Basically, it means that I am unable to recognize faces. You might find this a little strange. You might be saying, “Unable to recognize faces…That’s a new one. :)” After all, there aren’t too many people who have the same condition. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. If everybody had a difficult time with recognizing faces, the world would be a much more confusing place. 🙂
introduction to and FAQ about a most peculiar condition:
a word one sees very often. As one of the world’s few people who actually
encounter it on a daily basis, I will attempt to explain it to you.
Basically, it means that I am unable to recognize faces.
You might find this a little strange. You might be saying, “Unable to
recognize faces…That’s a new one. :)” After all, there aren’t too many
people who have the same condition. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a
bad thing. If everybody had a difficult time with recognizing faces, the world
would be a much more confusing place. 🙂
Here is a small FAQ with my answers provided for you to
get a clearer understanding of exactly what I’m talking about.
The top 10 questions to ask a person with
- What is prosopagnosia?
- You can see, right?
- Is it just faces?
- I know what you mean. I can’t recognize faces either.
- How did you get prosopagnosia?
- Is prosopagnosia curable?
- Doesn’t having prosopagnosia bug you?
- How do you cope with it?
- What questions would REALLY annoy you?
- I have never heard of prosopagnosia before; are there
many people like you?
Helpful or Hurtful to Learning?” can be found here.
1. What is prosopagnosia?
I guess I answered that already, but I’ll do a little
further explanation. Imagine that every person has a camera inside their head.
Every time they meet somebody for the first time, they take a picture with
their camera, develop the picture, and file it away for future use. When they
meet the same person at a later time, they already have a record of the person
which they filed away. They can compare the two pictures and say, “Aha, I
know who that person is!” For me, I take a picture with my camera, but I
never store it away.
2. You can see, right?
I have no trouble seeing things. Prosopagnosia has
nothing to do with sight. It is strictly a problem with the brain. I have
trouble remembering what I have seen before. This can, and often does, become
easier if I have spent a significant amount of time with individual
people. I tend to remember people better when I have something to associate
them with, and the more time I get to spend with a person, the more likely I am
to remember them.
3. Is it just faces?
No. I also have difficulty finding my way around places
that I’m not very familiar with. I can hear you say ,” Now wait a minute
there. I have trouble finding my way around new places too.” I doubt that
it takes you three weeks to figure out your way around a college campus as I
have managed to do.
I guess there is a genetic tendency towards prosopagnosia
but the catch is that for those people who aquire prosopagnosia
genetically, it tends to be handed down in varying amounts, whereas those of us
who aquire prosopagnosia through an injury tend to get it in greater
Also, as an example, if you were to ask me to describe a
bird, I would tell you that a bird has wings and most birds fly. However, if
you asked me to describe a robin, I would have a very difficult time.
I am able to remember the BIG details but I
usually miss the smaller ones if they are not pointed out to me. Along those
same lines, I will often miss important pieces of conversation because I am not
neccesarily able to see the facial expressions which are a large part of the
interaction between people as they converse. A short glance without moving ones
head, or a brief smile might be things that I would miss entirely in casual
conversation. However, if somebody were to wave at me, I would probably see it
because it is a big movement.
4. I know what you mean. I can’t recognize
I have encountered many people who have great difficulty
with remembering names. However, there are very few people who are unable to
recognize faces. Names and faces are two distinctly separate entities.
5. How did you get prosopagnosia?
My mother recounted the story to me much as I tell it to
you. When I was 16 months old, I’m told I was a very agile child and that I had
a tendency to move around a lot. This included climbing on things. I was in my
crib when I “decided” that I wanted to climb over the edge. I fell
off of the crib and onto the floor, cried, roled over, and stopped breathing.
By this point in time, an ambulance had been called for and my mother was
receiving instructions on how to perform CPR on an infant over the phone. She
had been trained in CPR before but was unsure how to apply it on an infant. The
ambulance came and took me to a local hospital where I was stabilized before
being moved to another hospital where I was in a coma for six weeks.
Fortunately, I survived to tell about it. According to the material that I have
read regarding head injuries, once a person is in a coma, chances are very slim
that they will survive. I am a very lucky person.
6. Is prosopagnosia curable?
The answer to that question is no. Do I wish it was
curable? I can’t say that I don’t. However, the reasons I give might surprise
you. See question number 9 for an explanation.
7. Doesn’t having prosopagnosia bug
No, but it used to bug me a lot. I went through a stage
where I truly believed the world was out to get me. Don’t get me wrong…I
still believe the world is out to get me, but the difference is that I expect
certain things to happen and I am no longer surprised when they do. An axiom
that I see often and live by goes as follows: If you are different, then you
are bad. I have evolved into a pessimist by nature.
What really bugs me is when people don’t ask me questions
either because they think they already know all of the answers or because they
don’t want to “pester” me with questions. I am more than willing to
8. How do you cope with it?
I think part of the answer to that question is that I
don’t ever remember being able to recognize faces. I had to relearn everything
from scratch after I came out of a coma, but I never experienced the sense of
loss and frustration that I hear is so common in similar situations where the
person is significantly older than I was. They knew what they could do before
and are frustrated that they were no longer able to do the things that they had
always done. I had the time to ” rework my wiring” and I never
believed, until I tried enough times, that there was ever anything that I
9. What questions would REALLY annoy
When somebody asks me “Whats my name?” Its
almost like people don’t want to believe that I have this little quirk and that
I am simply unable to recognize them. People want to believe that I will
“get better” and that I will somehow miraculously be able to
I spent a lot of time contemplating the
differences between my condition, prosopagnosia, and blindness. For one
thing, decent people do not approach a blind person and ask them “How many
fingers am I holding up?”, a question which is impossible for a blind
person to to answer. However, it never occurs to these same decent people that
my condition, albeit a little different from being blind’ is just as annoying
to me when they ask “What is my name?”
I have a close friend who gave me a very good
book entitled Touching the Rock by John M. Hull. It is a book which
autobiographically describes a sighted person who gradually loses his sight in
mid-life and manages to adapt to it very well. There were three or four
sections of the book that I could have written with the exact same words that
he did to apply to my situation.
I have often wondered if it wouldn’t have been
better if I had been blinded for life due to my injury instead of having to
deal with the multifaceted complexities of prosopagnosia.
10. I have never heard of prosopagnosia
before; are there many people like you?
Unfortunately for me, but probably fortunately for you,
there aren’t very many of us prosopagnosiacs around. 🙂 I understand
that there are other people in the world similar to my age who have prosopagnosia.
I would like the chance to get to meet them sometime. I’m sure we would have
much in common.