Documentary about 14-year-old Hannah, who suffers from face blindness. Everyone is a stranger to Hannah - she is unable to recognise family and friends.
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# You ready? #
'I'm Hannah and I'm 14 years old.
'In this room are some of my closest friends and family.
'But I've just walked past my dad, mum and best friend, Leah, and I can't recognise any of them.
'It could be one of the most famous faces on the planet.'
-Do they look familiar?
-That is Simon Cowell.
'Or even myself.'
-No, it's not you, it's actually granny.
'Everyone's a stranger to me, because I'm face blind and it's cut me off from the world around me.'
'This is my school and it's lunch time.'
Can we file out the building, please?
'But I'm struggling to find my best friend, Leah.'
She's in a different uniform to me. She is wearing a grey uniform.
She told me the other day she always wears a bow in her hair, but I've never actually noticed that.
'I won't be able to recognise her by her face,
'because all of these faces look the same to me.'
It's quite difficult here, because there's a lot of people.
'I have one of the worst cases of face blindness that experts have seen.
'Any girl or boy could be Leah. My mum could even be stood there and I wouldn't know.
'To work out who's who, I have to become a superdetective.'
I think this is someone in my class and him too.
Because he's small and his friend's taller and they're always together.
He's the smallest that comes to this lunch, so I think it's him.
I would never ask to check, I just don't, it embarrasses me.
'But I can't find any clues to tell me Leah's there.
'She might as well be on another planet.
'I know what you're thinking, if I can't pick out my best friend
'amongst a crowd, what must be going on in my head?'
'I have a condition called prosopagnosia, or face blindness.
'When I look at the face, I see exactly what you see, two eyes, a nose and a mouth,
'but my brain can't add those features together to make a person I know.
'Everyone is a stranger to me.'
'It's not just my friends. I can't recognise some of the most famous faces in the world either.'
-No, do they look familiar?
'I watch the X Factor every week.'
-That is a picture of Simon Cowell.
-You're favourite programme.
-How do you know that's One Direction?
-Because they're a group.
And is it just because they're five of them, or do you recognise any of their faces?
No, I don't recognise them.
'It might seem really strange to you.'
-No? Gary Barlow.
'But without being told their names I have no idea who they are.'
That is Doctor Who.
'It's really frustrating when people are talking about celebrities
'and I have no idea what they look like.'
It's Adele. You listen to Adele every day in the car.
'It doesn't matter when I got it wrong with my mum.
'But it's embarrassing when it happens with people my age.'
When people say to me, "What's it like?" I don't really have an answer, because it's normal to me.
I don't know any different.
'I don't like being different, but with the help of my mum I cover up my condition.'
I think probably like most teenagers she doesn't want me to do anything out of the ordinary.
So we have lots of little processes in place so that none
of her other friends think she is any different.
I think it is upsetting for me, because sometimes she getting upset and anxious and worried
that she can't find me and you can see that sort of lost look on her face.
'I've always thought my condition was permanent, but now I'm going to find out if that could all change.'
Today, I'm here at the university, because they have just set up a facial processing centre,
hopefully will be able to help me to recognise people.
If it does work, I will be able to do lots of other things that
I wouldn't be able to do with face blindness, so I really hope it helps.
-How are you?
-Fine, thank you, how are you?
-Yeah, not too bad.
'Jay is working with some of the best face blindness experts in the world.
'Today, he is going to find out more about my problems.'
So we are just going to show you some pictures.
Some of them are people you know and some are people you don't know.
'So that I focus on the facial features, the hair has been removed.'
So the first one is that familiar, or unfamiliar?
-OK, that's actually a picture of Dad.
-Great, thank you.
How about the next one? Do you think this is someone you know, or someone you don't know?
'It doesn't matter how hard I try.'
'I just can't see who the face belongs to.'
-No, it's not you, it's actually Granny.
OK, how about this one?
Someone you know, or is it a stranger?
OK, it's actually a picture of me.
'I'm so upset when I get it wrong and I wish more than anything I could recognise my mum.
