first, but last. Read a magazine or catalog from back to front. Or appear effusive and more helpful to those I don't know than know. Etc. I don't mean Ill by any of this.


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