A difference in perspective.

Standard

“She’s so happy” is what someone just told me about Fey, my cat, who’s visiting me where I’m staying right now.

Actually, while Fey is a lot of things right now, happiness isn’t what I’d summarize it as. She’s glad to see me, but she’s also edgy and scared about being in a new place (and about me not being home yet), angry at me for not being home, annoyed about having been picked up, and frantic in her attempts to get me to do something by nudging my hands and face hard and in rapid succession.

I notice this sort of thing often. I obviously can’t read a cat’s mind and know precisely what she’s thinking about everything, but I can get a pretty good clue through body language of the assorted layers of emotions she’s got going on.

Other people often seem to have a limited template of cat emotions in their heads.

Such as, as I finally deduced today, “Purring means the cat is happy.” Which is a gross oversimplification of the use of purring by cats, and which seems to lead to humans totally ceasing all further observation of what the cat happens to be doing in addition to purring, as well as all comparison of the sound of the purring to all other purring the cat has done.

Then there are more “subtle” things like not knowing the difference between a play-bite and an anger-bite. Which doesn’t seem subtle to me, but after watching a lot of people interact with cats, it seems like many people don’t get it. I’ve seen too many people attempt to “play with” (read: invade the space of) a heavily annoyed cat, only to conclude the cat is “mean” when they get hissed at and scratched. And all too often, even after the hissing and scratching, they might say in a sing-song voice, “You meanie,” and go back for more. Putting themselves at risk of a serious bite and taking every warning sign the cat has to offer as a sign of “playfulness”.

That last one, I had trouble understanding for awhile. I thought the humans doing those things were being cruel themselves. Then I ran across a person who seemed absolutely contradictory: She was very conscientious about most things, but at the same time she seemingly terrorized my cat and then laughed about it.

A friend pointed out that she probably wasn’t able to read feline social cues very well.

And that did turn out to be the problem after all.

But it seems like to many people there’s only one set of nonverbal cues that exist: That of the neurologically standard members of their own species in the culture or cultures they are most familiar with.

Anything beyond that appears less nuanced, but often they conclude that rather than being unable to pick up the nuances of an unfamiliar species, neurotype, or culture, then these nuances don’t exist unless the unfamiliar people in question develop nonverbal cues specifically intended to communicate to the person doing the observing. They might even, if they don’t even manage to learn an abbreviated version of the nonverbal cues in question, conclude that the unfamiliar species, culture, or neurotype has no body language. Which leads to being stereotyped as mysterious, sinister, defective, deficient, or some combination of the above.

I’ve always found it interesting, how if autistic people don’t understand certain things about non-autistic people, it’s because autistic people are disordered (deficient in understanding “nonverbal cues” in general, as if there is only one kind), but if non-autistic people don’t understand autistic people, it’s also because autistic people are disordered (deficient in our ability to produce “nonverbal cues” in general, as if there is only one kind). People seem very resistant to the idea that there are many levels of detail and nuance that they are missing in this regard.

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Physically and cognitively disabled. Anything you hear in the media or gossip is likely to be oversimplified at best and wildly inaccurate at worst, the only way to get to know me is to actually know me. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died a couple years ago and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

32 responses »

  1. Well. I would posit a theory about your ability to understand cats so well. For many/most people, their understanding of non-verbal cues in humans is subconsious. There is no learning curve, it’s simply hard-wired into one’s brain. You see a person with their mouth and eyes contorted a certain way, and you think “sad” or “angry” or “happy” or whatever the emotion might be, without ever considering exactly what it is what leads one to that conclusion.

    Those people who are different in their ability to do this automatic processing of facial cues have to learn it the hard way, by observation and consious decision-making by the person. “What does this mean, when their face is turned like this?”

    This leads to the ability to apply skills easily to other types of life.

  2. I rather suspect that many neurotypical people actually have, rather than a true understanding of “theory of mind” or nonverbal cues, rather a set of socially-determined cues which substitutes for, and often gives the impression of, a genuine understanding.

