Can You Read People?

by Kitty Kat

Really look at this chart. Would you be able to read emotions off it?

Reading people is one of the things that Roger will openly tell people that he cannot do. He can’t tell you if someone is mad, happy, sad, or scared just by looking at them. He has to be told. Well, that is usually the case. If he is around people a lot, he can sometimes figure out what is going on, but not always.

When his brothers and sisters start to get annoyed with him, he doesn’t realize they are getting annoyed until they start screaming. Then he backs off. This weekend my husband had a bad week, so he wasn’t in the best of moods. The other kids picked up on it right away. Not Roger. Not until someone told him did he get it.

A case where he has noticed would be with me. I have a back injury that causes pain, and sometimes it can get pretty bad. Roger has figured out that if I am quiet and moving slowly, I hurt. Now, he still has to ask, but hey, at least he is picking some of it up. He has even told his stepbrother that if I’m moving slowly, it hurts and to stay away.

I think this may be where some of the misconceptions about feelings and autism come from. Just because someone cannot tell by looking at someone how they are feeling that does not mean that they themselves do not feel. Or that they do not have empathy. Look at the charts they give kids to teach feelings. They always have over-exaggerated faces that no one has in real life. Once Roger is told how someone is feeling, he usually understands. He does have some trouble figuring out his own feelings, but just because he can’t always put a name to them doesn’t mean he feels nothing.

About the Author: Kitty Kat and her husband have four children, including her son Roger, who has autism. This piece first appeared on her blog, No Guile: Life and Other Stories from Autism, and is reprinted here by permission.



3 thoughts on “Can You Read People?

  1. Jean Carroll says:

    Hear, hear!
    I fully agree that problems with expressing emotion does not equal problems feeling emotions.
    Well said.

  2. Belfast says:

    I agree, in real life, people (their faces) do not appear like the exaggerated versions shown in the emotions chart.

    I do quite well with those read-the-emotions-from-the-eyes tests (with photos of just the eyes of different people), yet real life is dynamic, in constant motion-not just a bunch of still/static snapshots.

    Actual, kinetic, ever-shifting, in-the-moment life is where my deficits show up. Were someone to try testing my ability to read (infer & identify) emotions in real-time, in real space, my score would be nowhere near what it is with those isolated photographs of emotion-laden eyes.

  3. Slim says:

    It’s quite interesting to look at this through the eyes of a Korean person. There’s a separate word in the Korean language 눈치 (pronounced: noon-chi) that is dedicated for this ability, and it is distinct from the word for “to empathize” 공감. So the confusion between empathizing and reading faces, body languages, or situations might not even come up in that cultural context.

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