Do you find that holding eye contact creates a sense that you’re invading or intruding upon someone’s personal space?
Does maintaining eye contact make you feel like you’re getting too personal with that other individual?
Perhaps you feel this way only when you’re interacting with newly-met people, such as a cashier, retail employee, service clerk, neighbor, new coworker, relative of a friend, repairman or someone you just met at a social event.
It’s one thing to feel that the other person’s eyes are too penetrating, too invasive or too intimate when you hold eye contact.
But this is strictly about YOU feeling like the over-stepper, the one entering into the other’s personal space.
If this experience describes your eye contact, there’s a most likely explanation – one that you may not be ready to consider.
I certainly would not have considered it many years ago.
I don’t know when in my life I began feeling as though I was the over-stepper.
I just know that this feeling has been a common occurrence when I held eye contact with people whom I was interacting with for the first time or those whom I’d see only periodically. It’s even happened with people I’ve seen on a regular basis.
It didn’t happen all the time, though, as it depended on the circumstances. It usually happened when I had to listen to that individual explain something to me.
I actually had never given it much thought. I never thought it was abnormal. I was simply merely aware of it.
But in 2023 I received a clinical diagnosis that explained why I had frequently felt as though I were somehow over-stepping a boundary when I held eye contact.
Do any of the following experiences apply to you?
• Always having felt different, almost alien among humans.
• People throughout your life often found you to be odd or strange.
• Always having felt socially out of place; difficulty making or keeping friends.
• Sounds bother you that don’t phase others.
• You crave routine.
• You don’t take to change very well.
• Unusual interests that would bore most people.
• Accused of being rude but you didn’t know why.
• Having been told you’re too analytical or too serious.
• Difficulty telling when someone’s kidding with you.
…. You’ll want to take some online tests for Autism Spectrum Disorder to see if your score is in the range that suggests possible autism.
“Abnormalities with eye contact” is listed in the DMS-5 as an example of a difficulty with nonverbal communication.
The DMS 5 is the mental health expert’s diagnostics manual.
Difficulty with nonverbal communication is one of the criteria for an ASD diagnosis, but the difficulty doesn’t need to be with eye contact. It’s just that problems with eye contact are common among autistic people.
There’s other ways that difficulty with nonverbal communication can manifest in autism, such as with reading facial expressions, body language and other silent nonverbal cues.
Plus, abnormalities with eye contact doesn’t necessarily mean lack of or avoidance of eye contact. Some autistic people CAN hold direct eye contact.
However, this can still come with issues, including getting distracted in conversation by the task of holding eye contact.
If sustaining eye contact brings with it a sensation or feeling that you wouldn’t exactly label as “normal,” AND you can check off a lot of the bulleted points above – you should be open to the possibility that you’re on the Autism Spectrum.
Thus far, I have met two clinically diagnosed Autistics who said that when they hold eye contact, it feels as though they’re being invasive or entering someone’s personal space.
Assessments for ASD usually book at least a few months out, sometimes up to a year.
But if you don’t schedule an ASD assessment, that time will pass anyways, right? So you may as well get a comprehensive evaluation booked.
I scheduled one for myself in December 2021, and it began with an intake form, and about three months later, I received an official diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
And I am so glad I did this, and my only regret is that I had not done it many years sooner.
A neurotypical individual should not have any odd or peculiar experiences with eye contact that make them feel as though they’re encroaching upon the other individual’s personal space.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical and fitness topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. In 2022 she received a diagnosis of Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder.