Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Autism Answer: I Don't See What They See



eye glasses on a glass table, out of focus furniture in the background

The kids all crowded around the game table—

Wait, I say kids and perhaps you imagine young children. The playful energy, adults necessarily nearby watching for mood shifts and play gone too far. You think of little voices, shy little ones, hyper boys ready to push.

But I’m referring to young adults. They are kids to us older adults who either birthed them, or are relatives of those who birthed them. Now that I’ve clarified, you picture similar but different people, right?

There is still the high energy, some are shy, maybe hyper boys pushing each other, but it’s different. Adults are watching in this case as well, but with less likely need to step in, though not none.

Did I mention alcohol?

Ah, maybe shift a bit again. There is alcohol. It’s a birthday celebration for the youngest cousin who is now drinking age.

There are about ten of them. Mostly girls, a few boys, all decked out in swim gear and sporting sun kissed cheeks, sun burnt shoulders here and there. The shy one isn’t overly shy, the boys not any more hyper than the girls. It is sunny, there is a pool near the game table, everyone is getting along, the older adults are fairly relaxed and enjoying the beautiful scene.

It is beautiful.

Should I, I’m honestly asking, describe beautiful people in order to ask you to picture the scene beautifully?

What color skin should they have? What sizes should their bodies be? What disabilities should I include, if any? Sure, you'll want diversity, but to what degree?

I was there and it was beautiful. I could clearly feel that. I enjoyed the range of conversations and energy styles. I loved noticing how some of the cousins reached out to newly introduced friends. How some sons and daughters delighted in a social opportunity of this sort.

It got a little less beautiful, in my opinion, with more alcohol.

But, for several hours, it was all simply beautiful.

Kids and adults alike.

However, I ask in earnest regarding appearances of people because, I confess, I hardly noticed and I cannot accurately describe much of what they looked like.

Yet, at least one of the adults (in our older adult group) said enough things about physical appearances that I couldn’t help wondering, not for the first time, what don’t I see?

Comments wanting to become conversation on weight, skin health, ethnicity, and the like, were confusing me a little, giving me a feeling that I am missing something.

Yes, I do see our outsides. I see weight and color and skin. But it is a part so included in the whole that it’s not often specifically noticed. I am aware of the clues on our outsides that point to how we’re doing on our insides and so I don’t try to not see. Yet, for much of my life I’ve noticed - based on the comments of my peers - I am often not seeing what they are seeing. My mom has pointed it out to me a few times, so I know I’m not wrong. A room full of people can be commenting on how something or someone looks, and I often don’t see what they see. (Please note, I don’t mean only bad stuff. I’m not talking about gossipy comments, although I do mean those as well. I’m referring to simply noticing how people and things look.)

This sometimes feeds a worry of mine, about myself.

A little after the birthday celebration, a celebration where most of us were waltzing around in swimsuits, I was asked if I had felt comfortable, attractive even,  at the gathering.  Ummmm…. I felt hopeful that I was not too boring, wanting to be helpful but not get in the way, curious about these people – many of whom I was meeting for the first time – and their stories. Was I supposed to think, also, about appearance? About looking appropriately, I don’t know, good?

Oh, sure, when I first stepped into the yard wearing my swimsuit, my hair unwashed and sloppily ponytail-ed, I was wishing I’d shaved my legs and bikini line, wished my bathing suit wasn’t the wrong size putting me in the position of having to adjust it more often than I’d like. At one point I was told there was dark under my eyes so I presumed I was looking a little old and tired. But I simply shrugged it off and continually stepped into the group hoping to add something beautiful. A listening ear, a helping hand, an interesting, maybe even funny, story or two.

I didn’t much see what I look like or what others look like.

I have wondered this before. Is being “body positive” more than being comfortable in my body? Am I missing something when I don’t much notice the differences, the variety of beauty? When I don’t see what they see?

And I have wondered often, did I embarrass someone? For lack of understanding, for not knowing what I don’t see, did I embarrass someone?

I know I sometimes do.

“Mom,” my youngest son once said in his usual thoughtful careful manner, “could you please come to my school event, but wear pants that don’t have so many holes in them?”

I don’t pretend to not see at all. I recognize a neat smile, eyes that are unique, an extra long beard. But, as I said, it is all part of a much bigger whole.

Books and covers, I was thinking about before sitting down to write this out. I do notice myself attracted to a book cover based on looks. If it looks like the type of texture that feels good in my hands, if it has colors and images that appeal to me, I notice. I think my attraction is in large part due to the experience of knowing which colors and styles are popular in my favorite genres. I see it and want to touch it, to know more about the story and feelings I might find inside. It is quickly more than the cover. As I read the hints and meaning represented on the cover reveal themselves. They change for me.

The kids, I guess, were like covers on books. People were looking at them and seeing more than I was because the other adults knew them better. They knew more of the stories inside and, hence, were able to recognize more meaning beyond the cover itself within the cover itself.

I saw them too, but not as much with my eyes. Hardly with my eyes. I guess, since kids are not books, there wasn’t the need to pick and choose which ones to pay attention to, which cover to reach out and hold. Their stories would simply reveal themselves and I was open to all the genres around me.  

I do try to use seeing more, but I often get it wrong. My mom has noticed. She’s noticed for years. I don’t seem to see what others are seeing. My sister has noticed, too. When I have been watching her kids in her house and she comes home, she's learned to be careful not to immediately say, "I need to clean this house," because, most likely, I think I already did it for her. I often see clean, I often see not broken, when others see dirty and broken.

I don’t mind, mostly. This is not a huge issue and hardly worth exploring. But sometimes I worry that it means I am the reason everyone is feeling uncomfortable, and I don’t know it. Because I don’t see right, I might not know how wrong I look.

I don’t see quite the same as others so when I try, I worry I’m getting it wrong. The point is, to fix it I’d have to see what they see.

Here’s the rub, I mostly like not seeing. It is a newer discovery about myself. I like it. I like hardly noticing these things.

And it is hard to learn a new skill. So, maybe I also like liking it, so I don’t have to learn.

There is the risk of missing an important clue about a loved one or myself, a change in appearance that is a symptom in need of investigation. So far, though, others have been helpful in pointing these things out. (Recently, when a cat was losing weight but I hadn’t noticed, the problem was addressed, because other people noticed.)

So, for now, I think I like not seeing.

Do you see?

Hugs, smiles, and love!