Overcoming obstacles with Optimism

Recently after reading a post, Stef asked this list of questions.  They are great questions so frequently asked that I wanted to share the answers through a new post.  For an uplifting read, I encourage you to take time to look at her blog,  http://smilekiddo.wordpress.com/ soon, too.  These are very brief answers to the questions.  Please, I encourage you to ask more questions if you would like further clarification.

You don’t recognize your own face, and you don’t recognize the faces of new people; do you recognize the faces of your family members? If not, how do your kids reconcile that? (They are very young, right?)

My daughters are 8 and 9.  They understand that I have a considerable loss of sight.  This saves me.  When I ask which adult is their teacher or a classmate’s name, they assume that I just cannot see well enough.  They do not realize that I cannot identify these familiar people.  I have decided it will be best not to let them know the extent of this problem until they are older.  It is hard enough for adults to understand this condition let along young children.

Do you remember people that you meet post-stroke? You won’t remember them by face, but if you begin talking to them, do you remember them by voice, and then remember that you know who they are, and things about them?

I do remember people from before my stroke if they have not changed in the way they look.  My parents, for instance, I recognize my father because he has changed very little in the past seven years.  My mother no longer colors her hair.  Her face and hairstyle have also changed.  She is no longer familiar to me.  At times when returning to my hometown, I see people I had gone to school with.  Some of these people I recognize while others are complete strangers to me; however, if you show me photos from my senior year book, I can name all my classmates.  Most people have altered their looks since my brain injury due to aging; therefore, I will no longer recognize them.  Sadly, I know someday all faces will alter enough that everyone will become strangers.  I am prepared for this.  I excel at recognizing different clues that individuals hold.  For example, I can recognize people from the back possibly a little better than from their front view.  Then I concentrate more on their body shape, hair style and gait without being distracted by the unfamiliar face.  I also have learned to notice differences in sounds.  I remember voices, if someone walks heavy, if someone breathes loud always through their mouth or if someone shuffles their feet while walking, I can instantly connect a name of the person with these unique qualities.  In losing nearly all of my sight at first, I gained the gift of listening.  Most people hear things, but rarely do people gain the amazing gift to truly listen.

What coping strategies do you use (or perhaps a better way to ask is “what helpful strategies do you employ?”) to help you address this whole issue?

I carefully watch a person’s eyes and their body language.  You would be amazed at what is possible to learn from someone through paying attention to these two fairly obvious details.

When someone is walking in close proximity, they will at least glance at you.  Someone absorbed deep in their own thoughts or avoiding interactions with others will make certain to not look in your direction at all while passing you.  If someone is walking towards you, glances over your face quickly and then diverts their eyes away, this person is not likely to know you. If someone looks at your eyes, holds that contact and generally will tilt their chin up a small degree, they are preparing to talk to you or acknowledge you some way.  If this person nods their head and says hi without slowing down, they are polite but probably not familiar.  If they slow their pace and ask another question such as “How are you”, they want to pursue some conversation with you.  This person may know you.  Now is the time you can allow other clues to take over and help find out how you know this person and who they are.

To date, this is my best explanation of face blindness (prosopagnosia): I see faces just like you do.  I recognize the placement of eyes, mouth, etc.  I grew up in a community composed of mainly Caucasian people.  I did not have much exposure to other races.  If, during adolescents, I had been taken to Japan and put on a train with no Caucasian and only Oriental people, I would notice the faces were different yet see many similarities.  Now say I was given the name of the people sitting in the rows in front of and behind me with time to talk to these people.  If you were to then take us all off the train and I was asked to place a name tag over the pictures of these individuals, even with “normal” cognitive skills, I would have had difficulty.  While I could see the difference, the subtle difference created by the different facial structure would slightly hamper my ability.  I still saw the face; I just have more difficulty holding onto the differences that I am not used to.  This is my world now but at a much more extreme level.  I see faces normally.  My mind just does not allow the subtle, or great, differences to be recorded.  If you and I were speaking and then turn away from each other, I am no longer able to hold an image of your face within my mind.  You become another face I never see again.

Thank you, Stef, for taking the time to ask these questions.  I invite anyone to respond to posts with questions that may be on their mind!


Comments on: "Face Blindness Questions Answered" (10)

  1. Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions so thoroughly. While I likely will never be able to fully comprehend prosopagnosia, I now do have a better general understanding of what it is. Thank you for educating me.

  2. Stef,

    I was happy to have answered these questions for you! I am glad that you were able to gain a better understanding of prosopagnosia. I can only imagine how hard it is to understand the concept of recognizing no one when you have never fully experienced it. Not having it for most of my life and now suffering with it, I have the unique opportunity to understand both “normal” and face blind ways of life. It allows me to try to explain both sides a little easier.


