Keep Going

The other day, I did something that was impossible for me a year ago- I said hello to a friend in the grocery store. I know that probably sounds pretty trivial to most people, but I have never been able to greet someone if they were not looking directly at me. I have a hard time controlling my voice volume so I was always worried that I would be too loud and scare the person or that I would be too quiet and they wouldn’t hear me.

I also had a major fear of touching someone, like on the back or shoulder to let them know I was there, which is another thing that has changed recently. I have gotten “pins and needles” before when a friend rubbed my back. I was not used to being touched and my body reacted in negative ways to it. But the other day, a friend rubbed my back and there was such an incredible warmth that went through me. It felt like love radiated through me from the touch of their hand. It was such a beautiful and calming feeling.

Anyway, I said hello to this person in the store, and we had a conversation like we would at church or any other place I might see them. It was simple, natural, completely normal to any onlookers and something that person probably didn’t think twice about, but I was ecstatic. I texted another friend to celebrate my accomplishment. I had wanted to do this my entire life. I even asked for help on this blog at one point to get ideas about how I could learn to say hello to someone. It seemed like a daunting task at the time, but has become less terrifying as I have learned how to communicate and express myself better. In this moment, I celebrated how far I have come in the last few years.

I have come so far and made such amazing progress that I just want to encourage everyone to keep going, keep trying, keep working on getting better. Looking at all of my progress is almost unbelievable. Things that were impossible are now normal. Things that used to make me feel uncomfortable can now help me feel the incredible love others have for me. These changes have truly been a miracle. One of the biggest miracles is that most people don’t know how hard these things used to be for me. They see who I am now and think nothing of these major milestones because it fits me now. I have become the type of person that talks to people and loves and feels love, and that is probably my biggest miracle of all.

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Faking Eye Contact

Given my recent interview, I thought this would be a good thing to address today.

You would never guess that I have autism based on my eye contact. I can look at someone for an entire conversation without looking away. But the thing is that I’m really not looking into their eyes during that time. I am completely faking it.

In fact, I fake it so well that I even manage to convince myself. In the past couple weeks though I have realized something that has nearly made me laugh out loud during my conversations. I almost never actually make eye contact. (That’s not the funny part.) The funny part is that people think I’m making eye contact. I find it hilarious that people have no idea that I’m not actually looking into their eyes.

What’s my secret?

I look at people’s eye lashes or the skin just beneath their eyes or their nose or their eye lid. Only every once in a while do I get caught in actual eye contact with someone and need to look away.

How do I know that people think I’m making eye contact?

Your eyes can’t focus on two places at once. Therefore it is impossible to look someone in both eyes at one time. So to compensate for this, your eyes move back and forth between looking at each eye. When someone is looking into your eyes you can sometimes see this back and forth movement. However, if someone isn’t looking into your eyes, their eyes probably won’t move back and forth because they are not constantly shifting focus between your eyes.

So I can sometimes notice someone’s eyes moving back and forth between mine and realize that they’re actually looking into my eyes, but I’m not really looking into theirs. In fact, this is a trick many people use without realizing it. If you get caught up looking into someone’s eyes it can be a very intense experience, but if you simply look at someone’s eyes it doesn’t have the same emotional effect.

Life Happens

Life happens… and sometimes it’s awesome šŸ˜€

In the past couple months I have had a lot of really amazing things happen. First, my niece was born on my birthday. Next, this blog started taking off and gaining followers. Then, another niece was born. And now, I have gotten a job doing the same thing I have been doing as a volunteer (missionary) for the past 7 months.

I start work on Monday and I am so excited.

What does this have to do with autism? Nothing. And yet… everything…

During my interview for this job, they asked what my eventual occupation goal is. I told them that I want to be a motivational speaker. So they asked what I would talk about as a motivational speaker. I responded that I have been through a lot of challenges in my life and haveĀ workedĀ to overcomeĀ those challenges and want to tell others about that and inspire them to work through their own challenges. The manager then asked the seemingly inevitable question about what those challenges were and what I have learned from them.

Well, I took a deep breath and then explained that I have autism. I told him about how I struggled with communicating and learning how to read other people’s social cues and making eye contact. Then I told him how I have learned to communicate better and to respond appropriately to others. I ended by saying that through my experiences I have learned that our greatest limitations are the ones we put on ourselves. Sometimes we convince ourselves that we can’t do something and our thoughts make it so. The reality though is that we are often more capable than we give ourselves credit for and if we only try, we may find that we can do things we thought to be impossible.

Anyway, the manager was pretty impressed with my response and asked if I could talk to his daughter because she needed to hear that. He also complimented my communication skills and eye contact. And I guess it must have worked because I have the job now. šŸ™‚

So even though this job doesn’t really have anything to do with autism, it has everything to do with autism because autism has made me who I am. I am a better person because of autism and I’m grateful for this opportunity so that I can become an even better person than I am now.

Eye Contact

Over the years I’ve gotten a lot better at looking people in the eye when I talk to them. Sometimes I find myself looking away and have to bring my gaze back to the person I’m talking to, but looking people in the eye isn’t as uncomfortable as it was a few years ago.

I can’t exactly explain why looking people in the eye is so difficult or uncomfortable, but I think it has something to do with the intensity of looking into someone’s eyes. “The eye is the window to the soul.” I think that when people look me in the eye I feel that statement very much sometimes, like they are looking inside me and that feeling is very uncomfortable. It makes it feel like your insides are churning and you can only get relief by looking away.

I think now that I understand why eye contact is so important, it is easier to look people in the eye when I’m talking to them. Although it still is uncomfortable looking someone in the eye, my understanding of the purpose of eye contact makes it more bearable and makes me feel more comfortable with it. I think I also focus more on the conversation and what the person is saying so eye contact isn’t in the forefront of my mind.

I also don’t think that this is something I could have overcome by just deciding one day to start looking people in the eye. I think that it was a combination of becoming more comfortable with conversing with people and with making a decision to improve my social skills. Looking people in the eye was just another aspect of improving my social skills and I slowly got better at it by practicing looking people in the eye when I talked to them. Sometimes it was only for a few moments in a conversation, but I now can look someone in the eye for a full conversation and only look away when it is appropriate to do so.