Prosopagnosia, also called face blindness, is a cognitive disorder of face perception in which the ability to recognise familiar faces, including one’s own face (self-recognition), is impaired. Other aspects of visual processing, (such as object discrimination), and intellectual functioning, (such as decision-making), remain intact.
While the above is not a core symptom of autism, it’s a very common trait within those people diagnosed with ASD. The ability to ‘read’ the information about facial identity, expressed emotions, and intentions is crucial for non‑verbal social interaction, which is something I have a great deal of difficulty with. Even after spending years in the service industry to try and learn all these subtle little hints and tips, I still struggle to read and recognise faces.
For those of us who suffer with this neurological disorder, negotiating social situations can be very difficult. Prosopagnosia can make the sufferer blind to all but the most familiar faces. I find that I recognise regular customers by face after a while, but some customers who come in every once in a blue moon I don’t recognise or mistake them for someone else. This can lead to comments such as “don’t you remember me?” or “you asked me for ID last time”. On that note, I do have great difficulty in telling if someone is over 21 when ordering alcohol and I tend to err on the side of caution. This can cause some embarrassment, or laughter over perceived flattery. On one occasion, I was almost threatened with violence as the lady was so angry I’d dare to ask her for proof of age. She was apparently 26.
There might be coping mechanisms, like using alternative strategies to recognise people, such as remembering the way they walk, or their hairstyle, voice or clothing. I tend to find voices are a good one for me, as that tends not to change very much. There are a number of other issues that face blindness causes, such as: not being able to recognise certain facial expressions, judge a person’s gender, or follow a person’s gaze. Some people (in extreme cases) may not even recognise their own face in the mirror or in photos. Prosopagnosia can affect a person’s ability to recognise objects, such as places or cars. Many people also have difficulty navigating. This can involve an inability to process angles or distance, or problems remembering places and landmarks. Following the plot of films or television programmes can be almost impossible for someone with prosopagnosia because they struggle to recognise the characters. Someone with prosopagnosia may worry that they appear rude or not interested when they fail to recognise a person. But these types of strategies do not always work – for example, when a person with prosopagnosia meets someone in an unfamiliar location.
So as you can see, there are a lot of similarities between face blindness and ASD as they’re both neurological conditions although medically they’re completely different. So the next time someone like me struggles to recognise you, or asks your age, please spare a thought for them. They could have Prosopagnosia, or be on the autism spectrum.
Stay Safe X