  3. This should be another on the list of “undocumented traits” that the Asperger LJ community is keeping.
    Several things are relevant that you have not mentioned:
    1. You couldn’t read your friend’s ability to read feline social cues, just as she couldn’t read your cat’s social cues, just as many NTs cannot read our ability to empathize. I think this could one day become less of a war and more of a linguistic problem, and literally ALL of us can benefit from understanding that a lot of people act cruelly without intent to do so. My point is, it’s a two-way street, and just because they’re wrong about us doesn’t always mean we’re not wrong about them, too. I know you know this, but “I thought the humans doing those things were being cruel themselves” shows you forgot for a bit.
    2. Some people just don’t think of animals as creatures with feelings. These people will not attempt to read animal social cues, and will say things like “you meanie” before attempting to molest a cat again. Some of these people feel that way about autistic people, also, even though this is unacceptably terrible.
    3. Some people genuinely don’t care about the feelings of most living things. Sometimes good people end up this way as a result of failed attempts to help someone. I imagine that several of the employees of the various places in which you’ve been institutionalized are this way.

    I left you a LJ comment this week, having forgotten that I could comment on here.

  4. I’ve noticed my cat sometimes seems to be purring to try to calm herself when she’s upset. For example, when my dog (who she deeply loved) died and was getting buried, I was petting her and she was purring. It was obvious she was very sad about our dog dying and it seemed like she was really wanting to be comforted.
    The biggest thing I see to distinguish a happy cat from an upset cat is how tense they feel. A happy cat feels relaxed, even a playful cat. A scared, angry or to a lesser extent sad cat feels tense.

  5. A most excellent point…. People talk about how my cat is so friendly, but they don’t realize she’s essentially “co-dependent”, and often very anxious. (She was raised her first year by someone who hand-nursed her and treated her like a baby.) Yeah, she’s (over)socialized to humans, but she not only couldn’t hunt to save her life, she can’t even groom herself properly!

    I’m still trying to figure out what her latest anxiety-objects are, as she’s lately been calling me from across the room a lot. (That is, aside from my emerging from depression and actually leaving the house regularly.)

    Incidentally, she gripes at me if I stay up too late, and tries to lead me upstairs to bed. That, I understand… she’s used to being petted and brushed then, not to mention settling on my chest. (Quilt mandatory, she’s got serious claws.)

    A semi-irrelevant question: do you have, or use, a “body pressure” machine like those Dr. Grandin described in Animals In Translation? I’ve only got NLD myself, but I’ve noticed some dramatic effects from even partial-body pressure, like one of those floppy knee-braces — or the above-mentioned cat-on-chest, which is what brought it to mind. (Yeah, she’s pretty heavy.)

  6. Yeah. And re: the difference between an anger-bite and a play-bite, I’ve also noticed the opposite. As in, a cat will give somebody a play-bite which is obviously neither painful nor intended to be painful, and the person will get all dramatic about it and conclude that the cat is vicious.

    I was in fact just thinking about these sorts of nuances when trying to explain some of my bird’s habits — how it’s hard to say outright that he “likes X” or “doesn’t like Y”; it’s more like he has a tendency toward X when he’s in a particular situation and an aversion to Y when he’s in another particular situation.

    It’s funny . . . this brings to mind attempts to teach autistic people — or anybody, really — what, say, certain facial expressions mean, using photographs or illustrations as examples. It occurs to me that relying solely on the prototype “shape” of the given examples makes it so any deviance from that shape renders the examples useless.

  7. Long time reader (around a year or so)
    First time commenter.

    That last paragraph reminded me of a time when I was ten and had to explain in almost painful detail why I was able to “read the minds” of a group of autistic children who were distressed by a ventilation fan that was making a high pitched whirring sound and thumping discordantly at the same time. It seemed fairly obvious to me that if a group of otherwise mellow people are starting to “freak out” and ALL of them are flicking their eyes to the same place on the wall and half of them are covering/rubbing/tugging their ears then it likely has something to with something at that spot on the wall doing something it shouldn’t have been doing. So when I walked into the room with Mr Petersen and saw my friends in pain it just seemed “normal” to me to walk up, smack the fan into silence, and tell Mr Petersen that it needed to be either fixed or replaced. He truly thought I was able to “read” their minds when all I did was to pay attention to what they were telling us and help them do something about it.
    It felt very strange to need to explain all this to their parents’ respite care worker when if he had simply paid even a little attention to what everyone was doing then the most probable reason why they were doing it would have been plain to see.
    After that night though I would make a bee-line for the back room whenever my parents took me with them on pinochle night. I couldn’t trust Mr Petersen to listen and NOT punish a bunch of kids who were doing NOTHING wrong.

