eye contact




an inadvertantly creepy thing a lot of autistic people do


Sometimes autistic people want to hang out with a group of people and can’t tell if it’s ok to talk to them or not.

And then, they try to watch for a while to try and pick up on signs that interaction would be welcome.

This is generally a bad idea. The problem is that people find it…

This post confused me, I’m going to assume that watching is not staring here since staring is creepy but how is watching a group for signals creepy? That’s how social interactions are, non-autistic people do the same, perhaps less consciously but still do. Social interactions are about picking up signals from others. There is also a difference beetwen a group that doesn’t want you there and a group of people that isn’t aware that you are there and wants to join, if they don’t want you there obviously you should respect that. I don’t understand why is this wrong except when it crosses certain lines as staring and knowing you are not wanted but insisting anyway. The advice is probably not very useful for those with social anxiety or in some settings.

realsocialskills said:

The reason it’s creepy is because people you’re watching can’t tell whether you’re watching in order to judge receptivity, or just staring.

I don’t know how to explain where the line is, because of course everyone checks receptivity in some way. But there’s a way that sometimes autistic people watch for an extended period, or don’t explain their presence when explaining presence is expected, and that’s perceived as creepy.

I’m not sure how to explain where the line is, because I’ve been struggling a lot with this lately. But I think it is important to be aware that this dynamic exists.

atreeisatree said:

I wonder if a factor here might be whether/when the group (or individuals in the group) notice that someone is watching? I think there have been a couple times when I was in a group, or even just talking to one other person, when I noticed someone was watching us and kinda glanced at them, trying to figure out what they wanted. There might be some faltering in the conversation here if the people talking pause to evaluate you. Especially if there’s a little pause/falter where one of the group members is glancing at you, that may serve as acknowledgement that they think you’re waiting to speak, and a cue for you to cut in. If you’re wanting to try to join a group, that might be a good time to ask, because they are expecting you to jump in. But if the watcher doesn’t say anything at that point, and especially if they keep watching, then it becomes strange and feels like staring.

Or if one person in the group is in the middle of saying something when you are noticed (either by the speaker or another group member), they might watch you and try to evaluate whether you’re waiting to speak, so they know whether to pause the conversation for you. But if you aren’t really indicating that you want to jump in, it also starts to seem like you’re just staring or eavesdropping. It might be good advice to go ahead and make a decision about whether you want to try to join a group pretty soon after they notice you watching, especially if one or more people has been glancing at you: either come closer and try to cue that you want to speak, or stop watching. (If you don’t want to jump in right then, or are still working up the courage, it might be okay to just look away and try again a little bit later.)

On the other hand, if people glance at you, see that you’re watching them, and go right on talking, it might be cue that they don’t want anyone else to join. (Depends.) I think there are other factors too that might indicate whether the group is really open to you coming to talk, because sometimes people might try to give a watcher an opportunity to speak even if they aren’t really receptive to talking to them. (I feel like that’s sometimes the case when a couple of girls are talking and a guy wants to join in: I might give him an opening while also trying to give cues that I’m not receptive.)  

I’m not sure if that is what you’re thinking about? I wasn’t sure how close to the group you were imagining the watcher being. The closer you are to the group, the more watching them silently makes it seem like you’re waiting to say something, and it will become weird if you don’t say anything when they give you an opportunity to do so.

realsocialskills said:

A lot of that sounds right, yes. I think I need to think about it more.

I think this also might be the kind of situation in which neurotypical sighted people negotiate interactions nonverbally using eye contact. So, if you aren’t able to use eye contact that way, you have to find some other kind of workaround.

(Also, there are different kinds of eye contact, and some people who can’t sustain conversational eye contact can learn to use eye contact to initiate interactions. Not everyone can, but some people can, and it can help to know that eye contact isn’t just one thing)



Hi! I love your blog. I don’t know how many blind people read your blog (I heard Tumblr is pretty inaccessible for reading programs) but my friend, who is blind, mentioned that she was taught, in whatever social skills education she received, that there is a “friendship look” that establishes a relationship between sighted people. I was shocked! There are lots of looks that people can give each other, but, in my experience, this is not one of them. I just wanted to alert anybody else who may have heard the same thing.

realsocialskills said:

I’m not sure. It might be that sometimes when friends are in a group, they look at each other kind of to check in. 

I haven’t ever heard anything called a “friendship look” though. Have any of y’all?

bessibels said:

I think this is oversimplified, but not total bullshit. There are definitely times when looking at someone in a particular context or way makes a significant contribution to the understanding of a friendship between them. I’m thinking of things like when you’re in class and the teacher says to pick groups, and your eyes meet with someone else’s in a questioning or knowing way.

I guess I would say that while there’s no single, conclusive “friendship look,” you can share a look with someone that establishes some kind of momentary bond (agreement, emotional support, decision to do something together), and if you share enough of those looks with someone, and also have other indicators of friendship, then you’d end up considering yourselves friends. I think this might be significant and common enough to make a difference between the way sighted and visually impaired people make friends.

