Imagine if you will a quiet world, well ordered as long as everything has its place.
Imagine a warmth, cozy and comfortingly familiar. Your own warmth, just your own.
Now imagine headlights, bright and intrusive as in a winters night, burning and intense. They glare through your warmth and safety, and push your eyes deep into their sockets until it’s unbearably painful.
Those headlights are someone’s eyes making intense eye contact with yours.
“Look at me!” The mouth beneath the eyes commands. “I don’t want to, it hurts…” you think.
“This is all part of the problem you see?” The voice says to your parents who nod sadly, “Lack of eye contact, this we must stamp out. It’s a sign of non-compliance, a sign of disregard. The child’s lost, you see…?”
“What?” You think, baffled, “I’m right here!”
Your parents sign a form giving permission for intense Applied Behavior Analysis to begin.
Forty hours per week.
Forty hours of look at me/quiet hands? No more fluttering your hands in a language only you know, no more flapping your hands watching golden drops of happiness fly from your fingertips as you hum … no more angry bolts of lightening flying from your nails as you shake your hands so hard your wrists pound.
No more you.
I’ve realized something today.
Eye contact, who’s it for? It’s not for the autistic child. It’s for the recipient. It’s for their own validation to reassure them that you know they exist. That you are aware they are speaking that you comply. That you acknowledge them.
It’s not about the child; it’s no benefit to the child to do something that in many cases is painful.
It’s for them.
They don’t understand the avoidance of eye contact, the rapidly moving hands, the hum and the bounce of the feet.
The rhythmic rock you employ to comfort, a rock that’s universal if they would only look back to a parent rocking a babe: safety.
“Lines are forbidden,” intones the voice. “They are a sign of the child wanting to control the environment they are in! When he starts to make one mess it up immediately,” your parents nod. “Take back the control.” The voice says smugly.
“But I need those!”You think. “They help me make sense of, well everything. They make me safe, when everything else is changing I know they are there!”
The practice of eye contact is not for the child. Too often, society has the misconception that if your eyes are not raised when you or another is communicating, then you have something to hide.
What if that something is your soul?
What if it’s all you have left in a world that’s to bright, loud. and fast? It then makes sense that so many Autistics find peace in natural surroundings.
Bird song, rushing water, and the swish of wind in the trees is surely preferable to beeping horns, bright reflections on glass, and the mindless babble of a hundred conversations at once.
Once words leave a persons mouth where do they go? Do they keep going? As I’m sure many autists hear the echoes of words said long past.
As I know others can’t truly ever know what it’s like to be autistic, to be so comfortable in your own company that a day alone is heaven. Imagine not getting that time, that quiet.
Do not seek to validate yourself through your child, if they do not wish to make eye contact do not force it.
If you do, you seek nothing but self service, for the validation that you exist is there in front of you.
Validate them. Embrace and champion them. They are not there for your definition, they are there because you made them so.
A version of this post was previously published at autisticatedalmayne.com.