Theory finds that individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome don’t lack empathy – in fact if anything they empathize too much

Art work by Aegis Mario S. Nevado

Art work by Aegis Mario S. Nevado

“A ground-breaking theory suggests people with autism-spectrum disorders such as Asperger’s do not lack empathy – rather, they feel others’ emotions too intensely to cope.”

“People with Asperger’s syndrome, a high functioning form of autism, are often stereotyped as distant loners or robotic geeks. But what if what looks like coldness to the outside world is a response to being overwhelmed by emotion – an excess of empathy, not a lack of it?

This idea resonates with many people suffering from autism-spectrum disorders and their families. It also jibes with the “intense world” theory, a new way of thinking about the nature of autism.

As posited by Henry and Kamila Markram of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, the theory suggests that the fundamental problem in autism-spectrum disorders is not a social deficiency but, rather, a hypersensitivity to experience, which includes an overwhelming fear response.

“I can walk into a room and feel what everyone is feeling,” Kamila Markram says. “The problem is that it all comes in faster than I can process it. There are those who say autistic people don’t feel enough. We’re saying exactly the opposite: They feel too much.”

Virtually all people with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, report various types of over-sensitivity and intense fear. The Markrams argue that social difficulties of those with autism spectrum disorders stem from trying to cope with a world where someone has turned the volume on all the senses and feelings up past 10.

If hearing your parents’ voices while sitting in your crib felt like listening to Lou Reed‘s Metal Machine Music on acid, you, too, might prefer to curl in a corner and rock.

But, of course, this sort of withdrawal and self-soothing behaviour – repetitive movements; echoing words or actions; failing to make eye contact – interferes with social development. Without the experience other kids get through ordinary social interactions, children on the spectrum never learn to understand subtle signals.

Phil Schwarz, vice-president of the Asperger’s Association of New England adds, “I think most people with ASD feel emotional empathy and care about the welfare of others very deeply.”

So, why do so many people see a lack of empathy as a defining characteristic of autism spectrum disorder?

The problem starts with the complexity of empathy itself. One aspect is simply the ability to see the world from the perspective of another. Another is more emotional – the ability to imagine what the other is feeling and care about their pain as a result.

Autistic children tend to develop the first part of empathy – which is called “theory of mind” – later than other kids. This was established in a classic experiment. Children are asked to watch two puppets, Sally and Anne. Sally takes a marble and places it in a basket, then leaves the stage. While she’s gone, Anne takes the marble out and puts it in a box. The children are then asked: Where will Sally look first for her marble when she returns?

Most 4-year-olds know Sally didn’t see Anne move the marble, so they get it right. By 10 or 11, children with developmental disabilities who have verbal IQs equivalent to 3-year-olds also get it right. But 80 per cent of autistic children age 10 to 11 guess that Sally will look in the box, because they know that’s where the marble is and they don’t realize other people don’t share all of their knowledge.

Of course, if you don’t realize others are seeing and feeling different things, you might well act less caring toward them.

It takes autistic children far longer than children without autism to realize other people have different experiences and perspectives – and the timing of this development varies greatly. But that doesn’t mean, once people with autism spectrum disorder do become aware of other people’s experience, that they don’t care or want to connect.

Schwarz, of the New England Asperger’s association, says all the autistic adults he knows over the age of 18 have a better sense of what others know than the Sally/Anne test suggests.

When it comes to not understanding the inner state of minds too different from our own, most people also do a lousy job, Schwarz says. “But the non-autistic majority gets a free pass because, if they assume that the other person’s mind works like their own, they have a much better chance of being right.”

Thus, when, for example, a child with Asperger’s talks incessantly about his intense interests, he isn’t deliberately dominating the conversation so much as simply failing to consider that there may be a difference between his interests and those of his peers.

In terms of the caring aspect of empathy, a lively discussion that would seem to support  Markrams’ theory appeared on the website for people with autism spectrum disorder called WrongPlanet.net, after a mother wrote to ask whether her empathetic but socially immature daughter could possibly have Asperger’s.

“If anything, I struggle with having too much empathy,” one person says. “If someone else is upset, I am upset. There were times during school when other people were misbehaving and, if the teacher scolded them, I felt like they were scolding me.”

Said another, “I am clueless when it comes to reading subtle cues but I am very empathic. I can walk into a room and feel what everyone is feeling and I think this is actually quite common in AS/autism. The problem is that it all comes in faster than I can process it.”

Studies have found that when people are overwhelmed by empathetic feelings, they tend to pull back. When someone else’s pain affects you deeply, it can be hard to reach out rather than turn away.

For people with autism spectrum disorder, these empathetic feelings might be so intense that they withdraw in a way that appears cold or uncaring.

“These children are really not unemotional. They do want to interact – it’s just difficult for them,” Markram says. “It’s quite sad, because these are quite capable people. But the world is just too intense, so they have to withdraw.”

Article written by Maia Szalavitz

Amazing original art work by Aegis Mario S. Nevado – http://aegis-strife.net

Article originally sourced and reproduced  from: http://www.thestar.com/life/health_wellness/diseases_cures/2009/05/14/aspergers

Other sources related to this article can be found at the following links.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2009/05/11/a-radical-new-autism-theory.html  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/2976839/Autism-is-caused-by-a-supercharged-mind-scientists-claim.html                                                                           

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19926741.700-do-supercharged-brains-give-rise-to-autism.html

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201 thoughts on “Theory finds that individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome don’t lack empathy – in fact if anything they empathize too much

  1. Reading this blog brings me some kind of comfort. I am sad about the devastation that the strong typhoon Yolanda had caused in Central Philippines. I was born and raised in the Northern part of Philippines so I have a deep connection with the people over there right now. Although I am an American Citizen and currently reside in the US, I still feel for my own people. I see images, articles, videos and the like posted in Facebook about the unfortunate events that took place during and after the typhoon. I try to avoid them all. I don’t leave comments on the posts nor do I even watch the videos. I am easily affected by horrible pictures and stories of pain and suffering. It saddens me and makes me depressed. I have to help myself not to get in a situation which is hard to escape from — depression and anxiety. I’ve been there and I know the feeling. I was diagnosed with major depression before I found out I have Asperger’s Syndrome. Thanks for sharing blog.

    • Maybe that is why I was told “You care too much for your patients!” That could explain my willingness to serve my chronic pain patients, putting myself at risk!

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I have a daughter who is aspergers and have always struggled with understanding the so called lack of empathy. This article helps explain some of the things I see in her. She has always shown great empathy towards animals, young children, computer characters (Sims and WOW) and TV/film characters but if I am hurt or ill , or close family, she can seem to be cold and uncaring but I know she does care, I think she often does not know how to respond and so retreats or can respond in a socially unacceptable way. I have noticed this has improved as she is getting older and she is modelling how she sees others react in these situations. She certainly does not lack empathy but it is more she has too much and does not know how to deal with it, so thank you for helping me understand her more.

