The Myth of Lack of Empathy in Autism

I am not entirely sure how I will end up structuring this.  I am leaning more toward a flow of consciousness type post with this one, which I feel as I haven’t entirely thought about how to write this is most natural for me.

Recently I heard about how yawns are contagious, and that they are not so in young (under 5 years old roughly) people or in autistics.  The lack of “yawn contagion” in both of these groups is really quite interesting in itself.  In fact, I think there really is something which this points to, but I can’t point out what it is.

The interpretation which is placed on this is “young children lack empathy, and autistics lack empathy, so this points to a lack of empathy.”  There’s a huge problem with this interpretation.  Autistics do not lack empathy.  If anything, the autistics I know have expressed that what often gets interpreted as “lack of empathy” is far more “excess empathy” or “empathy overload”.  But let’s actually look at what is meant by the term empathy.

My “most precise” meaning is “expressions of feeling with another person, which the person expressing chooses to present”.  So I personally feel that when you talk about empathy, it is a process of intentionally expressing feelings of “feeling with”.  That is empathy in its fullest form is a conscious expression.  And it is genuine “feeling with”.

So is contagious yawning “feeling with”.  I don’t believe so.  It isn’t really a “feeling” thing, it is more of an unconscious “acting together”.  So, to me many things which “scientists” speak of as “evidence of empathy” I see as “evidence of unconscious  compliance”.  “Following the crowd” type stuff.

Autistics are really lousy at “following the crowd”.  Their mind simply will not just deal with it.  They may well “experience” the feelings which are going on, but they are not really able to assess it “in the moment” often, and it even becomes overwhelming at times.

“Hi, how are you?” is a question that I as an autistic, either have to answer with a “mere script” or honestly have to think about to answer.  Since generally most of the time (at least in this part of the world) people have no interest in it beyond “social convention” with these kinds of things, if any response is to be given the expected response is “I’m fine, thank you”.

Me, personally if you ask me a question, I really hope you are asking it because you want an honest answer.  Any other response is very difficult for me.  Occasionally even an honest answer is very difficult for me.  Here is an actual event which happened to me.  I go up to the mail wicket and I am having a really crappy day, I really don’t want to even have any kind of conversation with really anyone at all.  Not even so much as simple business stuff.  I walk up with my head down, and this is the conversation:

Clerk: Hi, how you doing?
Me: OK (mumbled, with head down)
Clerk: There you go. (Cheerful and encouraging)

I know many people think this is exactly the kind of thing which should be going on.  But to me, it was a stab in the heart.  If you don’t want to know how people are feeling (she very clearly doesn’t) then please do not even bother asking.  If you are going to engage in social skills training like that (this is one of many experiences with her, but the most pronounced example) you better fucking have a license to do so, have the explicate permission of the person you are doing it for, and be getting compensation for doing so.

She certainly has neither of those latter two, and if she has the license to do so, I really wonder why she is working in the post office (better pay, while it may be true, doesn’t justify it, at least not if a person isn’t willing to give up the “job” and doing that sort of thing).

I think I have gone off track here…  Where was I…  “Autistics lousy at following the crowd”, “emotional overwhelm” somewhat mentioned.  “unable to process” also mentioned…  I have touched on a lot of what I wanted to, and feel the post itself is long enough, but I think this is just a “touching points” type post more so than actually getting stuff fully fleshed out, and probably would need at least 3 times as much space to accomplish the full explanation of even the brief things I have mentioned.

Thank you for your support

I would really like to thank those of you who support me, however you manage to do so, whether on Patreon as one of my supporters there, through my store on Datse Multimedia Productions, or just being genuinely supportive.

Thank you again.  Really appreciate it.  Keep the support of those who are doing good (I think I might be) coming, and please, allow us to talk about whatever is affecting our lives, even if you don’t agree with what we’re saying…

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