'I know it must make her really sad too that her face is like a stranger to me.'
Hannah finds it particularly hard to recognise faces in comparison to other people.
When we look at a face, it seems to just hit us all at once and we just know who it is.
What we notice with Hannah is she seems to take a lot of time looking at people's features,
looking at people's eyebrows, things we probably wouldn't think of doing.
The next stage of the training will be rather than getting her to look at small features of people's
faces and trying to recognise them, it will be to get her to look at faces in a completely different way.
That hopefully will be more helpful.
'Life wasn't always like this. I used to be able to recognise faces.
'But six years ago my life changed forever.'
I was only a little bit older than Ellie when I had encephalitis.
I don't remember much from it, but I was told that I was blind for a period of time.
'Encephalitis is a rare infection that can stop your brain working properly.
'It hit me while we were on holiday.'
Hannah started going dizzy and feeling unwell.
We tried to say, "Hannah, are you OK?" and there was just basically nothing.
I thought she was dying and I was kissing her goodbye.
'For three days, I lay in a coma in hospital.'
When I woke up I wasn't myself. I couldn't walk.
I had to learn how to do everything again.
'Most of my brain recovered, but one part stopped working.'
'From then on, I didn't know who anyone was.'
She just never had the ability to recognise faces.
There was nothing wrong with her eye sight, it was just damage to the brain.
'So how do I cope? I've had to find other ways of recognising people.'
'Imagine trying to find your friends if everyone looks the same to you. It's not easy.'
-Do you want any roast potatoes?
-No, thank you.
'But I've learned to make lists of people's features.'
'Striking details are the easiest to recognise.'
'Glasses or accessories help.'
'Hair can be a bit hit and miss.'
'Usually it's a combination of features
'and I have become an expert at recognising people by their voices.'
'But clothes and hair change and it's easy to make mistakes.'
It would be me that got upset if I got someone wrong.
I just don't want to be different from anyone else.
'I won't do anything without my mum or Leah to help me and I never ever go out on my own.'
It helps if I have a friend like Leah to ask,
so no-one knows I have asked who they were.
People who don't have face blindness
don't go up to someone and say, "Who are you?"
So I don't want to either.
'Being face blind has stopped me doing all the things I want to do.
'But there are other people round my age who have it and are much more confident than me.
'Even though I haven't met her yet, 12-year-old Laura is one of them.
'She deals with it in a totally different way too me.'
I travel on my own quite a lot going to school, to the leisure centre, to go out with my friends.
I am fairly independent.
'Today, she is doing something I would never do.'
I'm going to the ice skating rink.
It's going to be really fun, I'm going to meet with four of my friends
and do ice skating, which I really enjoy.
Because I have face blindness, it's a little bit harder to find my friends,
because I can't actually remember what their faces look like.
'I can't believe Laura's going into the ice rink on her own.'
If it's busy, it can be a lot harder to find my friends, because I've got to look at more faces,
try and figure out if I've ever seen them before,
because every time I look at a face it's a new face.
'Laura's friends could be anywhere in the leisure centre.
'But unlike me, Laura isn't afraid of taking risks.'
If I can't find them, I'm just going to call their names and hope they come ever to me.
'I wish I could be that confident.'
So was it easy finding us today?
-Well, I looked for Cameron's hair, because it's curly and puffy.
-Only Cameron's hair?
'The thing people find hardest to believe is we don't even recognise our own reflection.'
Looking at myself at the moment I can see the obvious things that I just know off my heart,
like I have blonde hair and blue eyes with little brown bits.
But if in ten minutes I looked at my face again, it would just look like a complete stranger to me.
I mean you recognise your family, your mum?
No, I don't. It's nothing about how much I see a person.
You know their features and what they look like, but you just can't visualise it.
Yes, it's just a sentence to me, it is like, "She has brown hair."
I know what brown hairs means, but I can't picture it.
So how do you manage to, like, to go around. How did you figure it out?
It's quite hard for me to imagine that you guys can actually recognise faces,
because I've never been able to do it.
So I grew up learning different techniques.