    • Hey I’m an aspie and I thought I would share a little insight. Often when somebody tells me something good/bad that has happened to them, I know how I feel but I don’t know how to act. Do I focus on what to say, do I try to comfort them, do I focus on my facial expressions? These are things that come naturally to NT’s but I have to do manually. It’s almost like having to remember to breath. Most of the time it is overwhelming so I just retreat into my mind.
      When it comes to computer characters, animals, children, and actors it is easier for me to just relax and show my true emotions. I don’t feel like I am being judged by others and so the stress is removed. I believe the feeling of being judged by others and the anxiety that comes with it may actually be the cause of my ‘lack of emotions’. It’s not that we don’t feel, it’s that we feel too much and are overly self conscious.
      An example(I don’t know how much it will help) is watching late night show interviews. When somebody comes on and is doing a bad interview, I find it almost too hard to watch. I feel like I’m in the hot seat and I’m being judged myself. I find it hard to handle even though I don’t need to focus on the conversation or my facial expressions. When I am in a real social situation it turns into this times 10.

      Growing up, I was always told I was stupid, emotionless, and a loner. I would sit there emotionless, talk in a nerdy/monotone way, and just act differently overall. In reality, I was just pondering the universe, thinking about the stock market, and trying to invent new tech. Other things didn’t really interest me. People never told me the unspoken rules, so how would I have ever figured them out? I was never taught how to express myself and it took me 20 years to begin to figure it all out.

      What I’m trying to say is just be supportive of your daughter. Normal free flowing emotions may not be possible, but “faking” emotions could work. For example, tell your daughter when it is appropriate to smile/frown/laugh. She is probably already feeling these emotions but just doesn’t know how to show them for others to see. Make sure you directly tell her all of the unspoken rules. Generally aspies are good at cataloging rules so it shouldn’t be too difficult if you take the time to make sure she understands them all. Good things to focus on would be eye contact, voice inflection, and how to keep a conversation going.

      Hope this helps and wasn’t too long,
      Sean

      • I agree, the bad thing though, is learning what is the “appropriate” response and then learning (through some embarrassing way) that it is just one of many possible “appropriate” responses to the same emotional situation.

        Emotions vary from person to person, and in a bigger scale, from culture to culture. A Latin American might see a hug as a show of empathy, even from someone they barely know. Try to even put a hand on the shoulder of a USA American and they think you are being too forward.

        There is just no winning even when you copy emotions from watching others or when someone teaches you the right things to do or say. Non-NT still stumble through life’s social web and it is exhausting!

  3. I agree with this completely!

    … especially the bit where NT’s get a free pass because they’re more likely to guess right. On average, NT’s are just as lousy at guessing AS feeling and motives as vice-versa. There’s also a myth that if someone doesn’t *show* an emotion in the conventional way, this means they don’t *feel* it.

    Personally I don’t think we do the mirror stage / che voie stuff, which might mean we’re still in the field of becoming. Also we’d learn a lot more if we replaced experimental psychology departments with departments more like Women’s Studies, African American Studies etc – so members of each psychological type are doing the interpreting, rather than having to wait for someone to find on a brain scan what we’ve been saying all along.

    • My five year old son was very close to my Grandad. They spent a lot of time together and made each other laugh alot. When our brilliant Great/Grandad passed away earlier this week, my son did not cry. He looked at a wall for a few minutes when I told him and then he asked to be taken to play games. At the time it broke my heart. Had I misunderstood? Was my poor boy incapable of some emotions? I’d never really believed that before. He’s been such an intense character from the moment he was born. A few days later I asked my son why he hadn’t cried and he told me that he didn’t want to make us cry by crying himself. Imagine! The poor little lad struggling with that on his own!

  4. for me, I withdraw for two reasons, if someone else is upset: First, I’m crap at comforting people and know it, and when someone else is upset is not the time to risk making it worse. Second, yeah, I get overwhelmed. When I was younger, I’d withdraw solely due to being overwhelmed. Now, it’s a bit of a and a bit of b – I could tough out the overwhelm, if I didn’t feel like I’d just make the situation worse.

  5. I have a son with an Asperger’s diagnosis, and it amaze me how much of this describes not just him but me, in my own journey. It took me a long time to realize the personality differences in people were not choices, rather than the way they were wired. Obviously the choices we make from that personality base are important, but the actual personality that distinguishes you from another is more innate than chosen, and I do think it took me a while to realize this. It’s not that I felt others had the same knowledge as I did (though I remember and am still surprised sometimes by things people don’t know, as well as what they know that I was ignorant of), but it’s more that I felt that if I could talk about my interests, surely others will just speak up and do the same. It took practice to look people in the eye and ask about what was important to them.

      • Its all about being aware; aware of everything around us, and autistics in general are far more aware on a conscious level than the rest, though some of us are more ADHD than autistic, but many of us are both, though being one, and having been married to one for (17 yrs), and having 4 out of 6 kids that are can give a person great perspective.

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  7. I have been diagnosed with a mild form of Asperger’s followed shortly by an Auditory Defense mechanism. Being in my mid 40′s, I have passed through years of not having work or having the dysfunctional hop and skip job history. Talking to my employers, or my wife, I hear most of what they’re saying, but the main point slips through my ears. Dealing with people, all I want to do is hide. I found if I am alone, nobody will interfere with my thoughts; I miss it when I can’t do my own thing.

    Oh, as a side-note, I have been given a hire than average IQ… somewhere between the 75 and 80 percentile. This just gets better and better.

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  9. Hmmm … not convinced. Not in my case at least.

    The only reason I occasionally donate to charity (such as the DEC Philippines Typhoon Appeal these past few days) is because I KNOW they need the money more than I do (I get too much in benefits, quite honestly), and I KNOW it’s the right thing to do. It’s a knowledge thing – a thought process, which has nothing to do with being all overcome with empathy and emotion for these people. That’s not my motivation.

    I don’t even care about my own mother as much as I know I should, because I still consistently turn up late (on average, around half an hour late) when we’ve organised anything, despite being well aware how much it annoys and upsets her (because she displays it most times when I eventually arrive). I don’t turn up that late because I don’t care, but because I don’t care enough, I don’t fight my obsessive-compulsive/overly-thorough behaviour as much as I should with her.

    One exception: when an ex-girlfriend of mine used to cry in my presence, she sometimes set me off too. I can’t really explain that one.

    But, by and large, no – I still grossly lack empathy. Perhaps the suggestion in this study is more applicable to “straight autism” than Aspies. I haven’t been “overwhelmed by emotion” (ANY kind of emotion, that is) for many years now. Or maybe I’m an exception even within Aspie circles. I’m coming to that conclusion more and more by the day actually.

