November 28, 2013

Prospagnosia (in a critical family)

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 12:29 am by merelyquirky

This started as a reply to a post on, but got way too long, so I’m posting it here instead.

(See )

As a kid, I attended very small school system (about 45 kids/grade) which helped, but still, the ones who weren’t in my class (and seated near me): forget about it.  And because so many school kids wear indistinguishable hair and clothes, I mostly talked to the oddballs, who stood out for me. I can’t even ID cars, except by license plate

After a friend a cut his ponytail I could never recognize him out in public unless he was facing me & wearing a tshirt advertising his favorite brewpub.

One particularly distressing instance (for a nerd like me) was watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy and being unable to distinguish between most of the human/elf characters in the movie, despite having reread the books each summer for 25 years.

My sister, who would never admit any issues ever, has several times walked right past me  when picking me up at bus/train stations because I was wearing the wrong color pants.

In social situations, I can usually move slowly enough to recognize voice or posture before it’s too late.

At work, I repeatedly tell customers how bad I am at names, joking that that’s why I could never be a politician (which serves to change the subject from me not knowing who they are to them griping about politics, which gives me a shot at recognizing voice/demeanor/point of view).

Some positive notes:

  • IDing by gait makes it easier to recognize people from a distance.
  • At work, my coworkers and I don’t all see the same customers, and my ability to mimic their walk and vocal quirks help to identify who we’re talking about.  
  • And one time at the laundromat I identified the owner of some unlabeled laundry, giving age, career, employment status, political leanings, health, and that he was in town visiting relatives. (Was exactly right: 50-55 yo unemployed carpenter with diabetes,didn’t vote, visiting his aging hippie in-laws while his wife was ill.) Go me.

It’s only as an adult, when I was in more public areas that I realized the extent of my issue, and only in the last 5 years or so that I came across the word prosopagnosia.

It was like my world suddenly made more sense. And finding out about Aspergers as well, my sense of failure and guilt that I’ve carried my whole life for the things I saw differently, sensed differently, didn’t understand, didn’t feel comfortable with, has begun to lift.

I’m becoming more aware that the times my sisters sneered at or belittled me it was at least in part because none of us knew anything about this stuff. (And the one I told about the Aspergers a couple months ago, replied that I must have taken the test wrong, that either I didn’t read it carefully enough or that I was skewing my answers like a kid holding thermometer to the light bulb in order to get out of school.)

Forty-two years of self-doubt are starting to lift sometimes, and the nerd in me thinks Douglas Adams wold see my age and not be surprised at all.


  1. A Quiet Week said,

    This is a fantastic post! I’ll tag you in my part two. 😀

    Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful article. We are very much in the same boat, in our 40’s and thinking that a reason sits behind all of our differences. The more we write and share the more we can, perhaps, rescue our autistic siblings from feeling inadequate or confused by the world’s reaction to them.

    I had to laugh as you wrote about Lord of the Rings–I had trouble following the book because all of the different characters seemed to have no face. Watching the movie, as spectacular as it was, still makes me sweat. All I manage to come up with is, “Yay! Horses!” since everything else is so muddling!

    Thank you again for your write up and sharing with me. It’s good to meet you!

    Lori D.

  2. A Quiet Week said,

    Excuse me, “May I tag this article in my next post, please?” I get a bit over excited at times and lose coherence! 🙂

  3. merelyquirky said,

    Certainly, certainly, Lori!

  4. Yay for being 42!
    I am that age right now.
    And yay for Douglas Adams.

    Not the point of my comment though!

    I read this post and the post it was based on at A Quiet Week blog.
    I’ve been looking at this topic because I have wondered about myself and facial recognition.
    I’m not bad at it- but not great at it, either.
    But as an artist who has trained to observe, observe, observe, I of course feel like it is a thing I should be better at than I am.

    When I took the famous faces test I got 87% which sounded pretty good, but I remember the result page saying it was really kind of average so again for an artist not as good.

    But I know very much that I do not have 87% accuracy in real life people.

    I noticed the issues with me are not recognizing a person out of context, and interestingly, I seem just as likely to falsely recognize a complete stranger as I am to not recongize someone I have known.

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