December 17th, 2015


my ADD-PI: stimming and prosopagnosia (difficulty recognising faces)

icon: "ADD-PI (two electromicroscope photos of crystallized acetylcholine, overlaid & warped in several ways)"

Some people say ADD is on the autism spectrum, and I certainly see a lot of similarities between my experience as an ADD person and other people's experiences with autism. Someone with autism mentioned having trained out their stimming behaviors at age 12 and that suddenly brought back a memory of myself at age 12 or 13, at a family gathering. I had long hair and I twirled it around my fingers often (and had done this since age 3 or so) because it was comforting -- it made me feel like I had a bubble of protection somehow. My pibling P told me I shouldn't do it and gave me the impression that people seeing me thought it was a combination of grossness and proof of lack of intelligence. I felt like I had been caught doing something private (I don't think it had occurred to me that others could see me doing this) and I felt deeply shamed. I didn't do it in public any more, and didn't have the urge to do it in private unless I was going to sleep.

Thinking back, I feel very upset with my pibling P. They disrupted my relationship with my hair, my body, and the way I thought of how people looked at me. I hadn't considered that people might examine me for things to judge my intelligence. They stripped me of a protection that I didn't even know was there until they took it away. I remember being angry at the time that they dared to tell me what to do with my own body, but the anger didn't keep me from extrapolating that if they thought this, so might others. Since the only part of me that people ever expressed valuing was my 'smarts' I couldn't risk losing that.

Now I rub my fingernails when I am in public and overwhelmed and have nothing to distract myself with. I put the fingerpads of one hand on the bed of the fingernails of the other hand and stroke down hard, past the tips and down, then do the other hand, back and forth. If I feel like I shouldn't let people see me do this, I will do it with just my thumbs. Paying a little more attention to my movements today I have realized that I do this in a mild way (rubbing thumbnail and forefinger on the same hand) just generally. I also count steps when I am walking in public (usually just up to the thirties and then start over) especially at school (which is where I feel most watched) or when I am in a hurry. I hadn't thought of these as stimming behaviors but I definitely use them for the same reasons.

I was just reading thecaffeinatedautistic and they mentioned face-blindness as more common in autistic people... reading more on that I realize again how much a part of my life this is. Oliver Sacks says "I am particularly thrown if I see people out of context, even if I have been with them five minutes before... Many prosopagnosics recognize people by voice, posture, or gait; and, of course, context and expectation are paramount—one expects to see one’s students at school, one’s colleagues at the office, and so on."

This literally happens to me with even my most intimate people. I was married to someone for 8 years and had known them for 19 years and if I saw them unexpectedly I still wouldn't recognize them until I added up their features. That takes between 5 and 10 seconds: it doesn't sound like a lot, but imagine looking at someone's face while they look at yours and count 5 seconds before you greet them -- and meanwhile, you are making a confused expression. Fucking awkward as shit. I often am greeted by people and don't realize who they are until after we have passed each other -- then I feel terrible because I worry I have made them feel unimportant.

"The artist Chuck Close, who is famous for his gigantic portraits of faces, has severe, lifelong prosopagnosia. He believes it has played a crucial role in driving his unique artistic vision. 'I don’t know who anyone is and essentially have no memory at all for people in real space,' he says. 'But when I flatten them out in a photograph I can commit that image to memory.'" - Oliver Sacks in the New Yorker

HOLY SHIT. This! this is how it works for me! I literally cannot bring to mind the face of a person I love and stare at often -- I can bring to mind individual facial characteristics, but they swirl around like they're parts of an amoeba. But I can remember a photograph! Something about the 2-D visual is memorable while the 3-D just vanishes. This is why it is so important for me to have good (emotionally representative) photographs of people, and why I can recognize a photograph of a person fairly easily but have so much difficulty in person. And why I can recognize actors I have seen before in a different show with a very different character and look (I do this better than most people), but I cannot recognize people who I have met in person if they show up in an unexpected place, and often have difficulty recognizing someone if they significantly change their hair.

I just realized that this is part of why I find unique features and high-contrast features so attractive. If someone has a scar or large birthmark on their face, I don't have to add up more features to know who they are. If they have crooked teeth I can recognize that pattern very quickly. Essentially those faces are less work and less stress, so I associate them with relief and therefore like them more. (I also just like uniqueness in general)