Questions for those with normal sight and “typical brain”

It took a while to figure how to best express  the audience to the questions: those without visual (or hearing) impairments (at least that cannot be corrected), and with a neurotypical brain, read nonautistic, or nondyslexic, or no other neurodiversity conditions.

It’s always the other way around. People wonder how do those with X or Y condition do something. Like the classics, “how do you know where you are?”, “how do you watch tv?”, “how can you tell what time of the day it is?” to the usual questions about wiping your posterior. Or the equivalents of any other disability. And it can also be sometimes weird trying to describe how you do something.

Since I grew up in the sighted world, relied on glasses and could read some of the teachers’ notes on the chalkboard and even drive a car, I should still have a pretty good clue how the sighted world works. But some things like distances are getting a bit blurry. So I start to wonder…

How does the facial recognition thing work for you? Can you recognize someone after you’ve met them once? Do you just remember that you’ve seen the face before? Is it something about the facial features and the body, or is it a combination of things? For me it used to be a combination of generic blurry of the face or body, the voice, any of the mannerisms of the person, and some random trivia about them. So a weird combo, and if meeting someone out of the usual context, or if I didn’t recognize their voice (or they were silent when meeting elsewhere), not a chance. How do you do it? Do you recognize everyone you’ve met, or can you filter actively whose face you remember? For me it was of course easier to remember a face if it was very unusual of anyone else around the same city. And if you see someone that you know walking somewhere, from what distance can you recognize them?

Do you always assume facial expressions are used to communicate? If someone is listening to you and it looks like they make some facial expressions, do you think they are always meaningful and are related to what you are saying? Does it make a difference if talking to one person or to a group? If talking to a group, someone looks puzzled, someone else doubting, one has a cynical face, two seem really happy, one looks sleepy and the rest seem somewhat interested, do you consider all those expressions to bear a relation to what you are talking about or how you are talking?

What is the deal with the obsession about eye contact? This is a bit of a cultural thing too. Americans love the eye contact, so usually the speaker seems to stare at who they are talking to, and the person who is listening is apparently supposed to stare at the eyes of the person speaking. Or both of those like 80% of the time, the rest your eyes are allowed to wonder, while your amount and style of eye contact should still pass as typical. Are you comfortable if someone’s eyes just wonder in random directions? Left or right of you, accidentally looking at weird parts of you, or the ceiling, or having jerking eyeball movements like with nystagmus? Are you comfortable with someone keeping their eyes closed while listening to you? I confess: I prefer listening with eyes closed, so I can better focus on the voice. Consider staring at people be stressful, with visual tinnitus and as a result with less brain power to focus on processing the audio. Unfortunately in most situations you are expected to keep the eyes open because of social norm, so the only way to properly hear is with sunglasses, so closed eyes are not so obvious.

Can you tell if someone is lipreading you? Or looking kind of in your face but not in your eyes? I know many deaf people (or other lipreading ninjas) can read an amazing amount of detail from lips. It sounds like science fiction to me; I know the lips move differently for different sounds, that’s about it. I can’t tell where someone’s looking at. Also, since most humans have close to 180 degree visual field, why is the direction of the gaze so relevant? Can’t you lipread at 30 or 45 degree angle too?

Do you think facial expressions are universal? Body language and the way people use their hands while speaking certainly aren’t. In my past experiences, the amount and type of facial expressions aren’t universal either. But how does it seem to you? If you’re an American, and you talk to someone who doesn’t smile in the style and amount the equivalent American of their age and gender would, are you uncomfortable? Do you consider an open (where all or most of your teeth are showing when you smile) and a closed smile (lips closed) to mean different things? I’m not a big fan of big smiles exposing all your teeth, no matter how many kids of your dentists you put thru college. It just looks weird. A closed smile can be more honest, at least in many or some other cultures.

Can you explain me how the “tone of voice” thing works? I know nonautistic people insist the tone of voice thing is more meaningful than the actual words someone uses. It’s bizarre to me. Is that all just an automatic, subconscious thing to you, requiring no conscious interpretation or troubleshooting while listening, or applying a conscious effort to put on some emotional undertone while you speak? Do neurotypical kids need to actually learn it, or is it just part of those unwritten, untold things you people automatically pick up growing? If it is, it must be nice. It’s also way less nice when speaking (at all) is an effort for you, and you get interrupted, and people misinterpret your tone based on their own rules. Like when you are really just trying to speak, not be interrupted, and don’t want to show or express any kind of emotional cues to the interruptor. Even when the problem in that case was them interrupting you and not allowing you to finish what you wanted to say in the first place.

How does the distance thing work again? I know things get smaller when they are more far away. It’s really awkward when I don’t know the distance people can see something from. If there is an unknown person with a smile or with a frown, how far can you notice the person from in the first place, then how far can you be and still notice that it’s a smile or a frown on their face?

How do you know where you are? Is it always about seeing familiar things? Recognizing the streets in the area where you live, recognizing the interior details in a bar you like or your workplace or your living room, all by sight? Would you be able to recognize a familiar place from just the sounds of it, if you were offered a recording capturing the typical sounds of the place? Or the smells of the place? Things like swimming pools and hospitals would of course be easier to recognize, but can you recognize your home, your workplace or tell which grocery store or coffee shop you are at if you only have the smell? Do you navigate (when driving or walking) by visual landmarks or by directions? (“drive three blocks straight, then turn right, towards west. Another 2 blocks straight, then left. 5th house on the right side”, instead of telling to turn at a blue house or Xyz grocery store)

Does environments that are too light or bright ever bug you? For some of us, those are a major issue. Too loud places are really draining, especially if I can’t legitimately escape them. Like when waiting for a flight, or hanging out with friends eating or drinking somewhere. Or too bright places anywhere.

Do you ever need sensory downtime? Do your senses just automatically regulate themselves or do you need to do something about it? This is again wondering it purely as an aspie and a sound based person. I need my sensory downtime, so no loud noises, or people speaking or tv on the background all the time. I know my stepsister goes really antsy if she doesn’t have her talkshow radios and tv shows with nothing more than humans making speech sounds as her ear background. I don’t quite understand how she can function with it, or even want it. Is that something typical for nonautistic people? Can you just hang around with talking people all day, then have music with people sounds like singing, and then talkshows and tv drama and nothing but humans speaking sounds all day? How can you even hear your own thoughts with all that noise?

I would love to hear your answers or thoughts. 🙂


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