Friday, March 27, 2015


Perhaps the most common widespread misconception about autistic people is that they have no empathy.  This is, for lack of a harsher expression, complete and utter horseshit.

Two nights ago, I read the book Madeline to Flynn.  You know the one - Madeline is awesome, gets sick, gets her appendix taken out, gets toys at the hospital, shows off her scar, and makes all the girls jealous.  "What's a scar?" Flynn asked.

I showed him several of mine.

He looked at the one under my eye and asked how I got it.

"You know that daddy used to do kung fu? I got punched in the eye during a training session by accident. It really hurt. I got a black eye and a big cut under my eye. See the scar right here?"

Cue the ugly cry as he traced the scar under my eye with his finger.

"What's wrong, buddy?  I'm okay now."

"I love you in my heart, daddy and I don't want you to hurt."

So. . . that's the definition of empathy. "The ability to understand and share the feelings of another."

You hurt so I feel your pain.

Now, sometimes his expression of empathy doesn't happen in real time, or he may express his understanding in a manner that defies your expectations. Several times, before his diagnosis, I got very angry with him for laughing when he was being punished. This is an anecdotally common response among autistics. I did not understand at the time that his laughter in these moments was an expression of his feeling of panic and overwhelm. I now recognize that he has an extreme sensitivity to my emotions, and that it is powerfully overwhelming for him to know that I am angry with him.

His processing difficulties may also get in the way, as when he is unable to focus on others, or too distracted by a stimulus to even notice you.  Frequently, for example, when the baby cries, he appears to suffer physical pain due to the noise, which, for him, overrides his ability to concentrate on anything else.  There may also be times where he does not feel or understand (or give in to?) societal pressure to produce an external response where we might expect one.

Anyway, the next time someone says autistic people don't feel empathy, feel free to punch them in the eye. #sarcasmfont


Sridhar Chandrasekaran said...

You have such an interesting blog. Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed reading your posts. All the best for your future blogging journey.

AG said...

Thank you!