Autistic attention to detail! - is noticing the unnoticeable superfluous, or is it more important than we think?
Posted by Jasper Lee on Wednesday, August 3, 2011
You tell your dog you’re taking him for a walk. Then you disappear for an hour to do something else, and when you return, you expect him to recognise that, like you, he thinks that no time has passed at all! You haven’t noticed that anything’s wrong, but you can bet your life your dog has!
Being autistic sometimes involves noticing what others don't notice. The smaller details often leap out at you while the bigger stuff gets left behind. And wile you're busy getting obsessed with people making promises and not delivering, perhaps someone's black finger nail or a person's right ear lobe, or even a hair curling out of someone's eyebrow, you're probably missing what you're supposed to be paying attention to.
I'm not too sure that ignoring finer detail is so bad, having found on numerous occasions that the smaller things can actually cause one to look more sharply at what a person is actually doing - which goes unnoticed to most neuro-typicals.
That not only means that I’ll know how to respond in a more realistic fashion, but more importantly, I won’t be fooled into thinking something’s going on socially that isn’t! (Most people want you to believe something’s going on when often nothing’s actually happening at all!)
I am lucky those things I refer to as "my signals" help me fine-tune the finer details, and as an aspie these give me valuable insights as I end up seeing the bigger picture plus being fully aware of the smaller pics at the same time. Although I have Asperger's Syndrome, which puts me out of the bigger picture, my signals, technically a synaesthetic ability, put me very much in the picture. (I know all the ins and outs get confusing but bear with me!)
Autistic individuals aren't deemed too clever at reading body language. But look at it this way: if we're focusing on the weird finger nail that looks larger than life, might not the finger nail be saying something crucial to us? As individuals with autism, we might find that we are able to read into the detail we're focusing on and don't therefore have to see whether the person who belongs to the finger nail is smiling, sad or communicating some social cue to us which we don't know how to respond to. We might just find we can utilise the way we see things personally which could help us meet the person we're communicating with in our own way.
There is a lot we HFA's can learn about this, but not in the way we're often told to learn it, because most of the time we're taught by neuro-typicals, and unless they're also able to see the finer details, neuro-typicals don't always identify with an autistic perspective. We may seem to be quite a different species at times, but we can afford to be proud of all that we are.
Let's remember that body language and reading it, apart from being age-old, is or should be important for everyone, not just autistic people. Most of us, whether autistic or neuro-typical, can respond well to body language, but we don't always acknowledge that it's happening because we're always taught we should be doing something else, and not noticing what's going on.
My forthcoming book deals with the intricacies of social skills, what they're all about in reality, and the fact that no actually knows what social skills really are!
Animals react to bod language instinctively and many individuals with autism respond more easily to animals because of the absence of cryptic messaging. Saying what we mean and meaning what we say is essential in any situaiton. Animals always say what they mean and mean what they say.
The question isn’t how we can get autistic people to stop focusing on the finer details, it’s more how we can get neuro-typicals to start focusing. How do we encourage them to consider that the finer detail may be more relevant in social communication than we think? I see so much of the cryptic language spoken on my daily travels, I haven’t a clue (literally) how so many people manage to communicate with each other, i.e. if you say “walkies” to a dog, he will take you seriously, get excited and wait at the door. If you say “walkies” and then disappear for half an hour to get involved in something else and forget the dog, you’re going to have a very saddened and frustrated dog on your hands as well as the effects of a cryptic message. Dogs are not less intelligent. They merely ask you to deliver what you’re promising, just as people with autism do.
Try looking at the finer detail next time you’re talking to someone. The way we’re taught to interact socially all needs reworking. And that’s what I’m suggesting in my latest book. We who are autistic can work together on this and make it easier on ourselves when we’re having to go out there and do what we always dread doing! Communicating and socialising!
Contact me if you want support in social interaction or need any help. Long live the finer detail!