If I got separated on the rink,
Emmy's got ear muffs - I'd look for those.
Jane's glasses. I always know look for Cameron by her hair.
And Talley would just be the other one!
'Laura's so brave she is going to try and find her friends without their help.
'But some of them are already looking a bit different.'
Hi. Recognised you, because you're wearing a mouse, or is it a Koala?
-It's a Koala.
-A Koala hat.
No, you're Ellie, because it's the silver coat.
'I would be freaking out by now, but Laura makes it look easy.'
-Hello! Why did you recognise me?
-Because you've got long hair.
OK, just Jane now.
'But Laura can't spot Jane.'
Right, no, neither of them are Jane.
'And if that was me, I would be really worried.'
-Is this Jane?
-Yeah, I just saw you.
It was harder to spot Jane, because she'd taken off her glasses.
I'm quite lucky, because it's quite empty today and it's easier to find people.
I once remember I was in a supermarket
and I followed a man who I thought was my dad.
That does happen every now and then.
It is embarrassing thinking someone's someone you know
and then finding you've never met them in your life before.
'For me, it's worse than embarrassing, I find it terrifying.'
'I'm really hoping the university can help me.
'Today, I'm meeting their top expert and she is going to try and find a way to help me recognise faces.
'And that means more tests to try and find out what I'm doing different to everyone else.'
A tiny little camera is just going to pick up your pupil and just follow where you look.
'All I have to do is look at a picture of a face.
'The camera will reveal where I'm going wrong.'
'My sister Ellie's here to try and find out what happens in someone who doesn't have face blindness.'
Are you looking forward to this?
'Ellie's the youngest person Sarah has ever tested.
'But it doesn't matter that she's only six, because most people
'can recognise faces from where when they're babies.'
OK, it'll be finished. You can relax.
'It's important I don't see the results yet, so Sarah explains them to my mum.'
When we look at Ellie's, we are seeing this triangle pattern.
So she's looking between the eyes, down to the mouth and over the nose.
She's very tightly on the inner features, which is exactly what we would expect.
'Ellie finds the test easy, but my results are very different.'
She's actually quite widely spread.
You can see she is kind of looking all over those external features.
'You may be asking why am I looking at faces in such a different way.
'To show you we need to look inside of my brain.
'There is a special area that we use to recognise faces.
'It's called the fusiform face area.'
'It matches key features to people you've met before.
'But in my brain, the face area is broken.
'I can't match features with faces.
'So I look at the hair and face shape.'
She is looking at the inner features to some extent, which is good.
She is one of the most severely face blind people that we have had here.
'Sarah can't fix the face area of my brain, but she has a big idea.
'She wants to see if she can train a different part of my brain to do the same job.'
It is possible another area of the brain might actually take over and to some extent
she might then recover some of her face processing ability.
Your job is to work out which of the two underneath faces is the same as the person at the top.
Shall I press it?
'The training programme will force me to focus on the eyes, nose and mouth,
'because the people in it have had their hair removed.'
This is level one.
To pass the level, you need to get at least 36 out of the 40 correct.
Anyone who has normal face processing abilities kind of starts
struggling around level five or six anyway, so don't get despondent.
'Nobody knows if the training will work,
'but I've got so much hope pinned onto it.
'It could change my life.
'But what if it doesn't work?'
One of the worries I have about when I'm older is
because I want children, I won't be able to recognise them.
And that's quite scary. And my boyfriend, husband.
It's just like lots of children the same age as me,
they've got lots of hopes and dreams.
'A few weeks later, my training's going really badly.'
I'm still on level one and I've done it 82 times.
I don't seem to be improving. I seem to be getting worse.
To get past level one, I have to get 36 right out of 40.
And the most I've got so far is 30.
'I'm starting to lose hope of ever recognising someone by their face.'
I don't think there's any improvement at all
and I don't think there will be.
'Luckily, Sarah has an idea to cheer me up.
'I've come to a theme park with my family
'and I'm finally going to be meeting Laura face-to-face.