    • No, you’re not unique. Empathy is a complicated ability, and ASD is basically your brain not being wired in a typical way. That means even if you aren’t able to empathize or care if others get upset or not in certain situations, it doesn’t necessarily mean it applies to EVERY person, EVERY situation. Every case of ASD is unique, and while there are many commonalities, there will be individual differences, some more noticeable than others. It’s perfectly “normal” for a person with a mild manifestation of ASD to have normal cognitive functions but have trouble empathizing in many situations (We used to call that Asperger’s Syndrome). It’s also not uncommon to see the opposite, someone with ASD who has been adversely affected in their cognitive abilities but is able to empathize with others just fine. Parents, teachers and therapists can attest to that.

      • Also, there’s a big difference in the genders that get diagnosed with autism. Boys are more likely to be on the spectrum so people who see violent behaviors or intense interests take them to get diagnosed. But, unfortunately, it’s an underrated syndrome in girls. No one notices it in girls so they probably think it’s just a phase that they’re going through.

    • Your being late for events with your mother doesn’t mean anything with regard to how much you care for her. People with autism spectrum disorders have difficulties with executive functioning, i.e. the brain’s ability to plan and organize, which can interfere with the ability to be on time. ADHD also co-occurs with ASDs a lot, and impairs executive functioning and punctuality further. It’s common in our society to believe that being late for events indicates lack of caring for the people you’re going to be with, but that’s simply not true when there’s a brain wiring issue involved.

      • I think it’s really important that everyone recognises the fact that some people with Asperger’s are hyper-sensitive whilst others are the opposite extreme, hypo-sensitive. Surely this could explain why some are overly empathic and others are not. Also, OCD does go a long way towards explaining why you are always late meeting your mother, not to mention the difficulty many ASD’s have with organising. Each person is unique, within and without the ASD community, it’s dangerous to lump everyone together and expect one explanation to fit all.

      • Just an idea…I think the possibility of having ‘executive functioning’ problems, together with the historic evidence of knowing your mother will be distressed when you finally meet with her, culminates in you being late ‘on purpose’.
        I think it’s separate from how much you care for her, but rather, ‘being late’ could be a sub-conscious strategy to ovoid feeling overwhelmed via empathy osmosis when you meet her.

      • Actually, some individuals with Asperger’s are very organized and some misunderstand this as being too uptight and not being relaxed or calm enough.

    • Thank you for posting your response. I read this article, and then read all of the supporting comments, and felt like a craptastic mother. You see, my 6.5yr old son has a whole slew of diagnosis (Aspergers, ODD, Bipolar, ADHD….. etc.) , and I was sitting here thinking, “No, he really doesnt feel empathy.” I didn’t have a light-bulb moment, or a feeling of hope when reading this article. My son cannot understand why other’s feel the way they do. Hell, he couldnt care less about other’s feelings. Most of the time he gets mad at others for feeling the way they do. Feelings are a big inconvenience to him.
      He reacts as he has learned he *should* react. He does things as a learned behavior. Its still a big work in progress with him. It’s still something I lay awake crying over at night.
      I see the hope, and possibilities in this study. I do. But I also see the heartbreak it may bring.

      • Thank you for sharing your story. The moment I read: “Hell, he couldnt care less about other’s feelings. Most of the time he gets mad at others for feeling the way they do.” The first thought which comes to me: Why would he get mad at others for feeling the way they do? Hmm, he must be overly sensitive, unable to cope with their feelings, thus wants to block/dominate those feelings of others as he himself doesn’t want to have them, since he is so sensitive.
        When I do online, indicative only, tests for diagnosing ADHD, bipolar, ODD, I always get a high possibility of having all these traits. Luckily (or not) I come from an era where all these labels didn’t exist yet. My mother had a real hard time raising me and was always looking for ways to make me feel more comfortable in my life (cassettes with meditation practices she recorded herself, foot massage every evening to relax me, courses like Silva Mind Control when I was a adolescent, she would give Reiki every evening too, etc…. She thought I was highly insensitive and did not feel empathy (which I actually didn’t because of my inner drama being too important to me), but things got worse as time passed by, my brother died of leukemia (she had to struggle with that too), and later my father died because not healing his inner wounds and a worsened relationship with my mother. So that lead me to being suicidal after my girlfriend left me and that lead to traveling to India, living in an ashram for several years and profoundly crying for over 2000 hours (at least!). After that I had my sense of empathy back again, a sense of Self which would give me an identity to work with and be someone in the world. I started to give lectures and became a spiritual consultant for all kinds of people, even high standing people in society, like the head of security of police of the state.
        I do notice, though, that since I lived in with my wife and then our child, I feel too much of their feelings and it really shakes my inner world up, too much. If someone feels pain, even when they are unaware of it, I feel down and depleted. This “ability” was really useful when working as a consultant as I would consciously come in contact with people to “dig in their inner life”, but 24/7 living with my family just overloaded my senses and no longer I could work as a consultant as I had to “downgrade” my sensitivity, so I got a job as a programmer instead so I can “hide” in my computer. Nevertheless, I feel not living from my heart, but complying better this way with the needs of the family: I am providing, but not really to myself. Still looking for a new balance again…
        Oh, and I have a higher than average IQ, although as a child I didn’t do well at school and was more the practical type, with a hands-on approach, couldn’t concentrate at all. Later at college, after a time of inner change and letting feelings finally come out, I had a 9.4 on average.
        As a spiritual consultant I have helped over 250 people who had/have inner difficulties and struggle with finding a solid identity within. The moment a person would walk through the door I would simply know what was going on within that person. I was seen as a “doctor” and addressed this way when someone on the street would recognize me. People still look for me for healing, but I have de-sensbilized myself in order to cope with living together with my wife and child. Whenever I am alone for a day and become sensitive (and happy), the moment I see my wife I feel she is not really there, in her body, in her heart, with her feelings. She becomes highly unattractive to me, most people become highly unattractive, only those who are “Present” are interesting as they speak their own truth. I feel blissful and filled with love, but we can’t vibrate on that love together and can only reveal love to her through loving actions, but it leaves me in a sort of loneliness as people seem made to be quite hollow. I de-sensibilize again and I’m fine for a few days, when I feel empty myself, so I am on my own, feel good, but feel my life is not on the right track.
        As a child I used to be highly aggressive, and when I de-sensibilize I still have very aggressive and hostile feelings and wish to “mow over everyone”. I recognize these feelings from my childhood as I used to be like that on a daily basis. Always aggressive, and of course, feeling sorry for myself on a very deep level, not seen nor felt by anyone. All those experiences and recognizing all those different feelings within have provided an ample base for understanding others.
        I am blessed with all the guidance I have received by so many wise people, else I would most certainly have become a total outcast with a lot of hardship, and a lot of fighting in my relationships. I guess my first 25 years of my life were like that: fighting, sorrow, death, anger, depression, obsessions, also drugs….. I see how children force parents to look for Truth and Realness as they do anything to help their child.
        Thank you for reading, if anyone made it till the last line!
        I have a vision of starting a school for people with similar difficulties as my own. (Overly sensitive which can turn into a highly tuned intuition, not interested in social life, which is pretty fake anyway and fraud with transitory non-promising desires). Otherwise, things are already quite in place for this vision to take form.
        Oh, and remember, overly sensitive children reflect anything parents have within them, problem is, it keeps them from feeling themselves and thus from feeling happy!! Only when we are really in peace, centered, and present, the overly sensitive child will feel comfortable with us.

