In my final year of school I was given an assessment in art class where I had to do a painting which represented my daily life. For that I drew and painted a picture of Harry Potter playing quidditch at Hogwarts. After I had completed the picture my teacher noticed something that I hadn’t given any thought to at first. She noticed that none of the people I had drawn in the painting had any facial expression. Instead each and every person in my picture had a straight lined mouth and round open eyes.
To me the picture didn’t seem unusual because I have extreme difficulty with noticing any facial expressions in my everyday life. However my teacher was very curious and asked me why I had drawn all of those people the way I did. I then answered with complete sincerity that it was because that’s the way I saw people in the real world. From there my mind was in a panic as to how I was going to learn dozens of facial expressions in a mere hour (which was the amount of time that I had until that assessment was due).
When I voiced these concerns to my teacher she merely smiled and told me that she didn’t want the picture changed in any way. She reminded me that the purpose of the assessment was to give a visual description of what I saw and felt in my everyday life. I was then told that I’d clearly done everything correct in regards to this.
I’ve had autism for my whole life and I’ve always seen the world in the same way. Facial expressions are something I generally don’t see, unless they’re exaggerated in cartoons. In real life it’s very hard for me to see any expressions because they are so subtle. Difficulties arise because everyone’s shape of mouth is different, and whenever sounds are pronounced our lips move as well. As for facial expressions in a person’s eyes, I can only tell whether they are open or closed. It’s said that the very first facial expression a child recognises is a smile. Yet I’ve only ever seen a cartoon character smile. On a real person it’s just too subtle for me to discern. There have even been times when a person has been looking at me in a very insulting way, but I had no idea anything was wrong until I got told why they didn’t answer or scarpered away from me!
In summary however, I’ve never known what it’s like to read facial expressions or even tones of voice. So this is life as I know it, and I’m generally happy with my life. If something changed suddenly within me, which made it possible to read people’s emotions, I don’t know how I’d cope with all of that. During my day I’ve got enough to experience and think about. If I were to be bombarded with facial expressions and flashes of various emotions a minute, I think that I would be driven absolutely bonkers!
In conclusion, I do find it (somewhat) challenging to have difficulties with reading emotions while socialising. Yet as I am constantly reliving past experiences due to another condition I have called HSAM (Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory), I feel that I wouldn’t cope with the overload of reading a hundred facial expressions a minute additionally. So I’ll end by saying that I’m happy to keep my life the way that it is now, and living in an emotionally silent (or emotionally quiet) world.
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