    Looking back I still cringe inside and hang my head for not reporting him to Someone but I wouldn’t have known who and besides that I didn’t know it was wrong because he worked for the state and was a “professional.”

  8. hi. i haven’t been reading or commenting due to the huge lack of time.. all the midterms and everything… but the tension is starting to go down it seems, so maybe i can relax, read on a little about black holes plus a little of your blog here. i wanted to comment a previous post of yours as an answer to what i’d said, but my phone stopped letting me do that somehow, and i was rarely at the computer, and now it’s too late. oh well, no biggie i suppose.

    anyway, naw, when a cat’s purring it doesn’t mean she’s happy (i say she cause my cat’s a she i guess.. i will never call an animal ‘it’ – that’s plain not true). maybe people who think that just haven’t had a cat (or cared for her). me and mom really love our cat and she’s a person in the family as much as i am. we often think other poeple would think we’re stupid or crazy, because we talk to the cat.. and strangely, she understands O.o how you tell her something partly as a joke, and she goes and does that.. and similar examples, i don’t know. animals are smart, people just don’t want to realise (same as they think kids are dumb, but they always know everything that’s going on).

    i sometimes like talking to my cat. it’s possible to understand what she’s saying with the way she’s saying, i don’t know. not all of the time, surely, but yeah.

    i think purring is more of an action than a sound.. my kitty always purrs when she is falling asleep.. it soothes me, i love that (easier to go to sleep when she’s purring on my foot). i think she purrs to calm down or something. as an interlude into sleep maybe. i hear other cats purr when they’re afraid, but my cat hasn’t done that it seems. she shouts real crazy loud when she’s afraid. like, so loud, it’s crazy that something like that can come out of that little mouth O.o

    i guess i’m very lucky my cat never scratches. one time was crazy about hissing though, proof that cats DO understand everything.. one time me and my boyfriend kind of fought.. i got mad at him.. took the cat and passed him by.. and the cat SO hissed at him, although he wasn’t doing anything to her.. i think she was saying that she thinks my point is true xD i guess she understood her master was mad at that person.. it was crazy. it never happened again near him, only that time.

    i don’t think of my cat as another species, i guess that’s the thing. i didn’t get to know her body language as a species or neurotype. she’s a personality, i got to know her quirks as a personality’s characteristics.. that’s why i take them like they are, and i can understand her. and she certainly has a body language and a very awesome character :) she’s more colorful than a lot of people i know (you should see the way she talks back when you tell her to NOT do something xDD)..

  9. Amanda,
    I’ll delurk to write you this.
    I kick my cat out of my bed for any biting. I don’t really feel up to being bit when, for example, I’m dreaming, or only half awake, etc.
    But I get it that there is play biting and anger biting.
    I dont mean to disagree with you, per se, just wanted to say hi with cat talk.

  10. yeah. In a way it kind of stinks how many different ways people express what they are feeling and all , read to the end to get why I say that. Even in a similar “kind” of people everyone is different in their way they express themselves I think. Although there may be a lot more similarity between people in some sort of grouping than others outside of it – I think every individual person has their own individual language, between what their body language, what they actually say, their tone, etc. means. Sometimes I drive myself crazy trying to understand some of my very close friends and sometimes I feel so stuck, because I try so hard but still feel so lost. That is why I say it stinks becuase we all have barriers from each other (not that one certain type of person has a barrier from everyone else, but that we all do from every other person and so does every other person), whether nt, or autistic or something else. Just from being a different person, that can make it really tricky to connect. And sometimes you Reallly want to be able to connect. And that is why I say it stinks. But I probably blow it out of proportion, it’s not like it’s impossible to understand someone at a fairly decent level when you try. But I kind of tend to get stuff on an idea and rehash it over and dwell on it. This is one of those ideas.

