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Snap! Putting names to faces

Someone walks towards you, a half-smile on their lips. You run the smile through various internal algorithims and find it could be that they know you, they want to know you or they have an axe behind their back.

Erring on the side of caution, you smile back, uncertainly. They stop and begin to talk. It's obvious they know you. Searching their face for clues, you come up with

aspie-recog-failure error code nn231

In other words, you don't recognise them, either at all, or enough to remember how you're supposed to react.

From the way they're talking to you, they seem to know quite a bit about you and your personality. This is a relief in a way, as it means you can talk back and generally be yourself, without worrying too much about putting your foot in it.

All the while, you're looking at them, assessing what they say, working though the variables. What they say, does it match with a potential friend of a friend, or a past colleague or boss? (No, you always remember the bosses, unfortunately). Was it someone who knew you in school and who has changed enough for you not to know them?

Worrying thoughts cascade. In  my experience, as quite an anti-social aspie, I've still come across many people because of all the jobs I've done, so when someone seems to know me, I always re-visit past colleagues first.

Eventually, they move on, happy to have caught up with you. Watching them go, you're happy that you didn't walk past them and maybe hurt their feelings or leave another person wondering at how strange you are.

This is all part of the great dance of recognition, which many aspies have trouble with. It's not just about remembering, or forgetting, people you once knew. We can all do that. It's about not knowing the ones who should still be familiar.

In the past, I've had a friend jump up and down in the street when she saw me coming, having exhausted all other ways of getting my attention besides hitting me over the head with something. She had even shouted my name. Not a thing had registered. The jumping up and down did register and we laughed about it. She wasn't worried, she knew I wouldn't ignore her on purpose and was happy to do whatever it took to speak to me.

Others, I know I've ignored over the years. I'm attuned to the odd, sideways glance you get from people who think you're ignoring them. Attuned to that, but not to recognising them in the first place.

It comes down to people you're close to, or who have known you well. Readers, I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I once followed a strange man down two streets, before I worked out it wasn't my ex-husband. I did wonder why he kept hurrying off.

I've heard it called facial blindness, but I prefer to think of it as a recognition problem, because it extends well beyond the face. It's down to how you expect a person to look, given what they looked like before.

If they appear in front of you, wearing the same things and sporting the same hairstyle as when you last saw them, then you're very, very much more likely to know them. They're programmed in as Nigel, curly-hair, two children, likes trains.

If you come across Nigel six months later and he's had a close shave, he might be familiar still, or he might have to come right up and start talking about trains for you to know who it is.

This one I find hard to explain, but at least I can describe it for the puzzled non-aspies out there. I mean, if I can't recognise my own ex-spouse, what hope is there?

A clue might lie in how we perceive the world, with our over-load of information. As we're always trying to weigh things up and work them out, the physical appearance of a person is also filed under  available information. We use it to match them up in our minds.

The problem lies in the fact that, if we were to meet them walking down the street inside our heads, we would know them instantly, as we have their features on file and it's all close to hand. Out in the world, with so many other distractions to cope with, a person has to fight with life itself to gain your attention and have you know them. A taller order.

Here's another one: I do think that we see people as snapshots, in our internal film reel. There they go, there's Nigel speeding into the distance, hair bobbing in the wind. Immortalised forever as he once was. How many times will he feature in the film reel as a different person, later recognised? Does he become a different person each time we meet him? Is he processed as a new encounter, until recognised as otherwise?

Just to confuse matters and make myself sound even more complicated, let's look at twins. I'm sorry, there is no such thing as an identical twin to me. Yes, I may pass a best friend in the street and not see her, but I can always tell the difference between twins.

At first meeting, I have to really check to see if they are identical. Half the time it doesn't occur to me that they are. IT teen showed me a video of Dan is Not on fire (search youtube without small children in the room). Dan had made a video with his two friends. I worked out after a minute that they were probably brothers, as they looked quite alike. It's hard to tell when they're wearing different clothes. Eventually, yes, you guessed it, I realised they were twins. Or probably twins. I checked with IT teen, who was irritated that I'd obviously been working out the twinship in the video instead of actually watching it.

IT teen also knows twins who went to the same infant school as him. They do like to dress almost the same, with different colours. To me, it's obvious who is who, they're very distinct people. To IT teen and the rest of his cohorts, the twins are identical. Sigh.

So, at least the twins of the world can breathe easy that I'm not one of those people who will look from one to the other and say, 'Barry? or is it Buddy?', at least not after the first meeting. No, I'll be the strange lady asking them if they're related.

So, what to do about this one? Nothing, actually. I've tried for years to make it work for me and now I've given in to it. If I'm in a crowded place, I'm likely to not recognise people. If I do, I may not know from where. If they recognise me first, I will speak and talk and have a conversation to the best of my abilities.

I'm not yet quite brave enough to smile sweetly and ask who they are. Too much risk of hurt feelings - it's not their fault I don't know them. It's not mine, either, as it's a side-effect of being an aspie. But all this would take too long to explain and their feelings would already be hurt by then, so I just leave it.

The only advice I can give is, if really pushed, to 'fess up and say, 'I'm sorry, my memory is terrible, what was your name again?'

If you can do it with ease, making it al about yourself and not them, the feelings are usually avoided. Personally, I'm rubbish at this kind of thing and would give them a sickly smile while I did it, making it obvious I suspect them of being an imposter who I have never, in my life, met before.

The most I can say is, this recognition error in the aspie psyche is one area that no amount of effort or self-chastisement will fix. So, there should be no guilt with it either. This one, we have to accept. Just do your best not to offend people and use it as practice for talking to anyone who talks to you. Sometimes you won't know them and they'll just be the friendly type, but it never hurts to make new friends.

Of course, the next time you see them you'll have no idea where you met them before. Was it the job at the zoo? Are they friends with Stella? You never liked Stella. Didn't she have strange taste in men...Oh! They're still talking! Now, where do I know them from???


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