Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Whole Spectrum--Face Blindness

Usually when I write about my kids, I write about Ryan and his profound autism, sometimes Eric and Asperger's…but I have the full spectrum in my household.  I have written about Meghan before—just once.  She’s a high-octane ADHD kid and is smart, beautiful and the funniest kid I’ve ever met. She also has Prosopagnosia, or face blindness. 

Meghan's beautiful eyes...don't help her recognize people!

I wrote about face blindness months ago when I first started blogging. Sixty Minutes had just featured a piece about it and I was reminded how I first realized Meghan had a pretty severe case of it—how she offended an African American school administrator because Meghan couldn’t differentiate between her and “the cafeteria lady” when she was in first grade, and how she didn’t recognize someone who had lived with us for a year because her hair was a few inches longer.

 The light bulb went on after years of Meghan not recognizing my friends—people she saw on a regular basis--because they had cut or dyed their hair when I saw an article on-line about people who couldn’t process facial features.  Aha—I knew immediately that’s what my youngest daughter was dealing with.

I thought perhaps things were getting better and she was learning strategies for recognizing people…until last night when we had a very interesting conversation.  Not only does she not recognize people by sight, she cannot differentiate gender unless she hears a voice or someone is wearing clearly masculine or feminine clothing.  She told me of an embarrassing incident with a boy in her school.  She said she wasn’t used to “surfer hair”—the longer styles sported by surfers and skaters—and when we first moved to Hawaii she couldn’t tell girls apart from boys.  She said she asked a boy if he liked wearing dresses, and then we he indignantly informed her he was in fact, a boy, she was mortified. Worse still, Meghan told me she always thinks a female friend of mine with very short hair is a man until she speaks. 

I am still trying to wrap my brain around Meghan not knowing if she’s seeing men or women—even with today’s more androgynous hair and clothing styles.  I could write a piece about gender roles and society, but this is really about one little girl who cannot gender-type without definitive assistance, who does not recognize people she sees regularly unless she has some clues as to who they are.  A woman with a slightly deep voice could just as easily be a man to Meghan, just as boys with longer hair appear to be girls to her. 

Man or Woman?? Pat from "Saturday Night Live"
I am reminded of the "Pat" character on Saturday Night Live, with a Significant Other named "Chris" and how everyone tried in vain to find clues to Pat's gender. This is what daily life is like for Meghan.

I predict a lot of embarrassing moments in Meghan's future...

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