Q&A: “As an Autistic individual, what makes reading facial expressions difficult?”

This post is an installment in an ongoing series in which I will post answers I have previously given to questions relating to autism. My hope is to provide quick and easy answers to common questions about ASD. This question and my answer has previously been posted on a question answering website.


Question: “As an autistic individual, what makes reading facial expressions difficult?


My answer:

“I want you to look at the two sets of marks below and tell me what’s different about them. Oh yeah, and you have less than a quarter of a second to do it, and then tell me what the difference means.


If you really think about it, what separates one expression from another are tiny differences. The only reason anybody can do it is because most people are hardwired specifically for that job. Autistic people aren’t wired in the same way, so they have trouble.

Plus, even processing that can be difficult during social interaction. It’s uncomfortable for many autistic people to look at and focus on faces. It takes a certain amount of conscious effort read a face, and that’s just more things to think about while flying blind through the stormy realm of socialization. As some may put it, “I can pay attention to your face or pay attention to what you’re saying. Not both.”

As a fun excercise, horses also use facial expression to communicate. The next time you’re around some horses, try to spot their different expressions. Then try to figure out what they mean. That’s a bit what it’s like for autistic people who haven’t had specific training in reading faces.”

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