    • Hi Ms. Tara, my name is Brie Kueber. I am a senior at Valhalla High School in San Diego, California. My classmates in my psychology class were recently taught about face-blindness and we were all fascinated. There were so many questions we all had that our teacher just wasn’t able to answer because he’s never been through it. He thought it may be a good idea to get a specialist on prosopagnosia but I think someone who suffers from this may be even better. My class would be ecstatic if our questions were able to be answered. I was hoping you’d be able to come to San Diego to speak with our class? I understand if you don’t feel comfortable doing this, or you’re busy with your families. Asking never hurts! Plus, I’ll probably get extra credit! Thanks for considering this. Email anytime. If you can’t make the trip, we’d be equally as excited if you were willing to set up at time to Skype?

      • I’m honored you would ask! I would love to come San Diego and speak with your class. I’ll send you a message.

        Please, tell your teacher thank you for covering this topic. I am glad more people are learning about it. It’s a more common condition than people would imagine. I can’t wait to come explain the topic beyond what you can read in a textbook. Besides, want to help you get extra credit! 🙂


  3. Hi Tara
    I just wanted to say thank you for your answers to Stef’s questions. I struggle putting this into words – but there is something that I really want to ask your advise on. I know that you may not have experienced this but I have a sense that you might have something useful to tell me about it. I find in your writing a wisdom, that I do not think necessarily comes from experience, so I wonder what you might think about this thing that I am feeling, at this point in my life when or me really me really belongs to me, I have become the person, who I have needed to become to survive the challenges of raising my child. Now that I live a life which is almost all about my son and nothing much in there is my own, when I meet people who are not Carers at all I feel when I am talking with them an “unconnectedness” that I did not used to feel. I was always connected to people and I miss that but I feel too tired to get it back.

  4. Fatiguecity,

    Responding to you “unconnectedness”, I truly believe everyone experiences this feeling at some point mainly due to their stage in the experience of life. For example, there is a lady who is 27. She was married at 19 and has a 10 year old child. When she attempts to feel a connection with other 27 year old women who are recently married and starting a new life with their husbands, it will be hard for others to relate to her or her to her peers.

    Same in your case, you are at a different place in life. Whether people view it as a gift or a trial, this blessed journey you are taking is not easy for others to relate to. However, same for all paths, your journey will lead you to meet more wonderful people. Along further stages of life, you will once again connect deeply with new acquaintances.

    When I had my first child, I was told some of my best friends and deepest connections would come from the lives of my children. I hope you have found this to be true with your experience. Hang in there Anne. Your journey is not easy, but I have no doubt you will once again find various people with whom to connect along this path.

    Most important, from everything I have read from and about you, you are an amazing person, and the best mom Hammy could have ever asked for! Never forget that!!! I hope all is going well with your family!


    • I am feeling used up and overwhelmed by the vastness of what is expected of me just now, on top of caring for Hammy around the clock. It is good to know you are in the world. My husband did a lovely thing for me, yesterday. He gave me the gift of a new and faster computer. When my son’s girlfriend helped him put it together, she commented to him that she did not know how I had put up with it for so long. Life is a test of some kind and I just saw it as part of the test, but I was fed up with it. Some days waiting for the email to download was akin to waiting for bread to bake.
      I guess there are other things contributing. Maybe it is that while I keep up appearances on the outside, I am fed up inside.
      I hear what you say about it being hard to relate to peers. I remember I have felt that before, but just forgotten. Thank you. Hope you day is happy.

  5. This was a fascinating insight for me. I had a lecturer at university who had prosopagnosia and I found it fascinating but didn’t feel I could ask questions so it’s lovely that you’ve answered them here. It’s so interesting hearing about the different skills you’ve developed to overcome the obstacles that prosopagnosia poses.

    • I encourage questions! I love inquisitive minds. The more they ask, the more I am bound to learn about how I compensate for my conditions. Besides, I am convinced enough of my brain was saved from injury, so I can help other people learn about the brain injuries I have experienced.

      I am sorry you felt you could not ask questions. That is one of the great joys of listening to speakers after all. That being said, if you have any questions, just ask! 🙂


      • Thinking about it, I’m not sure he discouraged questions. I studied a very advanced unit about the prefrontal cortex with him and he loved to be explore questions about the brain, I just never felt it appropriate to ask him about his own condition. Probably more my idea of social acceptability than anything else. It’s great that you’re open to questions though, you can learn so much by exploring other people’s curiosity!

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