I am going there. I want people to think about what they are saying when they say that Autistics “lack empathy.” I have been over this on my blog, and I have shared a several posts revealing how my son Daniel, who is Autistic, shows and expresses empathy along with myself. Autism and Empathy: Dispelling Myths and Breaking Stereotypes , which Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg Editor and Publisher created, is an entire website featuring many posts and articles sharing truths about Autism and empathy. If you are still under the premise that we as Autistics “lack empathy”, I would suggest going to her website to get a more accurate view.
I want to make a strong impression here because I believe we have enough information now to change the perspective.
However, many still believe that we are unable to feel or express empathy. I blame this on the plethora of literature and media that continue to speak about us, without us. In my opinion, I also feel that society tries to blanket emotions as a whole and generalize them into easy compartments that are only defined by what the “group” is thinking for the moment. Interestingly, some people fail to consider how complex emotions are to each individual. Speaking for myself, I find my emotions too difficult to articulate many times because of the complexity that I feel. I work through them in my creative writings because I am unable to discern immediately what emotions belong to me, and what emotions belong to others.
I can pick up the emotions of others without realizing what I am doing.
It has been confusing for the majority of my life. I become greatly affected by events in people’s life or in media. Much of what Eileen Parker wrote in her post Autism, Empathy and Boston is how I felt. I have managed to express my emotions in the most simplistic of terms much of the time. Happy or sad are pretty much my staple expressions of emotions. Last night my friend Lori shared a wonderful post that helped me understand myself in this area a great deal. Go have a read Accepting Emotional Regulation. I have read a few things now that say in order to have empathy for others it is dependent upon understanding your own feelings.
Here is where I am confused now, how can people not understand the negative associations and misinterpretations about Autistics when they claim these things? When will these negative terms start to dismantle and be edited into better terms and understanding in the books and society? Based upon the history of human existence I feel that it will be longer than, we hope.
However, I DO have hope.
I am relying on the numerous Autistic voices stepping up and sharing how they really think, along with our advocates sharing their perspectives. Still, we have a lot of work to do. Today I am sharing what I feel. I want to express clearly, what it means to me when I hear or read about Autistics lacking empathy. It has been burning in my brain for years. For a while, I believed it. I was so terrified that I was a narcissist that I researched what narcissism was just to be clear.
I did a three part series on the difference between narcissists and Aspergers.
The more I researched the more I believed that Autistics do not fall under the criteria of lacking empathy.
Something that rang through my brain was how everyday people, who are supposed to have the ability to empathize, are the same people who bully. Bullying is a Group Phenomenon − What Does It Mean And Why Does It Matter? The thoughts flooded my brain about instances when I witnessed someone being bullied and I stepped in to stop it while others stood and watched. I felt what that person was feeling and I could not sit back and let it happen. I have done this in school, at church, and at the workplace. Yes, adults bully and they do it at work.
Is this different from empathy in some way?
I think the definition of empathy is loose and left up to each individual. However, when a person with a degree or medical background claims that they have dibs and somehow work it into our societal jargon we are left with their interpretation. It offends me. It hurts me. It annoys me. Mostly, it has been detrimental to my self-esteem. Even if one says, that they did not mean to imply that Autistics are narcissistic or sociopaths the fact of the matter is that being defined as lacking empathy falls under the criteria of narcissism, antisocial personality disorder, as well as psychopaths. These are associated with symptoms of lacking empathy, Autism has been lumped into to that on several resources that I read. They are claiming that we lack the ability to feel another person’s emotions or understand from their perspective, or care?
This has been based upon how we react in situations or what we say?
For instance, instead of emotionally responding instantaneously we start to ask questions that seem inappropriate or we shutdown completely, this is considered showing lack of empathy. For me I may ask questions in order to understand the situation better because in my mind I automatically want to understand and create long lasting helps. I do not do quick fixes. If you are hurt, I want to know the what’s and the why’s to first insure that I was not the cause. If you are excited, I want to know all the details and I mean every detail. Many people just expect you to respond toward them in the way that they would respond.
I do this too.
I still struggle with thinking that people would or should react with empathy toward me the way I expect. That is why I have continued to be baffled at people in general. They will claim that we lack empathy, but they do not try to empathize with our emotions or situations. We are required to be bombarded in sensory assaulting environments and then, if we have a meltdown, shutdown, are cranky, lose our words, or stare blankly we are ruining the fun? If our favorite object breaks or our schedule is suddenly changed, we are supposed to be able to “get a new one” or “get over it” because “it is not that big of a deal.”
