Saturday, September 24, 2011

Autism and Empathy

The standard definition of autism says that we do not feel empathy or that our empathy is impaired to a noticeable degree.

I will here link to a couple of interesting a relevant links:

I don't have the training (yet) to write a good research paper on this stated before, I have been a Botany major until recently, not a psych major (yet). But what I have found in the hard sciences is that even a seemingly sound conclusion or study can be very, very flawed, because frequently, the researchers are seeking to reinforce conclusions that have already been drawn, and the methods are such that the results are predisposed to agree with what the researcher wants to find. In other words, people with an agenda are unlikely to want to deal with the conflict which might ensue should they be forced to seriously consider that thay might have been working under erroneous conclusions.

I posit the following on this subject:

Autistics have difficulty reading expressions and body language, and thereby ferreting out whether another person is upset. This is not the same as not caring that the person is upset.

Autistics, when they do realize that the person is upset, may not comprehend why and furthermore, may not know how to ask why. I am still frequently baffled by why people are upset about things which to me, do not seem worthy of expending energy upon.

Autistics generally have difficulty with expressing empathy. Now, stop and think about this from the perspective of an autistic person. We get upset quite a lot. The world is full of upsetting stimuli and disagreeable situations, and very little empathy is shown towards us as we attempt to cope with this. Even when we need help or sympathy, we don't know how to ask for it. We may be aching inside for it, but long experience has taught us that the response, if we can get one, is unlikely to be helpful or soothing. We soothe ourselves, because our demand for calming, for being soothed, can be fairly constant. If we don't comfort and soothe ourselves, it is unlikely to get taken care of, and then we will have a meltdown, and that is always exhausting and traumatic. The stimming and self calming behaviors become second nature to us. Frankly, there are times when I wonder why normal people cannot calm themselves in this way as well. Also, it seems selfish to ask for help, and very, very embarrassing, a sign of weakness, and of opening oneself up to hurt. To show weakness is to be vulnerable. So in all honesty, pointing out to a person that they are currently in a state of weakness and vulnerability which they cannot cope with themselves somehow....seems pretty awkward and even rude.

Also, there are no set rules for comforting people who in pain. People in pain are frequently dangerous, like wounded animals. They may lean into you and want a hug (problematic for those of us who do not like to be touched by strangers, without warning, or at all) or they may just as easily lash out verbally or physically. People with autism tend not to be well liked, unfortunately. We are used to being bullied and hurt and people cannot be trusted to be nice. If someone is in the throes of an emotional event, it may be best to let them calm down before approaching them.

Children and people who have been abused sometimes have an abnormal, dysfunctional response to the pains of other even when we feel sorry inwardly. Pain triggers us, and our response then becomes one of trying to makes ourselves feel better...not all that helpful for the person who is in pain.


Anonymous said...

there is a lot of empathy directed towards supporting you, it just needs to be detected and appreciated....

chamoisee said...

Yes, there is. I am speaking in a very general sense and of autistic people in general as they try to cope with the neurotypical world....not of my situation. I am very grateful for the love and support of my Friends and friends.

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