I have a “weird” smile, in that when I grin, it doesn’t look like everyone else’s. When I smile, my whole face is taken up by my teeth. At least, that’s how I feel when I look at pictures. It’s like the Cheshire Cat’s grin – all teeth. People tell me my smile looks like a grimace, as if I’m in pain. But it’s not. When I smile, or more accurately, when I grin, it means that I’m extremely happy, and I’m not afraid to show it. Even if it does look a little different than when other people smile. In reading other peoples’ blogs, especially Autism Parents blogs, I have seen that many of their young Autistic girls (and some boys too) have the same face-splitting grin that I do, and every time I see that, it makes me super happy (and usually produces a Cheshire Cat grin of my own). NT kids don’t seem to have the same grin we do. They somehow show less teeth, and keep their mouth “proportional” to the rest of their face. (Can you tell I’ve done a lot of conscious parsing of people’s facial expressions?).
I used to feel silly when I genuinely smiled, so I would try to keep my mouth closed, or show only a little bit of teeth, just like the people I saw around me. I would spend hours in front of the mirror practicing, but never got it right. I was accused of sneering, of smirking, grimacing, and a number of other negative things, when in fact, I was simply trying to smile “appropriately”. I’ve gotten past that now, thankfully, and am back to smiling unabashedly. But then, smiling is something I’ve thought a lot about.
They say that Autistic people have “abnormal or inappropriate facial expressions”. I certainly do. Partially, because when I’m lost in thought (which happens a LOT), or remembering something, or thinking about something, or when my brain makes a connection, I relive the moment. I remember the smile or the frown or the horrified feeling. And it shows on my face. People tell me that when they watch me as I’m sitting, they can see whole stories happen on my face, but they never understand any of them. I think this is because when my face reacts to something and I’m not consciously controlling the muscle groups to emulate the NT facial expressions I’ve been drilled in, I have my own. They convey MY emotions, MY thoughts, and MY existence. Sure, they’re not like everyone else’s, but they sure do make sense to me. 🙂
Sometimes I get in trouble for having the “incorrect” facial expression, or for making the facial expression wrong – the look of horror when someone tells me something good, or surprise when someone says something happy. It’s because my brain is parsing the information, making connections, and trying to figure out what the person said. I have to go through those steps before I can react “appropriately”, because for me, that “appropriate” reaction isn’t a natural one, it’s the one that I consciously put “on” when I realize that’s what I’m supposed to do. And even then, I haven’t yet figured out how to make the “correct” facial expression. It’s a little bit like speaking a different language.
So does anyone else share my Cheshire Cat grin? Have similar issues not being able to form the “proper” NT facial expressions, etc.? I’d love to know!