Friday, March 25, 2011


I think a lot of people with Asperger's syndrome have a similar story: they are walking down the street or through the hallways of school or work, deep in thought about something, and someone asks, "Are you okay?" or comments, "Don't look so sad!" It's frustrating, incredibly frustrating. It takes all my willpower to refrain from answering with a wise remark or from saying something nasty to them. 

This has been going on my entire life and while it doesn't bother me too much if people I know ask me what's wrong, it bothers me when total strangers ask me what's wrong or comment on the fact that I don't have a Cheshire Cat grin on my face. A couple months ago, I was heading back to work after my lunch break, and some random woman on the street said, "Aw, don't look so sad!" I just laughed it off but what I really wanted to say was, "And who are you? Do you know me? If something were wrong, do you honestly think that your comment would make me feel better?" 

I find myself wondering, too, if people notice more if a girl or woman doesn't smile. Females are expected to be highly social pack animals. I don't know if a study has been made about the frequency of females being reminded to smile, but I do know that a study has inversely linked testosterone levels to frequency of smiling. Males smile less frequently than women on average. That said, what do people think if they see a guy not smiling? Do they think he's just deep in thought? Does the phrase "still waters run deep" come to mind more readily when one sees a non-smiling guy than a non-smiling girl? It's worth thinking about as one of the many double-standards that apply to females vs. males with Asperger's syndrome, as many people with AS are not chronic smilers. 


  1. that's funny, I used to get the same crap growing up.... how "normal" am I? hmmmmmmmmm....


  2. This is all too familiar for me. When I volunteered at my local science museum and there weren't many visitors, I would just sit there and think up new experiments to show the visitors, or a better design for our balloon rocket. I thought it was perfectly normal-looking, but many people gave me comments like "wow, are you ok, honey?", or "you look really depressed", or "Are you bored?". None of these were true! I guess there's a disconnect between my brain and my face...
    I'm a female by the way.

  3. Seriously, what do people expect you to do when they say things like, "You look really depressed!" ??? "Oh, yeah, I don't know you from atom, but I am depressed. Want to hear my life story?" Really? Even if we were depressed, don't they realize that this is intrusive and tactless? And people say that Aspies lack social grace!

    I really would like to know if there is a study about whether women are reminded to smile more than men when they are deep in thought, or whether women deep in thought are more likely to be interpreted as being depressed than men when not smiling.

  4. I found this in Research Journal of International Studies; 2010, Issue 14, p4-7, 4p, using my access to EBSCOhost:

    "US social psychologists have found that there is a gender difference for use of a smiling facial expression. A replication was found in France where numeric photographs of student-yearbooks were examined to observe whether the student smiled or not. Results shown that women were more likely to smile and to do so more fully. These results where congruent with previous research conduct in United States and the universal gender differences in smiling is discussed. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]".

    So is the smiling a social expectation or an actual sex difference? Maybe men are expected to be more "serious", and therefore a serious expression is anticipated, whereas in women it is fairly unusual.

  5. Yeah, I know about the testosterone link to all this (it's in a book called "The Essential Difference: Male and Female Brains and the Truth About Autism") but I wonder if there is a study showing that people notice it more if girls and women don't smile, if people interpret it differently if they don't, and if people prompt them more to do so.

  6. This sounds too familiar. I really feel uncomfortable when people randomly ask if I am OK. My instinctive reaction would be to ignore them, turn away and shut them out. Instead I usually try to reassure them that I am fine, since I hate the drama when I am 'rude' even more.