Open your eyes.

One thing that’s always been a marvel to me about allistic people is that when they point at a specific thing, others can understand what they’re pointing at. Even if it’s something small and hard to notice.

I can’t do that.

When I was a kid, it used to aggravate my parents. Exchanges would go as follows:

Me: Where’s the [item]?
Mom: It’s over there. *points*
Me: *looks* *doesn’t see it* Where?
Mom: There. *points more emphatically*
Me: *looks again* *still doesn’t see it* I don’t see it.
Mom: It’s right there! Open your eyes!
Me: They are open! I just don’t see it!

Or you could substitute “Open your eyes” with “You’d have better luck if you weren’t looking with your eyes closed,” both of which are expressions that it took me until yesterday to realize are not in fact accusations of groping about with my eyes shut but in fact disparaging remarks about my observational skills – which is fair enough because to mangle a metaphor, I’m someone who could easily miss the forest because I’m examining the bark patterns on the tree right in front of me.

So, to those people who have no difficulty at all following a point and get aggravated with that person who just seems to be too lazy to really look for a thing, I offer some advice and things to keep in mind:

  1. The person looking for the thing is just as aggravated with their inability to follow your point as you are.
  2. They are not doing this to be difficult. They are doing this because they literally are not able to register that they’re looking at the thing they want, for whatever reason. Yes, I know it might be right in front of their face. Believe me, it doesn’t matter. Obvious to you does not mean obvious to me. I wish I could explain what gets me to notice something, but I can’t.
  3. If pointing isn’t working, pointing more emphatically won’t work either.
  4. Neither will yelling.
  5. Or insulting.
  6. What is far more likely to work is clear directions relative to a landmark in the room. “Next to the printer on top of the blue book,” is something I can work with. “Over there” is not.
  7. Directions should be explicit and descriptive. Avoid meaningless word substitutions if the name of a thing escapes you. I will write more on this in a later post, but for now, suffice to say that if you can’t think of the words “printer” or “book,” describing what you’re talking about is a lot more useful. “Next to the thing that makes words on paper on top of the blue thing you read,” is directions I can follow. “Next to the thing on the thing,” is not.

I hope this helps allistic people improve their direction-giving abilities rather than just relying on a steadily more-emphatic series of points. The benefit of this is that even allistic people, in my experience, prefer the kind of specific and exact directions I tend to give (due to my inability to follow points, I don’t see the, erm, point of pointing). Allistic people I know will come and ask me for directions to things or where stuff is rather than my allistic coworkers because they know they’re not going to play 5 minutes of “Hotter/Colder” with only a point to go off. They’ll get my directions, and go and find it easily.

So rather than pointing, try giving explicit directions the next time someone asks you where something is. You might be surprised at its efficacy.

14 thoughts on “Open your eyes.

  1. alexforshaw says:

    Oh, yes. I get this sometimes. On the flip side I do notice details that other people seem to miss, so you win some, you lose some.

    • ischemgeek says:

      Yeah. I find the kinds of details I miss are qualitatively different than the kinds of details allistic people miss. I might miss the keys on the table in front of me, whereas an allistic person will miss the fact that bubbles in a pot just about to boil start forming little bubble vortexes because of the convection currents.

      I don’t really have words to articulate the kinds of differences I have in my attention to detail except maybe that I notice details about how things are whereas allistic people tend to notice what is where. Like, they’d notice a bug, I’d notice the little pieces of dirt carried along the blade of grass by the bug. Does that make any sense at all?

      • alexforshaw says:

        That’s a good description. I couldn’t think of any examples off the top of my head. It’s like I have a narrow field of focus and primarily concentrate on small-scale detail: examining something under a microscope as opposed to with the naked eye.

      • autisticook says:

        They only notice bugs when those bugs are about to fall, or have just fallen, into their drinks. At a guess, I’d say allistic people tend to notice stuff that directly involves people, instead of stuff that’s just randomly fascinating.

  2. Thanks for this my older son does this and it drives me nuts…but you’ve helped me understand maybe it isn’t obvious to him. I appreciate when ppl write about even the small every day things because so many of them would have never crossed my mind to be an autism related issue

    • ischemgeek says:

      Your comment actually inspired me to turn this and tomorrow’s post into a series about situations in which autistic communication (i.e. communicating in an autistic style or in a way which accommodates autism) is actually a more effective method of communication.

      Because there’s a lot of situations where autistic communication is more effective because not only can 1) everyone follow it but 2) it’s more effective for allistics than what they currently use amongst each other.

      Just like the wheelchair ramps on the corners of streets make it easier for non-mobility-impaired people with strollers or luggage – accommodating disability often makes things better for everyone, and I’d like to examine some of that in the context of autism.

      • alexforshaw says:

        Awesome concept! I look forward to reading more… 🙂

      • ischemgeek says:

        Thanks. It will probably be sparse for the rest of the month, but I’ll still be thinking about it. Tomorrow was just already a thing I wanted to write about, but I wanted to avoid a double post so I figured I’d just schedule it for tomorrow.

  3. Reblogged this on Opposite Ends of the Spectrum and commented:
    There are so many small things I miss as being autism related, especially in my aspie son…so thanks for this lightbulb moment and passing it along

  4. Yes! I’ve had this happen quite a bit, especially if it’s already noisy or my sensory issues are starting to bite, because that seems to make it harder to look at a mass of objects and pick out the one I’m looking for. It all just turns into a sort of white noise.

    (Also, do some people just suck at pointing in the right direction, or am I crap at following the direction of the point? I’m sure sometimes people point towards the door, or the ceiling, or a tree out through the window, rather than at the thing.)

  5. […] like giving directions to misplaced objects, is another way that I find autistic people in general tend to have superior communication skills […]

  6. invisibleautistic/Robin says:

    Haha, yes! It brings back old memories. Adults would point outside the window and tell me to look at a generic person. I’d look for the generic person, but then I’d see a crowd of people outside the window.

    Had no clue who they were talking about at all.

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