      • ASD is an extremely broad diagnosis and every single child is a different human being requiring different support from their parents be they ASD or the mythical ‘normal’. You love your boy and support him, that makes you a wonderful mother and you should never forget that.
        What he feels or doesn’t feel are not things you can change, perhaps not even things that you will ever understand. Connection is the goal. What he can express or cannot express you can help him with though. Anger is a very natural reaction to frustration, whether it is frustration at incomprehension or at being overwhelmed.
        Perhaps this study will help your boy, perhaps not, but it is always good to see people striving towards greater understanding.
        I sincerely hope you find that ‘connection’ with your boy that will support you both.

      • This is actually to Richard’s comment about ASD persons getting angry at other peoples feelings because they are overwhelmed. Sociopaths often get angry at the feelings of others because it interferes with their self-centered desires and they just don’t understand them.

      • Jessie, your son is only 6.5yo. I didn’t truly understand that others had feelings, and I certainly didn’t care about what they were, at that age. It took me a long time to develop that kind of empathy.
        Now that I’m 31, I would say I am extremely oversensitive to the feelings of others, and I have too much empathy.
        Your son may or may not become like me, but I would just make the point that at his current age, it is far too early to be making such predictions. It normally takes longer for individuals with autism to understand theory of mind.
        By the way, I am female and diagnosed as autism level 1.

      • SwedePea, the ability to spell generally does not correlate with intelligence. It’s a separate function. Hope this helps.

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  11. Thank you I am 35 and from the UK. I’m just working through the idea that I am on the aspergers spectrum. When I told a friend she said “but you have empathy don’t you?” I was gutted as I thought am I aspergers person? But this does fit as I can find people painful which is why I spend a lot of time alone. I feel as if I am experiencing someone s emotion

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  14. James, I have a theory that some people feel so intensely that when they are still young, they shut off their emotions as much as possible, and it becomes a way of living. They might not realize this, but their mothers or fathers might. Possible?

    • kkjinde: No – I’m afraid that’s not the case with me either. I used to feel emotions (both positive and negative) far more intensely as a child than I’ve done in the second half of my life (I’m now 33). I just thought my childhood emotions were the norm; I still do. But I think my increasing lack of emotional feeling in adulthood has been my brain working hard to suppress those strong childhood emotions as the years have gone by. Or it’s been a gradual severing of some of the connections in my brain, between the areas interpreting what is going on in my world, and the areas that are supposed to produce emotional responses to those events. I don’t think this is common to many, if any, other Aspies that I know, hence my comment that I still feel I’m an exception even within Aspie circles. But thanks for your input – it’s certainly pretty hard to make any sense of.

      • Thank you so much James Gordon! No you are not alone, I wonder where the hell my emotions are these days, now 25 years old. I was bullied though for some 10 years in school, this might have to do with it.

    • Some of us have what is called alexithymia :[quote] is a personality construct characterized by the sub-clinical inability to identify and describe emotions in the self. The core characteristics of alexithymia are marked dysfunction in emotional awareness, social attachment, and interpersonal relating. Furthermore, individuals suffering from alexithymia also have difficulty in distinguishing and appreciating the emotions of others, which is thought to lead to unempathic and ineffective emotional responding. Alexithymia is prevalent in approximately 10% of the general population and is known to be comorbid with a number of psychiatric conditions.[end quote]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexithymia

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  16. Reblogged this on Musings on a different life and commented:
    This is really interesting, especially on a personal note, as something similar was discussed about my bipolar the one and only time I felt that I psychiatrist made any progress with me (Thank you, by the way, Dr De Monchy). I look forward to hearing more about it.

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  20. My eldest son has Aspergers and this makes a great deal of sense in what I have learned from him–as an NT parenting a non NT individual. It also explains why it is easiest for him to show empathy to situations–i.e. he is passionate about supporting our church food pantry because he cares deeply about hungry people–yet he is unable to effectively show caring when a family member is sick.

  21. At the age of 8 I realized the gruff, hard, silent types were probably just hiding their emotions because it hurt too damned much.

    • Hi, seventhvoice, I wrote about the same article just a couple of days after you did, without being aware of your blog. In fact, I have only just entered the blogging community and have been relieved to find that so many people are naturally coming to the same conclusions irrespective of what many researchers (without autism) have theorised in the past about people with autism. You can read my take on the Markram article and share it to if you like http://www.endautismstigma.wordpress.com/2013/11/19/autism-and-sensitivity/

      • Thank you Rachel. Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond to your comments. As you can imagine this post has generated quite a back log of comments to get through. I hope your blogging is going well. Great to have another voice out there.

  22. In my humble opinion, Aspergers makes it difficult to fit in because you have no perspective. It’s like a blind man trying to choose colors. All you can do is guess and then try to read the reactions of others to see if you’ve done it right, or wrong. Since that isn’t an accurate science, and may have a significant delay, I spend a lot of time in embarrassed regret once someone finally points something out that I was doing was weird. Coupled with the fun emotional turmoil it’s like a rollercoaster. It’s flat and smooth sailing and then suddenly everything is wrong and even the flat smooth sailing was actually a terrible time and you just didn’t realize it and welcome to the blackest pit of despair. Eventually you crawl out with logic and patience and realized it was greatly an over reaction and you wonder why you did that to yourself in the first place and sit waiting on the flat and smooth for it to start over. The self control taught in martial arts, meditation and learning about aspergers have all been very effective in helping to understand and deal with such situations.

    • I have an aspie friend and I believe that for this person to involve himself emotionally is just way too painful, I do not share sad stories or expect him to feel for any person who may be suffering. The weight of the emotion is far too great. Even as a child I remember him hitting the T.V. if he saw a mean thing happening on a show. Plus he would carry a memory around forever and it would be too upsetting.

      • I know that feeling. I’ve cried over things like smashing my little brother’s fingers in a dresser drawer a decade or more after they happened. There are things that I do not allow myself to remember. There are times that I communicate with new people once or twice and then can’t get myself to reply to them again because I like them.