'I'm really excited to be meeting someone with face blindness too.'
'And we're nearly the same age.'
-You're Hannah, right?
-Yeah, and you're Laura?
'I'm desperate to know if Laura has the same problems as me.'
See you later. Bye.
-So...you acquired face blindness, right?
-Yeah. Did you?
No, I was born with it.
-I found out a year and a half ago. Yeah, ten and a bit.
So I went through all of the junior school getting everyone mixed up
and everyone thinking I wasn't paying enough attention.
I found out about three weeks after I must have had it.
-How do you recognise people?
So if they've got certain earrings on in the day, I'll look for that.
And also I look for posture, stuff like that. Is that the same with you?
I recognise people by their voice.
-Do you do that?
-A little bit.
-Do you want to go on this?
-I don't know!
-Looks a bit scary, but...
-I'd go on it if my mum was here.
-Maybe we could go on something a bit less scary first.
'We might be feeling brave enough to go on the rides later,
'but first we want to chat.'
I'm quite independent at home because my dad's...
-I don't know if you saw by his stick, he's actually blind.
Yeah, so face blindness isn't anywhere near as difficult to
deal with cos he can't see anything.
When we do lunch, I'll help him cook and when we go shopping,
I help him get things, so that has helped me be independent.
-I find the supermarket difficult cos I can't...
-Find your parents.
Yeah, when you lose your dad or mum, how do you look at it
when you're lost?
I'm normally really scared. "Oh, God!
"I can't find them!" And I'll be panicking a bit.
-A little bit?
-More than a little bit!
But I just calm myself, "OK, call him on his mobile." It's frustrating
thinking that I've probably walked past him 20 times.
He hasn't seen me and I haven't known it was him.
I've never lost myself permanently!
I get really worried and I can't calm myself down.
'I'm starting to realise that maybe having these worries is normal.
'And maybe it is possible to overcome them.'
-Do you go off on your own?
-Quite a bit. I do it. I just deal with it.
I don't go off on my own often cos I get really worried.
But I'm just getting my confidence to do it now.
It does feel a lot better when you're more confident about it.
I think it's helpful that I spoke to someone that could really
understand. Now I know I'm not alone
and there's other people the same age as me that have it.
Sometimes you just feel like you're the only one.
'And together, we overcome another fear.'
Hannah, why are we doing this?
It's quite nice to know someone else my age who also has face blindness.
We're going to swap email addresses and, hopefully, we can meet up again.
'I've realised that nothing should stop me
'doing things people my age do.'
Oh! That is so, so fun!
'I've been really inspired by meeting Laura
'and now I'm taking on my biggest fear.
'Me and my friend Scarlett are hitting the shops.'
-You've got your phone with you.
-If you need anything, just phone us.
'It feels amazing to be doing something without our parents.'
No, I don't like them.
'To start with, I stay by Scarlett's side, but then she has an idea.'
Now you feel more confident,
do you want to try that on and then you can meet me somewhere?
-Are you sure?
OK, see you there.
'Scarlett's going on to another shop and I'm going to have to find her.
'I've never ever been on my own in a public place.
'But this time, I feel brave enough to try it.
'And I know all I need to do is stay calm.'
OK, I've found it.
-Are you all right?
-Was it as hard as you thought?
I was like, "Right, I'm hoping she's OK."
-But you made it.
-That was really good.
-Yeah, that's good.
It was good.
I think it's built my confidence now, that I could find the shop
and find Scarlett.
One day, I'd like to be able to go in any shop, so hopefully doing
things like this will gradually help me build my confidence.
'Things are getting much better with my training too.
'To try and make another part of my brain do the job,
'I have to pick out the faces that match.
'I'm determined to improve my score and spend hours practising.
'And I'm getting better each time.
'A few days later, I'm excited to talk to Sarah about my results.'
It's taken ten hours to get to the end of level one,
but you've got there, so there's definitely evidence of improvement.
I know how frustrating it must be.
If you think, there you were at the start, getting 17 out of 40,
and we got you up to 36 out of 40,
you've doubled how good you were in the space of ten hours.