    And in response to what you where saying about how they label autistic people as defiecient in producing and understanding “non-verbal cues” and in producing them. That is pretty stupid of them to say. Maybe they should say autistic people find it difficult to understand nt cues. And nt’s find it difficult to understand autistic cues. That would make more sense, because it goes BOTH ways.

    Oh and just as a side note or whatever about myself, I’m not autistic, although I don’t know if I would be called NT either, because my brain is not typical, just in other ways.

  11. Oh sorry I just reread my comment and wanted to add this. I’m not saying I wish we were all the same or something. But I do wish we could all understand each other better. It sure would be great if we could all stay different and individual, yet understand each other very well. That would be tight!! Maybe it’s more possible than I think. I just haven’t figured it out yet though.

  12. Replies to a few different things that were said:

    I don’t think my being good at cat body language(s) has so much to do with having to study all body language in a particular way, but that I have spent at least as much time exposed to cats as humans, if not more, and cats are just easier.

    There’s an aspect of human body language (in general) that I’m quite capable of reading, as well, but it’s certainly not something that would make me good at reading static images of eyeballs or actors portraying certain emotions and stuff.

    There’s a comedian on TV that my friend says is amazing in his ability to not break character, whereas when I look at him I see barely-suppressed laughter all over his body.

    But I don’t see the same cues as everyone else.

    And with regard to the person I thought was cruel, I guess I thought it was a given that I was talking about something similar to how non-autistic people will think autistic people are cruel because they don’t realize we just don’t get it about something. The incident happened many years ago and I have talked to her about it pretty extensively since then.

    I have a friend who used to raise her eyebrows at me, and I loved the wrinkles it made, so I’d grab the wrinkles and then she’d raise them even higher, and it turned into what I thought was a fun game, but I didn’t realize that raised eyebrows was about irritation, and that therefore a lot of these things started with irritation on her part, and that my attempts to get her to raise her eyebrows even more were quite irritating at times. (For reference, when she raises her eyebrows it forms a perfect well-defined pattern of wrinkles going straight across her forehead.)

    And I can see how someone might think I was cruel for “trying to irritate her” when I just wanted to watch her eyebrows.

    But as I have mentioned many other places on this blog, when I talk about doing something wrong, even if it has really awful consequences and has to be stopped, I’m not generally making people into “good guys” and “bad guys”, that’s just not how I think.

  13. Oh, also, I am not sure people ever get to know people as ‘a species’ or ‘a neurotype’ when getting to know them comes naturally to them. That sort of thing comes up more often when it’s difficult.

    When paid staff started invading (that’s what it felt like) Fey’s and my home on a regular basis, Fey felt ‘like me’ while staff did not. One woman kept saying, “You two keep staring at me,” and a lot found Fey’s and my interaction kind of uncanny, but that’s mostly because they were looking at the species barrier. Fey and I are closer than I’ve ever been to another cat except perhaps Smokey, who was born when I was a kitten too. :-) So we read each other not just in the easy-casual-general sense that I find with most cats that I can tell things about them (same as most people do with most humans to more and less extent depending on who), but in the sense of two people who have barely lived apart at all for eight years or so.

  14. Can you explain in more detail about the playful versus the angry cat that bites? When our cat
    wants to go inside in the afternoon she purrs and
    meows…We let her in and she jumps up on her food
    shelf where she eats…We have a routine of opening a small can of wet cat food which she considers a treat…We always “announce” the
    type of dinner as in “Ocean Whitefish and Tuna Feast” and she meows her approval…Then as we open the can and she is purring she likes to reach down and bite us on the forearm…I prefer wearing a thick shirtor a sweater at this time as it can be a sharp little bite…I am assuming this is a playful bite? She sometimes does this when we are petting her and I am not sure what that means…

  15. Oh, also, I am not sure people ever get to know people as ‘a species’ or ‘a neurotype’ when getting to know them comes naturally to them. That sort of thing comes up more often when it’s difficult.