      • Wow, Mark. You hit the nail on the head. I play and and replay social situations and wonder where I went wrong and chastise myself over it again and again. Then try again, have similar results, and wonder why I even try!

    • Wow Mark, you just described the exact workings of my mind. I’m not an aspie, at least not that I know of, but I can really relate to what you describe. I think of it as “emotional amnesia”; I can’t remember the good times in the bad times or vice versa, and any sense of perspective simply doesn’t exist. Everything is either absolutely horrible, or perfectly fine; no in-between. Maybe I ought to give martial arts and meditation a try…

  23. I always felt that’s the case, they feel so much that they fear of feeling and close in themself. Maybe I know that because my AQ test indicate that I’m on the edge of asperger.

  24. No, we aspies never feel a thing. Did you know that none of us can use sarcasm? Also, we’re robots who hunger for world domination. Fear us, neuro-typicals. We’re all exactly like Sheldon Cooper.

  25. I could really relate to this article. I felt like it described me perfectly. I’m empathetic and I actually experience other people’s pain as if it’s my own. If I hear someone say something rude to someone I care about I’ll feel hurt too even thought the comment wasn’t directed at me.

    • Thank you for the link Rachel…. I will look forward to looking at your work…..

      If I find articles of yours that I like, which I’m sure I will, would you mind if I share them on here?

  26. Two questions.

    1. Why does our humanity have to be objectively evaluated in a lab before it is granted to us? Everyone else is assumed to have a capacity for empathy and feeling by default – why are we subjected to studies like lab rats?

    2. How has it been determined that Autistic people have ”too many” feelings – what’s the base line for empathy? At what point do you cross the line, and why is it a bad thing? My point being that, either way here, we are being pathologized – either ”not enough” empathy, or ”too much”.

    I certainly do not feel other people’s feelings. But that doesn’t mean I have no compulsion to help people – my inability to share emotions doesn’t mean I don’t care or lack empathy. I simply process and express how I care about people in a different way. Generalizations aren’t helpful for us, whether they’re of the ”Autistics have no emotions” kind or ”Autistics have too many emotions” kind.

  27. This is semi-true for me. I tend to empathize to much. However I can actually read social cues just fine. Its pretty obvious when someone raises their eyebrows, it’s a pretty good guess they are surprised. Gee, you think? :P

      • But, even if you are an expert at reading conversational cues from people, there’s still no way to know exactly what their thoughts are, because only God can truly read and understand each individual’s thoughts. So, there’s no way that we can go in there and get all of our answers. I’d like it to work that way, but it doesn’t. I strongly dislike the fact that those on the spectrum are expected to learn how to read others. It’s not an easy feat, why waste time with it? You shouldn’t care what others think anyway, people will always have their own mind and their own opinions, there’s no changing this fact.

      • I agree, only God knows what people feel and think. Even the specialist don’t know, they just think they do.

  28. My experience is of course that it is the neurotypicals who REALLY seem to genuinely lack empathy with others functioning completely differently, or ever learning that someone they interact with regularly has AS, and taking that into account when judging and interacting with him/her.

    At least, let us put it this way. If it would have any bearing whatsoever to point out any amount of “lack of empathy” in the group with AS, this would be assumed to mean the NT:s should have significantly higher ability of empathy. Have we ever seen that? ;-) Not me…

  29. Pingback: MY … | Life With Asperger's Man

  30. Sally knows she put the marble in the basket, but she also knows that Anne is mischievous. With only two choices, it’s obvious that the marble is going to be in the box when she comes back.

  31. I find this article is completely right, growing up with a brother who’s autistic, during my childhood I found that he understood a lot more about people’s emotions than what others thought. The study explains why when people with AS disorders express frustration or anger they often do so in an extreme manner, I remember watching my cousin, who has high level AS, throw a tv screen during a fit of anger because he didn’t quite understand puberty and why it was affecting him the way it did.

    I’ve realised that most with AS do realise that they are different to non – AS suffers so when they do feel an extreme amount of emotion, it’s even worse because they know they shouldn’t be feeling that way.

  32. I’ve been wrestling with whether I have Asperger’s Syndrome. My wife teaches Asperger’s kids, and I have all the same interests and quirks that she reports them all having. This theory makes so much sense to me. As a child, I could not bear to stay in the room the whole time when sitcoms based on social misunderstandings were on; they were literally painful. I’m referring to silly shows, like the Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, Three’s Company, etc. But I was fascinated by shows with empaths or alternatively processing characters, such as Star Trek, Doctor Who, the Tomorrow People (I can’t believe they brought it back!); on the other hand, I found characters which overtly interpreted inner workings for other characters (The Next Generation’s Deana Troi, Data and Guynan) to be insulting.

  33. You don’t “recover” from Asperger’s. It’s a lifelong neurological condition. It’s a part of who you are. You can adapt to it, and learn to live with it, and your son may have done that. But saying you’ve “recovered” from it is like saying you’ve recovered from having blue eyes.

    • I agree with you about not being able to “recover” from Asperger’s syndrome. However, I will say that my son did recover from Tourette Syndrome and I have heard that this is possible.

  34. Pingback: Perceptions | dyke writer

  35. I have pretty severe ADD/ADHD (only diagnosed when I was 42, so a bit late for effective intervention. Alas …). I have long questioned the argument that ADD might be the mildest end of the Autism Spectrum disorders. But THIS article suggests maybe it really is. Because I, too, have shown some of these symptoms: from an early age an ability to sense (over-sense) what others were feeling, but a wooden-headed inability to see the world as they see it. Not anything as severe as Aspergers (nevermind out-and-out autism), but consonant with them. And I have a couple of acquaintances with Aspergers; this article certainly seems to fit them, too.

  36. Thank you so much for making contact Aegis…. the art space in which I found your image did not provide the artists name….. now that I know that it’s your image I will provide full credit of the image to you immediately and now that you have provided me with a link to your own page I’ll certainly be visiting your images there…. I truly adore your work. Thank you

  37. something to look up that goes well with this is there are a group of people that have been dubbed empaths in short its the gist of this article depending on how empathic they are they can not only feel everyones emotion basically hear thoughts and with practice can actually counter negativity etc

  38. I have known this all along. My child has Aspergers and is one of the most loving people you could imagine inside our home. He loves us. Adores the cat. Loves his aunts. But outside the family no one knows this since he clams up in the presence of outsiders. He has a wall around himself outside the family environment but expresses concern and sympathy for characters in movies etc. He cares deeply about justice and injustice and will talk at length about these things one on one to people he trusts. There is just no comfort level in crowds. I agree so much with this article and I’m relieved that the stereotype of the unfeeling robot is finally been challenged. It’s so unfair to some of the sweetest people you could ever hope to know. Of course they are the most difficult people to really get to know, for obvious reasons.