'Even though I haven't been training for long,
'it looks like another part of my brain is already taking over.'
It's nice to know that perseverance and hard work has paid off.
I was so proud because I know she could have given up at any time.
'And Sarah has a surprise test for me to see
'if I can put my training into practise.
'In amongst this line up are some of my closest friends and family.'
You're going to see a big group of people
and some will be people you know.
We just want you to see if you can identify any of them.
When you're ready.
'I'm so nervous, I'm shaking.
'Normally, I use locations to help me guess who people are.
'I know I'll see my teachers at school and my parents at home.
'There aren't any clues here.
'On my first attempt, I walk straight past my mum, my dad
'and my best friend Leah.
'I haven't spotted anyone, so I give it another go.'
My mum, maybe?
'It's the first time I've ever recognised my mum since my illness.'
-So is there anyone you just have a tiny...?
-Which one is it?
-If you were to take a guess, who would it be?
Yeah, that's right. It's your dad.
'I was so nervous about getting it wrong,
'but it feels great to pick my dad out...'
-'..and with a little help from people's voices...'
Leah? '..I get all the others right.'
-It was really emotional
and I felt guilty in a way that I was testing her.
And then when she walked past me and said, "It's my mum, possibly,"
I sort of thought, "Oh!"
Even if it wasn't with complete confidence,
I think she was pretty sure and it was really emotional!
'I've come further than I ever thought possible.
'But I still have one question - what will my future be like?
'Experts think that as my as one in 50 people could be face blind.
'Today, Laura and I are going to be meeting one of them,
'He's one of the richest men in the country
'and also a huge TV star on Dragons' Den.
'I'm keen to make a good impression,
'but I get him confused with the man by the window. Oops!'
-Hannah, nice to meet to you.
-So, do you watch Dragons' Den?
-Did you see it last night?
I missed it as well.
'He shows us around one of his health clubs.
'I'm amazed that his face blindness hasn't
'got in the way of his business empire.'
-How many of these clubs do you have?
-Well, we've got 61 clubs altogether.
-That's a lot of clubs.
-Yeah. The turnover's £100 million a year.
-Oh, my goodness!
-That's a lot.
'It's more money than I could ever imagine.
'I want to know how he's managed it with his condition.'
The 26th floor, I think.
It's pretty high up! Amazing!
-I find that lots of people think you're a bit rude.
They assume cos you can't recognise people,
you must have loads of things wrong with you.
It's such an unknown illness.
-Does it ever upset you when you get it wrong?
I think getting the message out there that you have
the condition is better than trying to cover up for it.
It has upset me, having face blindness and getting things wrong.
But having spoken to Laura and now you,
she said that's what we have, we can't change it.
You can say to yourself there are people worse off,
but I don't think any of us should feel sorry for ourselves.
That's one of the worst things anyone can do who's got a condition.
So, make the best of it. Enjoy life.
Embrace the situation you're in and embrace your life and enjoy it.
-Thanks very much.
-Thanks a lot.
It's just amazing to meet one of Britain's best business people
and finding he had the same condition as us was just...wow!
It's made me believe in myself and know nothing's going to stop me.
I am who I am and I shouldn't let myself get down about it.
Just enjoy your future because...the world is amazing.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Documentary telling the incredible story of 14-year-old Hannah, who has one of the worst cases of face blindness in the UK. Everyone is a stranger to Hannah, and she doesn't know who her mum, dad, sisters and friends are when she sees them. Hannah can't even recognise her own face, and being face blind has cut her off from the world around her.
Hannah embarks on a course of groundbreaking treatment at Bournemouth University, where face blindness expert Dr Sarah Bate is trying to understand how the condition works and help people like Hannah finally know who the people around her are. During the course of her treatment Hannah meets another young girl with face blindness for the very first time - twelve-year-old Laura, who has been face blind since birth. The girls exchange experiences and even meet one of the country's top businessmen, Duncan Bannatyne, who is face blind too. The girls both vow to be even braver from now on in their interaction with the world.