    Exactly! Stereotypes are a cognitive shortcut, that let people avoid having to individually “get to know” every single person around them. Of course, most folks are pretty lazy that way….

    Also, I’ve seen at least one book on cats that said flat-out: “When a cat purrs, that means it’s breathing.” It doesn’t necessarily mean anything else in particular, though individual cats certainly have their own habits.

    I suspect the reason most folks think that purring means “happy”, is because they can only hear the purring when they’re up close… petting or cuddling the cat.

    PS: When I was a little kid, my (family’s) dog was also named Smokey.

  16. I just wanted to share that I am very good at reading the cues of my children, including when they were babies. I have noted many parents, including the mothers, who are so disconnected and cannot read the non-verbal cues of the babies.

    I was so in tune with my baby, that once when he was about three months old, I knew he was about to pass gas. He did this little movement and would make a sound just beforehand. Well I announced that he was about to do that and my mother-in-law said, “Oh that is ridiculous how could you possibly know that was going to happen?” and I said, “I know his body language.” She gave me a crazy look and then right on cue he did pass gas. So there.

    Babies tell us very clearly, if we only tune in, when they are hungry and what is wrong. I have seen many babies who are not being read by their mothers, end up crying and raging with strong crying, due to being ignored and misunderstood. It kills me and breaks my heart.

    I am a cat lover and I understand my cats too.

    I am very happy to have found your blog. I was referred to see your YouTube videos by my brother who has one son with Autism–he learned of you on CNN the other day.

    Thank you for all that you are doing to help share your world with us. You are an excellent writer.

  17. When I was diagnosed, I remember being quite confused when they told me that I had excellent verbal skills and poor body language. That was completely opposite my perception, and to a large degree, the reality of it. In fact, I tended to use exaggerated body language, which even looking in the mirror I could tell was exaggerated and approximated other people’s expressions, and other people didn’t read it, even though I was trying to make it nice and easy. I could always tell when my sisters were lying, or playing a joke on me, or saying something they don’t mean. Body language I used to far greater effect than speech. There was constant frustration of being misunderstood, even when I used words, written or spoken, to indicate that a misunderstanding had occured. It’s very frustrating, as I’m sure you know, to have someone complaining about your lack of understanding their perspective even while they completely ignore yours.

  18. Yeah, I saw how this played out with my mother with regards to regional cultural differences. She had serious culture shock on moving from California to New England, and viewed everyone she encountered there as being mean, unfriendly, unpleasant and cold. (They were probably misreading her in all kinds of ways, too– what was friendly behavior to her was probably weird, overbearing, and phony-sounding to them.)

    …I wish I could read our cat’s body language as well as you do; I could stand to be better at it. We weren’t raised around animals from an early age (except for one rabbit whom our parents kept in a cage out back, and we didn’t have much interaction with him beyond feeding him), and I think that by the time we did get our own pets– certainly when we got our first cat– we’d fallen into the socially-encouraged trap of viewing them as living toys rather than as individual beings with their own preferences and emotions, and got angry when they wouldn’t behave the way we wanted, let us carry them everywhere and pet them whenever we wanted, etc. It took us a pretty long time to unlearn that, to stop thinking that we were entitled to having animals behave in a certain way towards us, and to actually figure out what they were really trying to say. A lot of the time, I admit I’m still really stumped.

  19. MountainRose: I’m not BallastExistenz, but here’s my take:

    I’ve actually seen three levels of biting and clawing (same pattern both ways). One is the “play bite” — the problem there, is that strength of that bite is set for other cats, and they don’t seem able to change that. Unfortunately, we don’t have fur protecting our skin, so a cat’s play-bites can draw blood from us. The claw equivalent is a “pat”, but again, most cats aren’t too good at keeping their claws sheathed.