    • Thank you for sharing!! I also care for injustice and others. But I’m quiet unable to show love in other ways then through actions. The words “I love you” doesn’t come natural, they are awkward and I don’t no why. It’s much easier showing it through actions or saying things like, “wow, have good you are at what you are doing” or something like it. Is he loving through actions and manor or can he also say it out loud, resonating in a conscious feeling of love? It would be interesting to know for my own under-standing of myself.

    • You don’t. You just learn to adapt and overcome the difficulties presented by having ASD. You were still born with it, and that never changes.

      Often, though, simple developmental delay is mistaken for ASD, and then when they catch up to their peers some parents think that they’ve “recovered”, and that the ASD is now “cured”. Not quite what happens, but still happy to see it every time parents work hard with their children to overcome their challenges.

      There is also more and more evidence being gathered that it is possible to have ASD-like symptoms due to outside influences such as chemicals or pathogens. There’s a lot of misinformation and hype, but a growing body of literature is suggesting that it is definitely a possibility and needs to be explored further. In these cases, it may literally be possible to “overcome” their issues and return their neurodevelopment on to a “typical” track.

      There may come a time in the near future when we differentiate ASD with a hereditary basis versus ASD caused by external factors etc. But right now that’s not the case, and I think that’s part of what’s adding to the “ASD is curable” movement.

  39. This is certainly not news but it’s good to see that this concept is slowly gaining in momentum. I’ve often said that people with autism can feel very well indeed but that it takes awareness to know what someone else is feeling. Reading emotions on faces and in tone is not something we’re good at. Tell us what you’re feeling and why – and we can understand. Tell us what you need (because different people need different types of empathy) and then we can be empathetic too.

    We’re not mind-readers.

  40. I agree. Those who are sensitive are often bombarded by thoughts that are churning all around them. Sometimes it actually hurts to walk into a room where people have been arguing–even if they all become silent and smile. When other people’s emotions come rolling in like a tsunami, it is logical to withdraw and protect the self from harm.

  41. In my opinion the Markrams are confused. They have identified an apparent paradox in the behaviour and thoughts of an AS brain and come up with a controversial explanation.
    The posited mystery is that anecdotally, AS individuals (such as myself) feel Overwhelmed by groups of people and expressions of emotion. Surely this is more simply explained by NT society constantly telling the AS person they must be considerate toward those people. The AS person tries very hard (a level of concentration I’m not sure NT people are capable of) with little hope of success. Which is tiring and frustrating. And additionally they often receive negative feedback for ‘getting it wrong’ So they retire from the situation either physically or mentally.
    It is obvious from the Sally/Anne test that AS individuals lack empathy. I find there are very few of my personality traits that can’t be ultimately explained by a lack of empathy… if you think hard enough.
    As noted in another comment, the only time I do ever feel involuntary emotion are;hearing the roar of a crowd, and to a lesser extent on personally seeing someone I care for in a genuinely distraught state. I put these specific examples down to primeval responses, independent of my lack of empathy. They certainly don’t show hyper sensitivity.

    • @Dr Will,
      Please speak for yourself. It seems to me that if we in the autism communitieS have learned anything from the recent Autism Speaks imbroglio it would be to speak for OURSELVES. These findings resonate very deeply with me and will help me better navigate the NT world and teach my son to do so as well. I thank @seventhvoice for bringing us this knowledge.

  42. Fear is a powerful motivator in almost everyone’s everyday life. Fear develops in people with too much empathy,,,with too little empathy…with high IQs with low IQs and everywhere in between…Bullys have it…Saints have it…..Soccer Moms, Teachers, Engineers..you name have it…. Politicians and salesmen culture it for everyone else. Recognizing its many manifestations is the first step to personal change as is changing without recognizing it. Personal change can be perhaps the roughest road anyone ever chooses. Even dangerous for those with little cognitive ability. But fear is what is to be overcome in every mental disorder or mental norm.
    .

    • I have Asperger’s, and I’m very empathic. And no, not just for fictional characters. I cry when I’m at a funeral, I give my condolences to the family. I love people, and I’m autistic. Honestly I’ve come so far in my life. I can do things now that I couldn’t do before. I’ve learned to love others from the example of God and my family. The issue with me isn’t people as a general group but the personality of the person. If the person is worth talking to, I love to be with them. If they’re cocky or arrogant (Not just my perception, I’m saying that their personality is really that way) then I just say hello to them on occasion and try to surround myself by positive people. So many people jump to the conclusion that all people on the spectrum are those cold, angry, heartless monsters. Let me tell you right now that we can feel understanding and empathy just like any other individual out there. It’s time to speak up for autistic equality.

  43. Pingback: Sympathetic Crier | thatawkwardkid93

  44. Oh thank goodness I found this. It makes so much more sense to me. Autism spectrum individuals are so keen with their senses and so likely to be overstimulated by them that it never followed for me that they would be unable to read other people at all. Thank you for this!

  45. Pingback: Research Findings Reveal the Lack of Support Currently Being Given to Young Adults with High Functioning Autism within higher education and the workforce. | seventhvoice

  46. I’m just going to cut and paste a response I wrote for http://www.disabilityandrepresentation.com/2013/09/12/holding-fast/#comment-777230, a woman who was terrified to even ask her family whether or not she was empathetic after she got an autism diagnosis:

    The “empathy” nonsense is what made me doubt that my son was Aspergers. I’ve never seen such an empathetic kid – and he is definitely Aspergers. I know many, many Aspies and autistics–I wish they would teach neurotypicals how to be more empathetic. The searchers and researchers will eventually have to admit they got this one wrong. Autistic spectrum people are different in the sense that they have an unusual spread of abilities–a lot of high highs and low lows, so their skills sets are out of balance by normal standards. What do their compensatory mechanisms for bringing the highs and lows together have to do with empathy? They take it upon themselves to consciously observe the behavior of others in order to develop sensitivity and not to offend. No one works harder on empathy than autistic spectrum people. My god, it’s so nice to be asked outright what I need and have it delivered–no grudges, no sense of obligation. It’s nice to be respected enough to be told exactly what I need to know in unfamiliar situations. No judgement. It’s nice to be handled with care, as if I were a treasured piece porcelain that could break (because I can). Fortunately, Aspies can be totally clueless about really typical human behavior. What a blessing! Really typical human behavior is often really, typically selfish and insensitive. Bring on the Aspies–I need all the respect and tenderness I can get!

  47. All of us who either have or deal with or both already know that regardless of what type of autism there is no deficiency in emotions but an overload, and mankind beginning to realize that the 5 senses are just that 5 of a whole lot more, that we are only starting to understand because we have experienced them too many times to deny their existence, and this is how we will continue to define and broaden all of our existences as a whole!

