Smirk of Face?

When I used to visit Mike at his group home, he would always respond to, “Gimme a high-five.” I don’t know where he picked that up, but he responded reliably, most of the time. Mike is my older brother who is autistic, low functioning and nonverbal.

Mike high fiveing

Mike is reacting to Dad’s request for a ‘high five’ in the photo below. At first glance, I thought that Mike’s expression was a kind of exasperated smirk, as if he’s saying, “OK Dad, I’ll high-five you… If I have to…Sigh.”


However, a more detailed examination of Mike’s expression, in the detail below, tells me that my first impression was mistaken. The detail reveals, to me at least, a determination or focus of concentration.

Mike is really concentrating

How could I be so wrong? My first impression of Mike’s expression must have been based on my expectation. Perhaps my own relationship with my father actually influenced how I perceived the look on Mike’s face. This is a bit of a shock to me. A big reason for my obsessive photography of my brother was to study moments of our relationship and his interactions with others, moments that eluded me in real time.

But is my second impression any more accurate?

Once again, I am back to the thought that without any knowledge of Mike’s state of mind, there is no way to know with any accuracy what his facial expressions means to him. Taking up an intentional stance in relating to Mike – meaning attributing a mental state to him and successfully predicting his actions – is largely a failure. People, including me it seems, overlay their own sensibilities on him.

My brother, the human Rorschach test.

5 thoughts on “Smirk of Face?

  1. Maybe Jack, just maybe you ought to trust your gut feeling on this. Not that I’m being facetious at all, in fact I’m being quite serious. How could I not when I claim to do what I do in terms of reading people?
    There is validity in combining your own non-verbal internal signals with the rationalised ones based on what you think is more acceptable. Questions should be based on a full analysis based on all internal and external input. But you know that already 😉
    I think you know your brother better than you think you do. You have already spent a life-time mirroring his actions and behaviour, at least in terms of recognition of how he deals with the world. And therein lie the clues I think. You could say you have a very deep intuitive sense and connection with him because you know him so well. Why disregard any approach if it provides you with an opportunity to think about circumstances differently?
    Any insight in my book is a valuable insight.

    Warm Regards

    • Thanks, M.
      I came up with this distrust of my initial impression of the photo in this post as I was writing it. I had not looked at Mike’s expression in much detail until then, I suppose. I surprised myself. In that surprise, I suppose I lost some of the trust in myself – on the one hand – while reinforcing the idea that I shouldn’t jump to conclusions. But I agree that my initial gut feeling deserves a little credit. Trust and verify, however…

      Warm Regards,


  2. It’s so interesting how we impose our own ideas into the actions of autistic people. My son is autistic and I find that I am constantly trying to stop myself from assuming anything with him. Usually, even though he is completely verbal, he is not able to tell me what he’s thinking or feeling, and that makes it even harder. I think it’s wonderful that you care so much about understanding your brother, even though he will probably never really recognize that. That is the definition of true love.

    • Yeah, it is amazing what a person can miss by making assumptions. On the other hand, it could be helpful discussing what feelings are like with an autistic person who can’t quite identify them him or herself.
      Thank you for your comment and your kind words.


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