I was conditioned from a really young age to be passive and go along with whatever was happening (mostly because of my dad’s temper. He was never abusive but he was very angry and it was never worth the battle to disagree with him), so now everytime i get into a disagreement or heated discussion with someone I end up crying and choking up to the point that I can’t get a sentence out. Do you have any advice for being able to argue inspite of this?
realsocialskills said:
A few suggestions:
It might help to communicate more slowly when things aren’t urgent. For instance:
  • Some conversations might be possible for you to have over email, but not in person
  • It’s ok to say “let’s move this conversation to email so I can figure out what I think without melting down”
  • It’s also ok to need to pause the conversation from time to time
  • Needing the conversation to be over for a while doesn’t mean you’ve conceded the point
  • Some things are urgent, but a lot of conversations can be slowed down

Learn to use the word “maybe”:

  • It’s ok not to know what you want
  • It’s ok not to know whether you’re ok with something
  • It’s ok to need time to figure it out
  • “Maybe” is an important word, you don’t always have to say yes or no immediately

It might help not to rely so much on your voice:

  • A lot of people who can’t get words out for various reasons can still type
  • You might find that typing is more reliable than speech for you when a conversation gets emotionally intense
  • An iPad can be really useful for this since it is very portable
  • You can use a text-to-speech app (Verbally is a free one, Proloquo4Text is a dramatically better but also more expensive one),
  • Or you can even type in Notes and show the screen to the person you’re talking to
  • Or sometimes typing the thing first can make it possible to say the thing with your voice.

It might help to make less eye contact:

  • If you’re intimidated, looking at someone’s face can make matters worse
  • If you aren’t looking at their face, it might be easier to think and speak
Do any of y'all have suggestions for things that help with this?

I can’t look at people without staring. How do NTs get enough information about a person to look away so fast? Or am I not supposed to be taking in information? Is that the point, that I don’t know them so I shouldn’t be looking at them?
realsocialskills answeredL 
I don’t completely understand how NT eye contact works. I think that one thing it’s for is confirmation that someone is paying attention. 
Like, they think that glances verifying that someone is looking in their direction confirms that the person they’re talking to is paying attention. And that they’re noticing them and reacting to them specifically and not just speaking generically.
It can also be used as a request for attention. Like, looking at someone’s face can mean “I would like to talk to you,” and returning the glance can mean “Ok, talk to me.”
A slightly more intense version of this means “I find you sexually attractive and would like intense attention.” Returning that kind of eye contact in a fleeting way can mean “I also find you attractive, and I’m bashfully flirting back.” Returning it in an intense way can mean something along the lines of “Wow, you’re hot. Let’s enjoy our intense mutual attraction.”
Intense eye contact can also mean “I am trying to establish dominance.” In that convention, whoever breaks eye contact first loses.
Avoiding eye contact when someone is attempting to initiate it can signal, in various cases:
  • That you’re afraid of that person
  • That you’re embarrassed or ashamed and don’t want to face them
  • That you’re avoiding them for some other reason
  • That you’re intentionally insulting them by snubbing them and ignoring their requests for attention
Those are the primary things I know about how eye contact in English-speaking NT culture. (Eye contact has dramatically different connotations in some cultures.)
Do any of y'all know of other uses of eye contact? Or things I’m getting wrong?

Accidental awkward eye contact

There some situations in which eye contact is considered inappropriate.

In neurotypical body language, initiating eye contact with someone means that you want to interact with them. It’s often the first stage of a conversation, or of flirtation.

This can lead to awkward situations for those of us who don’t make eye contact naturally and don’t have it in mind much. 

For instance, on the subway it is not considered appropriate to make eye contact with strangers. On the subway, people are supposed to leave each other alone.

People who make eye contact naturally kind of know where not to look, and don’t have to think about it much. For people who don’t use eye contact as a natural part of their communication, avoiding inappropriate eye contact can actually be difficult, since they don’t automatically pay attention to where not to look. 

If you look in the direction that would be for eye contact if you did that sort of thing, people will interpret it as an attempt to initiate eye contact with them. And they will often look back and smile weakly, because it is considered rude to ignore eye contact. But since they don’t want to talk to you, and it’s in a situation in which people expect not to talk to each other, it’s invasive.

For that reason, if you have this problem, it might help to intentionally figure out some other place to look in order to avoid inappropriate eye contact. (Eg, your bag, your phone, the floor, the ads).

You don't always have to argue



Sometimes people want to convince you to do things that you don’t want to do, and which aren’t any of their business.

Sometimes people want to argue with you about politics, and aren’t willing to have the conversation end unless you convince them or they convince you.

It’s ok to decide you don’t want to have those arguments. It’s ok to unilaterally end that kind of conversation.

You don’t have to convince them you’re right. You don’t have to convince them that you’re right about the issue in question, and you don’t have to convince them that you’re right about not wanting to discuss it.

It’s ok to say no to conversations you don’t want to have about things that are entirely your business.

The tricky part is backing out of the conversation gracefully. 

You can say “I don’t think this is the right time to talk about that,” which works well if you’re in a very social situation with lots of people, or at work, in the middle of class, or another situation where an argument or a personal conversation isn’t appropriate. You can say “I don’t talk about that/politics/religion at work.” Or there’s simply “I’ll tell you later,” and then never do. Only a really rude person would press someone to follow up conversation they tried to get out of.

Sometimes you can head off a personal question by answering very vaugly. If someone asks why  you don’t go home for the holidays, you can say, “My family and I are estranged.” You don’t have to give details. If they press, the phrase “It’s complicated” should shut most people up. But no polite person would press a stranger or co-worker to divulge family details. If they are being rude, say, “That’s a personal subject” or “I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

It’s a bit about your attitude, I think. If you’re nervous or giggly, they may think they can pry more info out of you. Don’t smile, try to immitate a grownup person you admire for their authoritative voice, and look the nosy person in the eye, or at least the forehead. Then, continue the conversation. Ask the nosy person a question (not a nosy one), or talk about something else.

Sometimes this works; sometimes it doesn’t. It doesn’t work on people who are willing to manipulate the rules of politeness to keep you in the conversation. People who are willing to do that can pretty much always arrange things such that there’s no way to leave the conversation without appearing rude. This is very common as a high-pressure sales tactic, but it can come up other places too.

When someone does that, you don’t owe it to them to keep following those rules of politeness.

(Also, people who can’t make or fake eye contact still have the right to decide not to have a particular conversation).