  48. this is the trial of many if not all autistic’s. now when the rest of the world begins to accept and believe this many lives will change for the better. For because we feel others emotions we may better know how to help and react to them. For some of us you can’t even lie to us because we will feel the difference.

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  50. I don’t really care what year this article is from, I’m just seeing it. The ‘speed of the internet’ notwithstanding, some things seem to take years to get around. I use to spend a lot of time searcing online for things like this but gave it up because it seemed no one ‘got it.’ I’m glad to see this.

    I’m also glad to discover the Intense World Theory subject mentioned by a commenter which I will look into further. On that note and not having read the theory yet, I would like to add that sensitivity to emotional energy is not necessarily confined to proximity. There could be a link to mass energy, the prevailing mental/emotional miasmic world energy….a sort of psychic pickup on ‘coming events.’ I tend to do this and it’s difficult to deal with. I knew in July of 2001 that something big was ‘in the air;’ so big that I described it as a paradigm shift. I told a friend about it and they said “Paradigm shift? That’s pretty darn big, ya know?” Yeh, I know. I didn’t know what it was as far as particulars, but knew it wasn’t good. These things have a ‘flavor.’ September 11, 2001, was definitely a paradigm shift.

    All of this is difficult to explain to anyone that has not had the experience of it or lacks the genetic ‘memory’ to grasp it. mho

    • Thank you so much kwtalk for being the only person who has pointed out the obvious re: the date of the original article. I hadn’t seen or heard of the Intense World Theory before either…. so the original article was either extremely poorly circulated or otherwise ignored by those who had the power to further disperse the very valuable understanding that those with AS experience Too Much Empathy…instead of lacking in it as has been previously thought by NT’s..Given the overwhelming amount of hits this post has received from the minute I pressed “post”, I’d say that there are an awful lot of people out there who hadn’t heard of the Intense World Theory either. So despite the criticism I’ve received, I’m glad that I shared the article with a much wider audience than the one it had before. This theory resonates with those of us with AS for a reason folks. And that’s because this is something that many of us having been saying for years and years, yet we have been ignored. Sadly, often such truths require the validation of someone who does not have AS before those in the NT would will even begin to look at them as potentially viable explanations. Once again thank you kwtalk.

    • I feel I need to repeat this to think that there are only 5 senses is just plain dumb, It is just very hard for us autistics to shut off or turn down our empathic senses, a close friend of mine has always felt where a person is when they have gone missing, on amber alerts but afraid and unsure of who to talk to and tell especially when the person is already deceased, I know that there are many more out there that deal with this burden of this great gift but it is the awareness and realization that will help us all the most.

  51. For years I have been paying really close attention to different disorders, feeling as if I needed to understand all of the differences in people’s world experiences and I am finally beginning to realize that the reason may have been because I have some of them and had no words to explain what I was dealing with. I am beginning to see how my perceptions affect me in social situations. This was a really helpful article, thank you!

    Is this your FB page? Your link above didn’t work.

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Asperger-Womens-Association/124211010928102

  52. Personally, as a person with bipolar disorder and a host of other mental health issues, I like the term “neuroatypical”. I don’t find it stigmatizing. I think it just indicates that I’m wired differently than what is widely considered normal. I think neuroatypicality is something to be celebrated. If we all thought and felt the same way, nothing would ever change. I understand and respect your concerns about this, just sharing my view.

  53. You hit the bull’s-eye. That’s why DSM-V has grouped all autism related disorders in to one big spectrum. Everyone is somewhere along the spectrum, and it only becomes a problem if you are so far down the spectrum that it’s causing disruption in functioning. “Normal”, at least as psychologists, define it, is actually pretty broad and open to interpretation to some extent. Again, it has to do with functioning. As for the phrase “Neurotypical”, all it means is that their neurological development is as would be typically expected, within a certain range along the development spectrum. Even if a person with ASD were to be able to overcome obstacles and show within-average levels of cognitive and behavioral functioning, they would still not be “neurotypical”, and would just be a “normal” person, which is a different concept entirely. I have severe fruit allergies, which means I am not “immunotypical”, but as a person I think I’m relatively “normal”…….I hope?

    Fundamentally speaking, therapists only want to “change” people, particularly children, with ASD when there is a high chance that therapy, skills training and rehabilitation will help improve the quality of life in the child’s future. There’s no point in using time and resources otherwise.
    Let me share with you an example.

    I have a friend. I’ll call him “J”. J was born with ASD, and was diagnosed with Asperger’s when he was 15. His life was less than enjoyable from very early on, as he had trouble empathizing with others. It’s not that he didn’t CARE about them. He wanted to have friends, he wanted to be in the company of others. The problem was that he couldn’t understand how others thought or felt. So he would say or do insensitive things that hurt others, and couldn’t understand when they pushed him away. It really hurt him, a lot. So when I first met him, in our early 20s, he had low self-esteem, low-confidence, very few friends, and was developing in to depression. Fortunately I recognized that he probably had Asperger’s within 5 minutes of meeting him (I’m not bragging, it was really obvious), and that really helped us become friends as I didn’t take offense to things I normally would have if someone else had said them.

    I suggested to him that he see a psychologist, and that at this point a good short-term solution would be to just learn what is generally deemed appropriate in different kinds of situations, and how to recognize emotions through clues such as voice tone, vocabulary, facial expressions, etc. It can be a really tedious process and quite frustrating, but in the end he worked really hard at it and made some new friendships, mended some old ones.

    He still has trouble with the whole eye contact thing, he just can’t get the timing. He just counts to 3, looks away, counts to 3~5, looks at you, counts to 3, repeat. It can be really awkward at times if you don’t know what he’s doing. But hey, it’s better than when he used to just stare at your eyes the entire conversation. Now THAT’s uncomfortable.

    If he was perfectly happy as he was, he wouldn’t have been depressed, and I wouldn’t have suggested that he seek support. But he wasn’t, so he changed his behavior and now he’s happier.
    Everyone loves a happy ending, right? (^___^ )

    On a completely different note: ASD can’t be a personality because it’s got a very clear biological basis. Personality is heavily influenced by the experiences of the individual during their development and biology just plays a role. I understand what you are saying though, as ASD would cause you to begin from certain predispositions and affects one’s cognition and behavior from a fundamental level.

  54. Pingback: WASP Women’s Asperger’s Syndrome Awareness Page – For those who understand | seventhvoice

  55. it’s not a lack of empathy that is the problem usually. It is poor knowledge of how to react.

    People will assume because I do not immediately respond to someone’s perceived discomfort that I just don’t care. Sure, in some cases I might not see what is going on (simply because I’m selfishly preoccupied with my own issues or coping with an abundance of other sensory stimuli), but in general, I will notice.

