Did you know that someone with Autism has a hard time reading all the facial expressions that are covered by a face mask? Learning this tidbit has opened my eyes to just how much difficulty with communication someone with Autism must have.
And the crazy thing is that I have been trained as an autism therapist. And it took someone else outside the field to help me ‘get it’. So much communication happens on that area of the face. I have been struggling myself since COVID because I can’t tell how people are feeling with their faces covered.
Face Masks block Facial expressions
I rely on the tiny muscle movements of the face to know what people are thinking. And to know how they are feeling. We can’t always control our faces and you can see pain and grief on someone even when they are actively trying to hide it.
A lot of conversation happens on the face. The tiny muscles around the mouth alone can tell you a person’s mood and if they are stressed.
And there is always a momentary flash of a person’s true feelings before they can catch themselves and put their social mask back on. They are called micro expressions, and they are involuntary emotional leakage that I find very revealing.
Humor and a face mask
A lot of autistic people struggle with sarcasm. Understanding Sarcasm requires being able to understand what you are seeing on the face because the words said don’t match the facial expression.
In fact, they are usually the opposite. That’s why my son struggled so much with learning how to understand sarcasm.
And it’s why he still struggles with humor and telling jokes. Because he can’t tell if his audience is following the story, or if they have understood the punch line. So often he will repeat something he finds hilarious, but without context his audience is confused. Because of his struggles, videos are a great way to teach him because he will see the faces and gets better at understanding them.
Facial expressions and compassion
Facial expressions are also vital for understanding compassion, and people’s feelings.
So imagine everyone in the world is always wearing a face mask all the time. It would make it harder to do their job, and make friends. For me this has been a major breakthrough in understanding my son and family members on the autism spectrum.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen a change in how people interact in public since the face mask mandate went into effect. People are more distant, and less friendly. The world has become a sea of eyes, and even though my imagination fills in the gaps to create a face, it’s not the same.
Face Masks can help us understand
Now I understand better why my son struggles with social situations. He has been seeing empty faces all these years. It also explains why making eye contact is hard for him.
When you have no information coming from the rest of the face, the eyes are not that helpful. They just become a point of stress since you know the person is looking at you and expecting something from you.
Hopefully this has helped you understand a little more about the communication struggles autistic individuals have. I have a lot more compassion and patience now for my son, and it has given me another angle to help him. Because if we can practice facial expressions at home it will be easier for him in the world.
Abby is capable and caring. She is learning more about Autism and parenthood every day. Having completed training to be an RBT (Registered Behavior Technician) for ABA therapy she is beginning to understand her son. And even though she is the first to admit she makes a lot of mistakes, she is so grateful to be on this journey. She comes from a family with many autistic members. She invites us to join her, as she shares her adventures. She wishes to emphasize that Autism is a difference not a defect. If you or a family member have autism, Abby wants you to know that the challenges can be overcome, and there are blessings in autism. You or your loved one are not sick or broken. Together we will teach the world this new language.