What is my face doing?

That dreaded moment has arrived again. Time to renew my passport. Of course my passport expired a couple of weeks ago already (yay executive function!) so I really need to get it done SOON. In the Netherlands you are required to have a valid ID document with you at all times, and that means a passport or an official ID card. Driving licenses aren’t always valid ID, and besides, I don’t have a driving license. So passport it is.

And that means getting my picture taken.

That’s what I hate about renewing my passport. The rest is fairly standard, scripted stuff, nothing much that might throw me off. But photos? Argh.

Because I have no idea what my face is doing.

With all the rules about “no smiling, no visible teeth, face has to be completely visible, neutral expression”, having my picture taken becomes a task of gigantic proportions. Especially the neutral expression bit. In my current passport picture I look like a particularly depressed heroin junkie. And that took about 25 minutes of non-stop instructions by the photographer. “Tilt your head a little bit to the left. No, LEFT, not right. Raise your chin. Don’t smile. Open your eyes wider. Stop tilting your head to the right. You’re smiling again. Don’t frown.” And so on and so on. It’s really stressful because I have no idea how I look. Am I smiling? Is this ok? WHAT IS MY FACE DOING?

I used to practice at home for hours, trying to see in the mirror what the “right” position is to put my face in, and trying to remember which muscles I’m tensing and which I’m relaxing and what facial configuration does that result in and can I reproduce it? But usually as soon as I get to the photographer, I forget everything I’ve practiced and simply adopt my standard “deer in headlights” look. Or inappropriate smiling.

But that was before I knew about autism and maybe it’s not just me who gets confused by all the facial expression stuff. So this time I was determined to do it differently.

I took a mirror with me.

At the photographer’s, I tried to explain that I have trouble knowing what expression I have on my face and would it be OK if I kept the mirror in my hand so I could check? He just looked at me and asked me why on earth did I need to do that for? OK, fail. He then started explaining all about the requirements which I KNOW BY HEART so really that’s not the problem here. Fail again. Just take the damn picture already.

And then I went to a second photographer.

Yes, it’s an expensive solution. But I figured, if I just get as many passport photos taken as possible, at least one should fit the requirements. I can’t deal with the stress of not knowing whether my photo will be accepted or not. And if it doesn’t get accepted, I’ll have to do the entire thing ALL OVER AGAIN. So I’d rather have some extra expenses than all that added stress. I’m learning to accommodate myself. Which rocks, by the way.

When I explained to the second photographer, he turned the computer screen so I could watch and see each picture he took and adjust my face in whatever way I felt comfortable doing. And he helped me get my errant left incisor under control as well (it has a tendency to slip over my lower lip). And it took about 15 tries but I didn’t feel as self-conscious as at the first photographer’s.

Maybe I should go to a third photographer as well, but I’m sort of out of spoons and I think the second set is probably going to fit the requirements. Although I look cuter in the first set, I think. Oh well. I’ll take both of them with me when I go to the passport office.

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Tripping down memory lane

Age 10. The high point of my “I only want to wear blue dresses” phase. I really hated that video camera flash light, which is why I’m keeping my head down. My youngest brother is not allowed to touch the puzzle pieces (normal sibling behaviour) because I’ve already sorted them according to category (not so normal).

I must have been about 8 or 9 here. Still sucking on my fingers and playing with my hair. Not interacting with the other kids at all.

My 7th birthday. My grandmother is explaining something about my birthday hat, I’m obviously concentrating on what she’s saying but I don’t look at her or smile until she’s done talking. My grandmother might have been on the spectrum too.

Age 5 or so. Flapping my knees. Also forgetting to put on facial expressions unless prompted, and then they’re slightly overexaggerated. 😉

Age 6. Toewalking. Toerunning. Overall fairly uncoordinated motor skills.

I’m not posting the one of me and my younger brother spinning in circles in the back garden because we weren’t wearing much, lol. I don’t think I come across as autistic in these videos all that much, just slightly “off” maybe. But not to the level where I’m stimming in every single video, for instance. And I’m obviously interacting with my family. So I’m not entirely sure what to make of this.

Edited to add:
In fact when first watching all the material, I saw myself behaving like a typical child. The videos start in 1980 when I was 4 and my younger brother had just been born. As the years progressed, my behaviour kept on feeling normal, and that feeling got confirmed when I saw my younger brother behave the same way at the same age.

And then I saw my youngest brother appear on screen, born in 1982. The contrast is absolutely frightening. He is constantly looking at people and smiling and pointing and touching and interacting with them on every possible level. He doesn’t fidget, even as a baby and a toddler. He looks bewildered sometimes but mostly in response to something I or my younger brother do.

As if even at that age, he already understood the rules of social conduct better than we did, and saw neither me or my younger brother following those rules. It’s now nearly 30 years later and he still looks bewildered by our conduct sometimes. 😉