Eye contact – this old chestnut! As with every other autistic trait, this is something that may really affect us, or it may not be something we even consider, because we are all unique. It is, however, a very common trait of autistic people; many of us find eye contact with most people uncomfortable and overly intimate.

What’s interesting to me, personally, is that, whilst I am rarely seen in public without sunglasses, I hadn’t appreciated how much of that is so that people I walk past or meet, can’t see where my gaze is. My eyes are very sensitive to light, so I assumed that is why I wear sunglasses to drive, for instance, even on a really overcast day. This year, following my autism diagnosis and my deep dive into all-things-autistic I realised that there was more to it than that. And as I have been making a really conscious effort to unmask, I am aware that I really feel much more comfortable if I can look away from someone who is talking to me. I’m fine if they are looking away from me – then I can look at them. But that sensation of having someone’s eyes boring into mine can be excruciating, and sunglasses diffuse that sensation.

So now I just look wherever I need to look – I’m ‘out’ as an autistic person and, as far as I’m concerned, this is who I am. Not only does looking elsewhere in the room, make me feel less uncomfortable, it also helps me to concentrate on what I’m saying – particularly if I can look at a blank wall (as it does for many people of all neurotypes). Having said that, I really do prefer to be able to see someone’s face when I’m interacting, because it gives me clues as to their feelings, and whether I’m putting my foot in it – again! It’s tricky and, like most of these discomforts, our needs differ with each environment. We are not robots, after all!