Facing Adversity

Not-So-Fun fact: I’m face blind. Look it up, or the technical term, prosopagnosia. Basically, it means that I cannot remember or directly recognize the faces of other people; unless there is something highly unusual about your features like scarring or a birthmark, I don’t really know your face. Even my own; if I didn’t know it was me in the mirror, I wouldn't recognize me.

Like my other disabilities, I’ve learned to compensate for this via context, mannerisms, voice, and other cues, but if you were to come up to me in public out of context and having a significantly different hairstyle and clothing than I had ever seen you with before, chances are I wouldn’t know whom you are, even if we have been close for years. Likewise, if someone had even a remotely similar build and skin tone, with similar hair and manner of dress, I could mistake that person for you, especially in a context where I expect I might encounter you. This disability could of course be taken advantage of, but that would potentially be criminal fraud and a terrible hate crime. Height comparison isn’t normally a helpful factor, either, as most of my friends are men, and most men here in the northeastern United States of America are taller than me( the tallest I have ever been was five feet five-and-three-quarters inches( 5′5¾″), or approximately one hundred sixty-seven centimeters( 167 cm), and I may have shrunk slightly since, which isn’t all that uncommon by the early-to-mid-30s); I’ve been used to looking up at most folks all my life.

Because of my atypically specific visual memory, I’m rather better with photographs, two-dimensional images that aren’t moving; one odd result is that I probably know the faces of some celebrities better than those of my own friends and family( which isn’t to say I’d recognize them, either, in person), and the more close-up photos of you I have seen the more likely I am to know you in person by comparing my memories of them to your face when I see you. Thank heaven for social media! Sometimes, I'm at a loss to recognize someone and then just as I begin to consider giving in and apologetically asking the person to help me make the connection, he or she will happen to briefly pass through a position and facial expression that I can match to a photo I have seen.

It’s not that unusual for people on the autistic spectrum to have some degree of faceblindness, since we already process faces differently than neurotypical( NT) persons do, but the condition isn’t as inconvenient for me as it is for some NTs with it because I go out less, and when I do I’m usually heading for a specific destination to meet up with specific people. The fact that I live in a city rather than the town where I lived growing up, and only attended school in that town for a few years at the beginning and end of my pre-collegiate education probably helps also, because there are fewer people that I “should” recognize and less chance of encountering them.