Are you angry?” “What’s wrong?” “Are you feeling okay?” What can autistic individuals do when well-meaning people constantly misread our facial expressions? Oftentimes, when our faces are simply at rest, other people perceive our natural state as something negative. This misunderstanding can be very frustrating. After all, many of us speak in tones that sound flat or disinteresting, so replying with a simple “I’m fine” may just further convince the observer that we’re not.
Usually, people who spend a lot of time with us (friends, family, consistent colleagues) will be able to learn our facial expressions and their true meanings over time. However, some autistic individuals are seeking support in how to not “look upset” all the time. By altering our expressions to make others uncomfortable, we may be walking the fine line between being considerate and masking. Be cautious when trying to look different for others’ sake. Otherwise, this may lead to burnout.
Even so, as requested, I’ll share a few of my go-to methods of softening my face and why these methods may be useful for other reasons besides making others comfortable:
1) Lift the corners of the mouth slightly. This creates a quietly serene expression that also invites a little peace and contentment into our own bodies.
2) Relax the temples and eyebrows. Without realizing it, we store a lot of stress on our foreheads. This can cause headaches and even a frustrated expression. Smoothing this out relaxes the body.
3) Loosen the jaw and tongue. With all the sensory stimulation we experience, we often tense these muscles. Actively unclutching these areas can calm us inwardly and outwardly.
4) Widen the eyes without raising the eyebrows. This takes a lot of practice! Still, this expression opens us to wonder and inquisitiveness without appearing surprised, shocked, or alarmed.