You can tell I’ve been practicing getting my daughter to “smile back.” It’s been a fun exercise, in some cases, literally.
It got me thinking about expressions in general.
People say you can tell if someone’s autistic by their facial expression or by this autistic look that they have.
That’s not really true.
I’ve fooled plenty of people because they say I don’t look or seem autistic, but aye, if that ain’t another topic.
But since learning more and doing more with expression, I’ve discovered some strange and wonderful things about them and how they intersect with autism.
Speaking of doing more with expression, you should check out my latest episode of The Life Autistic on YouTube for proof!
For starters, smiles are inexpensive and easy. They’re unnatural for me (enough to where I joke on camera about “stop making me smile, it’s hurting my face”) and others like me, but not impossible. The fact that it’s almost always voluntary makes it powerful.
Chris Voss — one of my faves — showcases this in the concept of mirroring, and it’s been like a secret weapon for exerting a little tension on my side to erode it from the other side. So yes, neurotypicals, I’m using your “facial and emotional normality” against you to make my life easier 😉
We don’t always “face express” normally. Apparently, we can have a “facial” disconnect in emotional conveyance. I’ve had to almost practice a sad look, a disappointed look, or whatever other look (other than ‘dumb’) to consciously project that “this is how I’m feeling.”
Hunter, what kind of person has to do that?
Autistic people have to do that.
And it’s hard, because, well, when I screw up, and I feel bad, I don’t always look like I do. So you know how that goes:
“You don’t LOOK sorry.”
“You SEEM like you’re OK with this.”
I wish I knew why this was the case: I really don’t. We often come across in our own language and inflective variant, and that may be true in our unspoken communication too.
If you don’t know how we’re feeling, but you care — don’t try to read: ask.
And for what it’s worth: yes, it is fun to give my cheeks some workout to coax a smile out of a baby.
For a former frowner perpetual, I have a lot to smile about these days, even if I have to tell myself “SMILE.” To learn more about autism from an autistic person’s perspective, follow & subscribe to The Life Autistic here and on YouTube — or follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Twitter / Instagram. Thanks!
One thought on “Smiles on the Spectrum: Autism and Facial Expressions”
Ok, wow, this is amazing for me to read! I totally know what you mean about a “facial disconnect in emotional conveyance.” When my dh shows what you call in quotes the “dumb” look, I tend to read it as flat or opaque—if I didn’t know better I would read it as empty but now I see it as an opaque wall that doesn’t let me see the feeling he feels. We are working on kond of translating between our two emotional conveyance styles.