The Myth of the Broken Face



The blank stare, stony-faced, unwelcoming, generally frozen expression is one of those 'clues' we hear about when it comes to spotting the aspie among us. You know them by the face that doesn't change to suit the situation, by the monotone voice and so on.

Yes, when it comes to society you can spot aspies really easily because they're the ones mimicking automatons. No need for I-Robot or even good old Robbie, you have your aspie to do the unfinished humanoid for you. (You do hear the sarcasm, right?)

Is this true? Sometimes, maybe. It's true if we're bored that we might switch off and unlike the more socially worried, switching off is taken seriously. So the blank face appears as you talk and, dimly, we wait to switch back on again when you've finished.

And the monotone voice? Hmm, I suppose it's also true that my voice might take on a level quality if the rest of me is struggling like a cat in a harness to figure out what to say next, when to say it, what to do when the other person speaks and so on. The voice can be the least of my worries, so deal with it, okay?

But the blank face and monotone voice are only half the story. I am very, very guilty of going the opposite direction, towards the sort of animation that would make Pixar proud.

I find myself, in lessons mainly, getting so engrossed in what I'm describing that my whole face, voice, hands, do the describing along with me. No need to set the tone when I'm talking about Macbeth and his walking forest - I can be the walking forest, I can be Macbeth!

Or using a great big simile to illustrate something, a good one, you know? Like dragons eating princesses or something equally colourful. I get right into it, I do the voice, I do the claws, the face becomes the dragon.

My students generally react well to this, probably because children up to a certain age are big fans of the over-describe. They appreciate the fun and effort that goes into the right face and a good soundtrack.

Sometimes they can be surprised, if they're serious children from serious families. It doesn't stop me, though - obviously, it makes me worse. Usually they forget to be surprised and step into the world of face gurning and voice changing.

So, I notice I've talked about two extremes here. Does that mean I operate in extremes of blank face or dragon face? Possibly. And the voice, monotone or drama? Maybe.

The in-between, trying-to-be-normal voice and face are held back for when I need to speak to real adults and people in authority. You don't want the ones paying your wages or deciding your fate to see you getting carried away in tales of Gloria and the Graysnipe.

Sometimes, though, it's far too easy to slip into the over-describe with people (adults) who aren't expecting it and aren't used to other adults doing it. I don't realise I've slipped until I see their eyes sparkle and their mouth twitch.

This is how other people get to know you, though. Sometimes it's far better to slip and show the real you than to carry on trying to be what others expect. If they see the face pulling, is it such a bad thing? And if it worries them, then it's a shame they lead such sheltered lives.

As for the ones who most often see your blank face and never hear the dragon growl, what can you do? They just have to go on believing this is the true aspie and not get to know the other side of you.

You keep the best part of you for the best people. Or the ones you slip with - and often they also turn out to be the best people. It may surprise them to see you re-enacting a scene from Shakespeare but, well, life would be very dull without a little drama.

Amanda




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