    The second level is the “anger bite” where the cat is telling you they’re pissed, so knock off whatever you were doing! That will usually draw blood, at least from the fang punctures. The claw version is a shallow scratch, or “spiking” your hand with their claws. My own cat is pretty good about giving audible warning before she goes to an anger bite or claw.

    They can also do this if you’re daring enough to “hand-wrestle” them, or to handle their belly while they’re on their back. Some cats will put up with you stroking their belly for a little while, but when they’ve had enough, or if you grasp their belly with your hand, they can “get sharp” with very little warning.

    The third level is when the cat’s fighting — either out for blood, panicked, or injured. That’s when they really sink all their teeth in (not just the fangs), and maybe take a piece out of you! The claw version is a deep (full strength) slash. I’ve never been hurt that badly by a cat, mostly because when they’re that freaked out, it’s obvious, so I stay the heck away.

    Julian: Well, you’ve taken the first big step, just by recognizing them as separate creatures with their own minds. From there, it’s mostly observation.

  20. PS: If you didn’t know, any scratch or bite from a cat needs to be washed out and disinfected ASAP, because they start out infected with the cat’s symbiotic bacteria. If you don’t clean them out, they will swell and take a long time to heal, with some chance of developing “cat scratch fever”. That last is rarely fatal these days, but definitely no fun.

  21. My dog has different levels of bites and growls I have had the fun of interpreting over the years. When I was younger, she seemed to understand I was the smallest, the youngest, and was even reluctant to playbite me, even though she gladly interacted this way with my older sisters and parents. Nowadays she will, but is generally reluctant and just sort of rests her teeth on my hand. I guess not much has changed in ten years after all.

    I have learned to discern the many kinds of sounds she makes, and can usually tell when she wants food or water, or if she wants attention, or if she hears a noise or is lonely or wants to be left alone or just make sounds at us. Sometimes she likes to make sounds to get our attention, probably mostly because of how we’d lavish her with attention when she’d make cute sounds, and so she’s trying to say, “hey, give me attention!”. And who could help but oblige her?

  22. We do at least seem to have a better grasp on our current cat’s ways of communicating than the staff at the veterinary clinic where he used to live did. Actually, some of the people I’ve seen who were the worst about terrorizing animals and laughing about it, or getting all cutesy-wootsy “aww, woo don’t wike dat, huh?” (which is pretty much the same as laughing about it in my book), were veterinary staff and technicians. Our old cat hated vet clinic staff, even when she was okay with the doctors.

  23. I think the best way to tell a play bite from a real bite is by looking at the cat’s body. Both playful and angry cats will swish their tails, and put their ears back (although angry cats do this more obviously and continuously, as well as flicking their ears back and forth). But angry cats will also feel tense, if you pet then their body doesn’t ‘mould’ to your hand the way even a playful happy cat will, and if their fur is ruffled they’re definitely upset. Also, if their pupils look bigger than they should in that light level, they’re very scared (or brain damaged).

  24. And if only one of the pupils is bigger than it should be, the most likely explanation is iris atrophy (which my cat has) rather than brain damage unless there are other signs of brain damage.

  25. does Fey get pissed even if YOU pick her up, or just people she doesn’t know well or wish to be handled by?

    Our cat, Dennis, tolerates being picked up alot and even likes it….he even doesn’t mind kisses….Athena tends to overdo it though….Dennis treats her as if she is his mother…..even pretends to nurse! Ivan won’t tolerate that at all; he says “no” and gently pushes the cat away or puts his hand in front of Dennis’ face. Feline behavior is most fascinating!

    The Integral

  26. ummmm…..this is definitely off-topic, but Kathleen Seidel is facing a subpoena that would force her to turn over alot of her private correspondence with other autism rights bloggers……

    Orac at Respectful Insolence has written an open letter to David Kirby and Dan Olmstead, urging them to speak out against the subpoena. I’ve linked to it in my own blog entry on the subject, “In defence of Kathleen Seidel”

    Kev Leitch is urging as many people as possible to link to that letter, and spread it around the internet.

