Smiles on the Spectrum: Autism and Facial Expressions

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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.”

That’s hard.

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!

 

 

 

What Every Autistic Child Needs to Hear: The Autism Talk We Don’t Talk about Enough

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If you’re a parent of an autistic child, then I can relate.

Not with you. With your child.

And that’s hard. I wish I could empathize with what it’s like to raise autistic and neurodivergent kids. But I do wish to help.

I’m an autistic adult who was once an autistic child. See above for proof. 

The ‘doing’ of parenting, so I’ve discovered, is hard as a whole. That said, some things are easy.

Talking is easy. 

But for all we do and learn about talking about your autistic kids, or getting them to talk, or figuring out why they talk to themselves, or (as it was in my case) getting them to stop talking — we don’t think about what autistic kids want to hear.

Here’s what we need to hear:

“I’m glad you’re different.”

It gets better.”

“I’m sorry.”

“How can I help?”

[Not yelling]

“Help me understand.”

“I’m still learning. This is OK.”

Here’s why [literally any change, reason, direction, etc]. . . “

“I know you’re worried; here’s what we can do.”

“Normal is easy, but it’s boring. You deserve better.”

“[DEEP SIGH]. I’m not mad at you. I just need a deep breath to be my best self here.”

“You know we’re both still learning?”

“Could you tell me more? It might help, and I’m listening.”

“Take some time; it’s OK to need some space.”

[Precise, sequential, unambiguous directions]

“That’s a good question – I don’t know.”

“Here’s what I appreciate about you.”

“Thank you.”

“I won’t make you feel bad about this.” 

You know, I struggled with this too.”

“This might be hard, but I believe you can do it.”

Would you like to try [xyz]?”

“Here’s what I mean by [idiom].” 

“It’s OK to need help; it really does.”

“What are you looking forward to today?”

I can negotiate on x, and y, but not z, ok?”

“Here’s what I’m thinking, and I’m just thinking here . . .”

“This is why I couldn’t tell you about [x] sooner.”

“I’m sorry this didn’t go as expected – it surprised me too.”

“You’re not wrong about this.”

I’m glad you are you.

“Can you help me understand why [xyz] makes you upset (or happy)?”

“I love you — and here’s why I do.”

 

If you’re a parent of autistic children (or even if you aren’t!), I’m glad you found this blog. Parents like you have told me it has been helpful, and that’s encouraging to hear. If you want to learn more about autism from an autistic person’s perspective, follow & subscribe to The Life Autistic – or follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Twitter / Instagram. Thanks.