Like many other autistics, we struggle with maintaining consistent eye contact when talking to people face-to-face. Interestingly, our eye-contact difficulties translate to the Internet, even though we are not actually looking into others’ eyes when leaving comments or chatting on instant messengers. We have to actually avert our eyes from names (and icons, sometimes, if it is a face) when chatting or leaving comments, because for some reason, our brain processes that as “looking into someone’s eyes,” even when we are not technically being looked at. We generally scroll down so that we only see the comment box when replying, after seeing whom the comment is from.
I consider this to be related to our eye-contact difficulties, because the avoidance of names and icons does not occur when reading others’ entries, comments, and chat transcripts—only when we receive comments or are in an instant message conversation. There seems to be a “switch” tripped in our brain that says “People are interacting with you; do not look at them.” Names and icons attached to comments and messages become “eyes.” This is not to say that we dislike comments or instant messages—otherwise, we would not have an instant messenger account, and we would disable comments on our blogs and journals—but that there are some of the same autistic reactions that occur when social interaction over the Internet occurs.
Unlike people who parse others on the Internet as being similar to computer readouts, or “words on a screen,” many of us tend to be intensely aware of the presence of others, even if they are communicating textually. They seem physically present in comment threads and on forums, and this makes it incredibly difficult for people here to say things like “It is just the Internet. You cannot see them, so feel free to treat them badly with impunity.” This is not to say that we are physically hallucinating people, but that…their presence, as other people, can be felt. I think that that perception of people contributes to the way in which our brain maps user names and icons to people’s eyes. If people’s presence is already parsed in a material way, then why can the brain not map analogues to eye contact on to that Internet presence?