    The Integral, in defence of Kathleen Seidel

  27. While I don’t have cats (never have), I have dogs and it floors people how I can communicate with them. To me it is easy, watching and understanding. I can communicate non verablly with dogs, even dogs I have just met, and find it very comfortable. People, on the other hand are next to impossible most times for me to understand and figure out. It can be incredibly frustrating when I can’t properly figure out how to get someone else to understand what I am seeing in a dog’s behavior, becuase they just can’t see it, no matter how hard I try to point it out.

  28. After living with rabbits for a couple of years, I’m well versed in bunny body language, and find myself explaining it to my friends. Even though I grew up with dogs, I’ve lost touch with dog language and find myself interacting with them as if they were rabbits, which just doesn’t work. The rabbits still stubbornly refuse to attempt interpreting my human behaviors.

  29. Fascinating. As usual! (Oh, and please note: The following is from experience with a multitude of cats, but although I consider myself “good” with cats, I’m not a “Cat Expert”.)

    With respect to David Harmon’s explanation of the levels of biting and clawing… I’ve never actually had a play bite that broke skin. Not that I remember, at any rate. Come down a little hard on my hand, yes, but not break the skin. And irritated nips don’t tend to break skin either – those I would class as “1.5” on your bite level scale; they’re not quite “angry” bites, but they’re a warning that you’re crossing a line, and if you don’t stop, there *will* be angry bites and scratches. Not all cats nip – Imber hisses and snarls instead – but some do.

    Also note that with some cats (again, not all), if they play-bite, they may follow it up by licking the area they bit. And quite often (though not always), play-bites involve rubbing the belly area, or playing with the belly area. (Not to say nips and angry-bites don’t, but I’ve rarely had a play-bite from a cat in any other position, whereas nips and angry-bites can definitely come from any position.) There are cats who enjoy being on their back (or preferably side) and having their belly rubbed. Brightspot used to fall asleep in my arms resting on her back. Thor will lie on his side and stretch and say (in Felinese), “Somebody, please rub my belly and pay attention to me!” Imber has decided that lying on her back isn’t as bad as it was, since I stopped putting her in that position to clip her front claws – but will still prefer to lie on her side if her belly’s being rubbed or we’re playing.

    And ironically, despite (or maybe because of, who knows?) handling cats for my entire 36 years, and getting plenty of nips and scratches (and the occasional bite) along the way, I’ve never had any reason to worry about cat scratch fever. I didn’t even know you were supposed to disinfect cat scratches and bites (if they broke the skin) until I was in my teens. Sure, I’d wash them, if the cat had recently been to the litter box (smell of litter, yuck – and the dust! 99% dust free indeed! Hah!), but otherwise, nothing.

    As for human body language cues… my theory is that there are two levels to NT cues: the basic, fully instinctual, “This Is Human(NT)” body language, that is hardwired (smile, frown, grimace, etc – the real basics); and the near-instinctual, “This Is My Culture(NT)” body language, which is learned, but in a way that’s linked somehow with the instinctual body language. I’ve also heard that people diagnosed with Asperger’s, at least, tend to understand the body language of other Aspies without the difficulty we face comprehending NT body language. I can’t say whether the latter is true or not, but I know that my first “in-person” Aspie friend and I can chat and be relaxed with each other in a way I haven’t been able to do with NTs. (My *first* Aspie friend, I know only through the internet.)

    I also know that if I’m with just one or two people, I can get the gist of what they’re saying with their body language, but it’s cognitive / intellectual, not instinctive, and there is a processing delay because I have to (subconsciously) go through my “body language library” to determine what each expression or posture means. It’s easier with family and friends I’ve known for a while, because I’ve had a chance to build up my “specific” body language library for them, as opposed to needing to go through the “general” body language library.

    Unfortunately, add another person to the mix, and my ability to read them goes right out the window. It takes too much processing power to read three people; even two people can be pushing it, depending on the circumstances (like, say, I’m tired, or I’m starting to head towards overload or meltdown…).

    *shrugs* But that’s probably a topic for my own blog post, so I’ll just say I’m done, and hand over my $2. ;)

    :) tagAught

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