Question about autistics learning ASL






inthedreamer001 said to realsocialskills:

I am considering learning ASL, and I recently shadowed a local class. While I like the class overall, the teacher kept saying to the students “eyes to eyes, not eyes to hands” to prompt them to make eye contact while speaking ASL. Is this a universal ASL thing? If so, are there exceptions made in the autistic/neurodivergent community? Thanks!

realsocialskills said:

I don’t know enough about ASL and Deaf culture to give you a good answer to this. I’m posting this in hopes that someone who knows more than I do will weigh in.

There are two things I know that might be relevant here:

Thing #1: Sometimes there are competing access needs. Sometimes there’s a conflict between what one group needs and what another group needs. This is often not anyone’s fault, and negotiating it can be very complicated. Sometimes there’s no easy or short term solution. 

Thing #2: There are important differences between how facial expressions work in ASL (and other signed languages) vs English (and other spoken languages.) Facial expressions are much more important in ASL than they are in English. 

In spoken language, most of the information is communicated by sound. Most people who can hear can understand all or most of what someone is saying without looking at them. (Which is a reason that it’s possible to understand podcasts and radio programs.)

In spoken language, eye contact isn’t that important. You can communicate everything important without looking at someone’s face. (Unless they lipread and need you to be facing them so they can see your lips clearly.). Eye contact is a popular way to show respect, to show that you’re paying attention to someone, or to show that you’re speaking to them. There are other ways of communicating all of that. 

ASL and other signed languages are different. Facial expressions mean a lot more, because ASL is an entirely visual language. Some important Information that is communicated through sounds in English is communicated through facial expressions in ASL. If you don’t look at faces, you miss a lot. (Much more than you’d miss in English.)

I don’t know what that means about autistic and other neurodivergent signers. I suspect that for some autistic people, looking at faces in ASL might be possible in a way that looking at faces in English isn’t. (Because maybe it just feels like language and not the intrusive eye contact thing.). But I don’t actually know. I also don’t know how the Deaf autistic and otherwise neurodivergent community handles this. 

Does anyone who is more familiar with ASL and Deaf culture want to weigh in? How does signing and participation in Deaf culture work for autistic-and-similar people who have cognitive trouble with eye contact and looking at faces?

m79point7 said:

ug. not enough room in the reply.  let’s try this again

Eye contact is important in ASL, however, I do not think this should stop ANYONE from learning ASL for a couple of reasons:

1) In my experience, the Deaf community is a lot more open to accommodations than the NT, hearing world.  

2) If you can handle looking at someone’s nose or mouth, instead of directly in their eyes, that is close enough that the other person can easily see your eyes and your facial expression.

Again - this is coming from a hearing person, so it is not ‘insider info’ from the Deaf community, just my humble experience and thoughts.

I would encourage anyone who is interested to learn ASL!  It can be a real help when you can’t talk for whatever reason, and it gives you another way to express yourself.  It also opens up a whole new community and culture full of some really awesome people!  And it is fun!  ASL lets you talk to a friend across a room, through a window, underwater, or with your mouth full!

If possible, learn ASL from someone who is Deaf,a s learning any language from a native user of the language is always a much better way to learn.  Books and videos can only get you so far.  

I use ASL without eye contact. It limits me a lot in what I can say or how I can say it, though.

prosthetical said: @goldenheartedrose @mellopetitone

mellopetitone said:

I’m HoH, autistic, and learning ASL.

Eye contact is the usual way the concept is expressed but you don’t need actual eye contact. In ASL is important to look at a person’s face but you don’t need direct eye contact and more than you do with speaking. You must look at someone’s face but you can look at their mouth or forehead or alternative to look at their hands.

Expression is important, but I know it’s a big struggle for many people to make visible enough expressions. If you don’t emote much, your signing won’t be as interesting, like monotone in spoken language, but you can get across your meaning, though it may require extra signing to make explicit what would be communicated in an expression.

Reading expressions is wonderful for me in ASL. Native signers are so emotive that a lot of understanding comes just from emotion, even if you only recognize a few signs. It’s not like spoken English where I struggle to recognize emotions, especially with people I’m unfamiliar with. Signers who emote get across a huge range of meaning that signal very clearly for me.

The teacher saying eyes to eyes but eyes to hands was less meaning to state down the signer, but to tell students that the way signing us absorbed is by looking at the face for information and to express you’re paying attention, while getting the signs from the outer portion of your vision, not the middle.

TL;DR Looking at the signer’s face is required; eye contact is not. Making expressions is hard and many student signers have a hard time; this is expected by everyone and not a sign of failure. For me at least, signers’ expressions are easy to read and very informative. I understand meaning in ASL much better than I do in spoken English.

(Some of this information is not accurate when communicating with signers with other access needs, like deafblind. The access changes depend on the reason and within that also vary from person to person.)

Any Deaf care to add?