by Lyndsay Leatherdale
Here is a check list of the symptoms of prosopagnosia for self-diagnosis. If you have any difficulty recognising people reliably, you might find it interesting. I’ve put in my own experiences as I think it helps put the questions into context. Or not. Maybe I just like writing anecdotes 🙂
1. Failing to recognise close friends or family members in unexpected situations.
I once left my ex at the airport late at night. I thought it was him but I wasn’t sure. He’d been in college in Canada and his normal brown skin (what we call ‘red’) without the sun had paled to what we call ‘clear’ and he was wearing a hat. Last May I arranged to meet my son in a cafe after he’d come back from Law School and I saw him and called out Daniel. It wasn’t him. The embarrassment… you have no idea.
2. Trouble in following films or television shows that have more than a few distinctive characters.
I don’t have this.
3. Failing to recognize yourself in the mirror and/or have difficulty identifying yourself in photographs or sometimes in reflections.
I don’t have this either.
4. When someone gets a haircut, you may not recognize them when you see them again
I don’t think I have this.
5. Having difficulty recognizing neighbours, friends, co-workers, clients, schoolmates etc, out of context.
I have this big time. But I also fail to recognise them in context as well. There is no guarantee I will recognise even a good customer every time. It’s pretty likely I won’t outside the shop. Ex-employees I often fail to recognise especially if I had no real affection for them.
6. Another common symptom those with prosopagnosia experience is that they are more likely to not be aware that their close friends or family are in the same area if they are in a context that is not of their usual nature. For school friends, this would be at school, for brothers and sisters, this would be at home, or a work co-worker, this would be in the work environment.
Yes. At a party I didn’t recognise one of my sons because I didn’t expect to see him there. At a political cocktail party I failed to recognise a shop assistant I saw almost daily.
7. Lack of navigation skills. For this reason, these individuals are prone to getting lost.
I am famous for this. A few years ago I was staying in Miami and rented a car to drive to the Sawgrass Mills mall. The reception staff at the hotel printed me out a map and gave me very explicit instructions. I drove through the toll booth in the same direction three times in a row. I was with my son who doesn’t have prosopagnosia but also has no sense of direction. The pair of us navigated back to the hotel, but found ourselves first at Opa Locka airport and finally at Fort Lauderdale airport. There we were pulled up where we shouldn’t have been when a police car stopped and started to tell us off and then realised we were genuinely hopelessly lost, so the very nice policewoman said to follow her and took us all the way back to the Blue Lagoon Hampton. That is the worst I’ve ever been lost.
8. Inability to recognise left from right.
I have this to some degree but I’ve grown out of it. I couldn’t set a table properly until my 20s. However my parents said that as a young child I showed no preference for my right or left hand so they decided I should be right-handed. There are some things I can only do with my left hand. So maybe this isn’t related to prosopagnosia.
9. Inability to recognise emotions – Those with associative prosopagnosia may have the inability to recognise faces. It is often also the case that they are unable to identify the emotion of the individual as well.
So what may have been put down to AS for me is in fact another symptom of prosopagnosia. This would fit as I’m not really typically AS in any other way.
10. Inability to identify race or colour.
I like to think I’m colourblind but not in that way!
11, Difficulty in reading literature – It may be difficult for an individual to follow a story in a book. This is due to the fact that an individual has difficulty in imagining the faces of the characters described in the book.
So there you have it. I have associative, genetic prosopagnosia. If anyone else has suspected they have more than average inability to recognise faces (it is specific to faces and not anything else at all) and scores high on this test, I’d like to know. How do you cope with other people’s rejection and coldness when they think you have been rude to them and ignored them? How do you cope with the embarrassment? Do you have coping strategies?
Below this is my review of the book which contains one interesting bit – on some very famous people who have it as well, the rest is just personal opinion.
[I have this, but not badly, which might be worse. Oliver Sacks had it very badly, Jane Goodall about the same as me I think,Duncan Bannatyne the millionaire entrepreneur of Dragon’s Den fame has it worse than me, Chuck Close the famous portraitist ironically suffers badly from the condition and Brad Pitt has people thinking he is incredibly rude and snobbish, like all the rest of us, because he too cannot reliably recognise faces. I am not alone!
All of us are thought to cut style on people, deliberately offend them because we couldn’t care about them, and exhibit manners of the very worst kind. None of us have the faintest idea when we are doing this since if we can’t tell you from a stranger, why would we go up to you and be all effusive? When you say hello to us we try and simulate absolute friendship even though we still don’t recognise you, but there is always something missing and people know.
Why I said it is worse for people like me, Duncan, Jane and Brad is that we do recognise most people most of the time, but not always, so it’s like we say hello to you one day and cut you next. People like the late Oliver Sacks and Chuck Close do not recognise hardly anyone any of the time so they can explain themselves. I’m not saying they have an easier time of it, I’m saying people are probably more understanding.)
If you know people who have difficulty in recalling your name or it seems that they don’t recognise you, be kind. tell them who you are and where you last met. Please don’t cut them because you think they have ignored you, they may not know it’s ‘you’ at all.