Well, those things are a big deal to me and to my son.
To be quite blunt about it by definition, I feel that those who continue to claim that we lack empathy are operating in the very thing I am being accused of.
Let us take a look here.
“Empathy is the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another sentient or fictional being. One may need to have a certain amount of empathy before being able to experience accurate sympathy or compassion.” ~ Wiki
Simple enough, huh?
I would like people not to be offended at my words, but once again, to be quite blunt, we Autistics are still being labeled and falsely perceived as lacking empathy. My purpose here is to ask you to stop and think just for a moment. Do you truly understand the meaning of empathy? It is a broad definition based upon your perceptions and wants. How you want to be understood is how you expect others to show you empathy. We all need to take a step back and reconsider our expectations. The generalized conceptions about empathy limits us and does not allow room for growth, self or in our society.
Currently, the generalized attitude seems to be that anyone who lacks empathy lacks emotion, feeling, or the ability to care for others.
That attitude would assume that I am a narcissistic, unfeeling, uncaring droid if I were to tell anyone that I am an Aspergers adult. These words shine such a negative light that it puts me on the defense at times. Why? Because it hurts, makes me anxious and fearful. It makes me feel as though I need to defend the way I think and how I process. It makes me feel isolated and misunderstood. It makes me question my actions and constantly try to evaluate what and how I perceive my world. It makes me worry about how people will respond to my son. I have had a lifetime of being told how wrong I am and people telling me how my actions and words are wrong. I have had to filter through all of that and learn to accept myself.
I have had to wade through all the negative associations toward Autism for my son and myself.
What I do not understand is why people are so quick to assume the negatives about autism. Why are so many people unwilling to use positive lingo instead of painting all of us as dismal way of being. I do not run from the fact that there are great challenges. I live them daily with my son and myself. Some days it is extremely difficult, but I ask how can it get any better when we have to face a world that looks at us with negative eyes. Does the world truly think that we are sociopaths? Do people really believe that we are like robots without emotions? Are we such difficult creatures that we have to be explained in terms as being broken? Is the way we process our world so incredibly awful that all energies must be projected into finding ways to make us more like the general public?
News flash, the general public is hurting.
There are people suffering from all sorts of physical, mental, and emotional issues. Many have no one to empathize with them about their disability, their depression, their anxiety, their fears, their “disorders,” or hurts. There is no one stepping up and saying, “I feel you, let me help.” Many of them are like me, reaching out through the internet because no-one-else in their life understands. These souls reaching out to find others who know what the hell they are feeling and talking about.
Think about it.
If you are reading this, have you stepped into my shoes for a moment? We are being told repeatedly that we need to understand how your world works. It is being demanded that we learn your system that is foreign and difficult for us to understand. We are being requested to change the way we think, respond, and express. BUT people fail to see how hard we have been trying to do just that. We have tried to fit in, belong, understand, be accepted, study and figure out this system of humanity that makes us feel like aliens on our own planet.
There are many reasons why an Autistic person reacts in the way that they do.
Maybe the next time you feel as though the Autistic person is showing a lack of empathy, how about you step back for a moment and ask them directly and clearly, what they are doing. Do not ask broad generalized questions, or tell them that they do not understand. Ask them point-blank “What are you thinking in this moment?” However, if you do be prepared for the possibilities of the most foreign thought you could think of, but know that whatever they are thinking could be a great riddle to solve. It could lead to a grand answer of them expressing such empathy that you would never have imagined. It could happen. You could be hammered with a bunch of questions that could lead to surprising helps that you never would have considered.
You could end up with silence and them walking away.
And the next day their favorite stuffed animal or pair of headphones on your desk. You just never know what exciting empathetic gifts could be given to you. I will share several links to my posts in regards to how Daniel has expressed empathy. I will also, share one trying to express how I do by asking questions. I am going to share several other posts from others as well. I hope that I make sense in this post. It is coming from a slight offense, even though I tried not to be negative. I still, do have my opinion and feelings about this. I respect everyone’s journey and their times that they need to vent. I do not judge condemn, or speak ill of them. I work through my own emotional response and trust in the process of everyone’s journey.
However, I think people need to start critically thinking about what they are saying to an entire population that has been ignored far too long.
Things that I read.
Empathy, Mindblindness, and Theory of Mind (Sharing this one again!)
A Radical New Autism Theory (Radical??)