Welcome back to Reading the Research, where I trawl the Internet to find noteworthy research on autism and related subjects, then discuss it in brief with bits from my own life, research, and observations.
Today's article talks about an aspect of self-awareness that isn't talked about all the much in school... at least not directly. It's a piece of the hidden curriculum, as some autistic people call it, that we don't necessarily acquire when others do. Specifically, it's the sense for, and concern with, how others see you. This concept factors into pretty much every social interaction on some level.
You can, for example, literally watch this sense kick into high gear when watching insecure people in media (or in real life) try to date. Posturing, dressing in clothes they wouldn't normally wear, pickup artist tricks, and "playing it cool" are all done because the person is worried about their image. Have a very self-aware example from a popular webcomic. Dating is the obvious example, but job interviews, family gatherings, and pretty much any other situation where others' opinions matter also count.
So it's interesting to me that toddlers have apparently already developed this sense. My earliest memory, probably from about age 4, strongly suggests I either didn't develop this sense until later, or really, really didn't care what my peers thought about me. I was in a pre-K classroom, playing with various games and activities. Most of the girls tended towards the "house" type settings, with dolls, playacting domestic activities. But I didn't think that was any fun, so I didn't do it. I preferred to run little toy cars through the chocolate pudding that was spread on the child-sized tables.
Now, that wasn't the only activity I ever did, there were also board games (including the one where you put shapes into the board until the timer runs out, and then the pieces pop out- this is maybe where I acquired my dislike of time trials...). But it's what I remember doing most, and I also remember not paying my peers any mind at all, beyond basic sharing and such.
I do recall having some care for my classmates' opinion of me in early elementary school, though. Specifically, I was bullied, and that made me worry about looking weak and target-able. So that's a fairly clear indication that at least by age 6 or so, I'd developed that sense. And naturally, in my preteen and teenage years, I did worry somewhat overmuch about what others thought of me.
Eventually that spiraled into a proper anxiety disorder, as I tried to compensate for my autistic-ness and mostly failed. Though in high school, learning that most people didn't care about me and wouldn't remember I existed unless I did something dramatic, was kind of a relief.
I guess maybe that's only a relief for people that don't like being the center of attention. But the only time I've enjoyed being the center of attention was my wedding reception, because I got to share the spotlight with my spouse, pretty much everyone was happy to be there, and other than "be there, eat food, smile, say hi to people," there weren't many obligations.