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Face Blindness

Jane Goodall suffered from Prosopagnosia
Prosopagnosia (sometimes known as face blindness) is a disorder of face perception where the ability to recognize faces is impaired, while the ability to recognize other objects may be relatively intact. 

Oliver Sacks suffers from severe Prosopagnosia
Did you know that people can have this problem without brain trauma or alzheimer's?
About 1-2% of people have a severe case of this brain function abnormality from birth.  Such people do not even recognize themselves in a mirror.  The noted neurologist, Oliver Sacks is one of that 1-2%.

Most people have imperfect facial recognition to some extent.  This is precisely why eye-witness accounts are so unreliable.  This common form of the brain anomoly does not effect the typical music student's work.  Games can be played and projects done with children accustomed to one another.

What amazes me is how severe the condition can be.  More severe than average cases tend to be co-morbid with Autism, Non-verbal learning disabilities, and brain trauma.

In a school of 500 students, 5-10 of them will

  • not recognize their family or themselves in the mirror
  • not recognize you or other teachers by face
  • suddenly be unable to know who you are if you lose weight, change your hair, change due to pregnancy, wear a different jacket etc.
  • be terrified that someone will find out
Students memorize people by their mannerisms, hair styles, scent, sound of voice, and general air about them. Imagine how difficult this can be playing Cookie Jar, changing partners, doing mixer dances, and other musical events.  

I heard a podcast of  WNYC's Radiolab, the show titled "The Stranger in the Mirror."   To listen to that show, click here.  To see your level of face blindness click here to take an online test.  For the latest research, and to refer others, click here.

Anything we can do to be more sensitive to the struggles of our students is good!

Good luck!


Anonymous said…
Thank you very much for this post bringing light to prosopagnosia! Many children will benefit from your words. Face blindness offers many challenges. It is a disorder that is easy to ignore and quite possible to overlook because educators and the general public cannot see someone has this disorder.

I would invite you and your readers to watch this video for a first-hand look at the challenges that prosopagnosia can offer:

Thank you again for this great post with ideas and insight to challenges prosopagnosia can deliver to people of all ages.


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