Today, my folks kindly took me out to lunch, which is quite a treat. I found myself – don’t ask me how or why – discussing face blindness with them. They are very tolerant people, and accept my random craziness.
Face blindness, or Prosopagnosia, describes the inability to recognize faces. We’re talking any face; those of strangers, friends, even, in extreme cases, family. This does not refer to a slight problem recognizing actors in movies… which, by the way, many of us have difficulty doing.
You know what I’m going to say next, since my family is all about Asperger’s Syndrome: some people with autism also have difficulty with face blindness.
Immediately, I want to back away and admit that I’m not an expert on this subject. I’d really prefer to let someone else cover it.
However, it’s a valid concern, and a topic that many autistic people are curious – and worried – about, so it really needs to be at least touched upon, even by a ham-handed, opinionated person like me. 🙂
First, many people out there who have prosopagnosia do not even know it.
After all, how would they? How often do we all discuss recognizing others by their facial features? We take it for granted… just like we take for granted social skills, tone of voice, and the ability to interpret body language.
So how does someone identify people if all faces blur together?
Often, they’ll focus on a piece of clothing (the boy who always wears a red jacket), facial hair (big, grizzly beard) or accessories like eyeglasses and hats. Of course, the problem with this is that people change their clothing or shave their beards and mustaches. And then take umbrage when they’re not recognized.
Naturally, a person with face blindness is not doing this on purpose. He or she is not being conceited or pretending that someone else is not worth remembering or recognizing.
My personal experience with face blindness is limited.
When my son was young, all older men were Grandpa, and all mature women were Grandma. This is normal for the very very young (ex: babies not recognizing parents wearing sunglasses), but not for kids in kindergarten or first grade.
Luckily, he was in a school with a dress code. The removal of secondary recognition items – everyone dressed the same way – meant that he had to focus on faces to tell people apart. Or recognize voices, which, with his tonal difficulty, wasn’t happening
Even in second grade, he could only recognize – and name – less than ten of the children in his grade (50-60 kids total). And this was a big leap from the previous year.
I wish I could say exactly what it was that we did to encourage his development. We discussed eyes and noses and mouths. We looked at pictures of people and practiced comparing features.
But I can’t say definitively that there was a successful method. He may just have been ready for that step, or his brain may have developed. It’s an iffy subject, and I hate to claim any knowledge without something to back me up. After all, if this was an easy thing to conquer, it would not be the serious issue that it is.
Prior to writing this article, I looked up face blindness once again. Yes, I’m that kind of nerd/geek/perfectionist/whatever you want to call it.
In both Wikia and on the Faceblind (Prosopagnosia Research Centers at Harvard University and University College London) site, they discussed the difficulties involved, along with developmental issues and brain damage (not autism-related). Only in Wikia did they touch upon autism, and that very briefly.
However, the Faceblind site offered a test and a little more information. Furthermore, an article written about a method for helping those who had difficulty recognizing faces referred me back to it.
Please share any comments – or experiences – regarding this subject. I’d love to hear firsthand about coping with face blindness or about methods used to help develop recognition skills.
Note: Apologies for not linking more sites… I hate to link sources when I can’t stand by them. I’m sure there are many more – and probably better – sites out there.