    If I cannot pinpoint the exact emotion (or emotions) being displayed, empathy is challenging. However, if someone tells me, for example, that he is upset or expresses that through body language in a more obvious way, then I am going to feel it very deeply. So deeply in fact that I become upset that I am unable to provide comfort.

    There is fear that I will do the wrong thing, so it’s easier not to do anything. Many times when I do attempt something I have to explain what my real intentions are because my body language and motives are misinterpreted by neurotypical people.

    The lack of a filter can get me in trouble, but those who know me well are able to see what I was trying to say and genuinely appreciate the fact that I chose to express my thoughts.

  56. Pingback: Women and Autism – How one woman’s letter to a psychologist finally helped her receive an ASD diagnosis after years of personal invalidation. | seventhvoice

  57. Reblogged this on Mighty Mikey's Mega Blog and commented:
    I have Asperger’s Syndrome and I seriously do not think that I lack any empathy. Maybe this is just a stereotype and what they really is that people with Asperger’s Syndrome do have empathy, they just struggle to show it.

  58. Pingback: There is a World of Amazing People you CAN Meet!! | drive mom crazy

  59. Pingback: Well I guess you’re just going to have to color me bad -A follow up to the post on Autism, Empathy and the Intense World Theory. | seventhvoice

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  61. Yes plenty of Autistic people have empathy. That marble experiment is nonsense. Empathy means to feel others feelings as your own. I do this all the time and not by choice. What a clever little marble experiment, thanks for developing a ridiculous rumor and dumping it on tens of millions of people and making us sound like innate jerks.

  62. Pingback: The Autism In Me «

  63. I think there are many factors to take in even when a person might have aspergers. I have found many of those traits typical to the syndrome bugging me all the time, yet I am social to the standart (there is a concept called ambivert which comes into play here). On rare ocassions the mind feels bright thus your socializing like an extrovert and sometimes it gets dark and your just monotonic and disinterested in the world, whats common though, is stagnation and deppression.

    Maybe genetic background and childhood experience and exposure to peers, media, different views should be taken into account.

  64. Reblogged this on In Through The Out Door and commented:
    A good article describing that we are very empathic. Like I discussed in my previous post, the invisible world is like a giant earthquake of chaos inside of us. Very intense. Check out this article for more insight and studies backing it up.

  65. Not sure this is so groundbreaking! Some of us so-called NT’s (or, as one of the comment-ers noted, with another but still not neurotypical hard-wiring) who hang out with Autistic Spectrum-ites have experienced their intense empathy — and emotional synaesthesia — for years and wondered how other so-called NT’s (o.e., the clinical “professionals” around us) could be so ignorant as to believe some of the so-called scientific theories about a general lack of empathy…Although there are some NT and Autie PERSONALITIES both that are rather “me-focused.”

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  67. I definitely noticed empathy yesterday, on the last day of a radio show of some friends at my university. I’m still a little choked up about it! (This is what my pingback is about, if it showed up.)

  68. Reblogged this on Radically Mad and commented:
    always worth a reblog. “intense world theory”: theory that autistic people have a lot of the difficulties they do because they experience the world with heightened awareness… could also help explain other autistic symptoms such as sensory overload and (in some cases) food sensitivities. Mostly for people on the spectrum… gastritis and other GI issues, allergies/sensitivities to gluten, casein, dairy, sugar, and/or soy. I have all of the above and I definitely, at least subjectively, experience this to be related to my sensory and emotional sensitivity as an autistic and mad person. Basically I am very aware of all happening around and inside of me, including my digestive system as well as other internal systems of the human body. Being highly-sensitive is not an inherently bad thing, in fact can help with such things as reading and being supportive to others in distress, but shielding, grounding, self-soothing, processing and catharsis, support of loved ones, and limiting exposure to triggers and overloading situations is all absolutely necessary for us on the autism spectrum to cope in the very stimulating modern world. I also have comorbid disabilities including… bipolar, PTSD, LD, and find this “intense world theory” to be true for my other disabilities as well, particularly madness and trauma.

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  73. Great article! It really puts a different light on our view of people with ASD. It makes sense to me, very interesting to bring this up in class when school’s beginning again. I study to be a social worker and I would love to work with people with ASD, specially Asperger Syndrome.
    I have a nephew with ASD and I recognize this in him. When I talk to him when there are a lot of people around, he’s so distracted by everyone and everything (he also has ADHD), but when I’m alone, I can see that he too has emotions like other people. That he can be sad about things other people go through. I think this has to do a lot with environment too, like Kamila Markman in the article says.

    This is very interesting!

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  75. This makes little difference to actually living with an Aspergers spouse. If he cannot provide emotional support in my time of crisis and actually makes things worse by withdrawing or saying something cruel, then I’m not actually RECEIVING any empathy.

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  77. (I was ‘diagnosed’ with Aspergers ten years ago and then six years ago again by the way…and it’s miraculously ‘gone’ now…what a joke. People should be proud of their individuality and stop obsessively trying to fit into groups that don’t exist…in my opinion it may help.

  78. I like this one: “When it comes to not understanding the inner state of minds too different from our own, most people also do a lousy job, Schwarz says. “But the non-autistic majority gets a free pass because, if they assume that the other person’s mind works like their own, they have a much better chance of being right.”

    Regarding autistic people dominating the conversation: I frequently run into NT´s (maybe),who shush me to tell me about their own affairs, grandchildren, interests, fiends etc. – for hours.
    They are satisfied by nods, Mhmm´s, yes´es and polite laughter, – for hours.

    • Yes I often find that too Homes. I wonder why it is that we’re supposed to sit through their endless speeches about their topics of “special interests” without complaint, yet as soon as we try to talk about ours, we’re told that we’re being obsessive.

  79. Reblogged this on L'Ennemi and commented:
    This article almost perfectly outlines my experience as a person with Asperger’s/ASD. A MUST read for anyone who is autistic or who loves someone who is

  80. Reblogged this on angelfirenze and commented:
    This is exactly how I feel. It’s as though everyone’s being imprinted on me like a stamp that sinks in. Like stitches torn open except that instead of blood pouring out, others’ feelings pour in.

  81. from my experience in online forums, autistic people have much more empathy than neurotypicals. I asked the same questin in neurotypical and autistic forums, “a non-kill trap for mouse, or one that kills?” “Would you take a sick feral kitten home?” and other questions about helping strangers in need etc.

    autistic people seemed much kinder than neurotypicals in anonymous polls, and they seemed supportive and kind toward each other as well, much more so than neurotypicals.

    all in all, it depends on the individual.

  82. I dont have aspergers syndrome, but I have some form of autism, and Ive always been a bit puzzled by why these assumptions are made.

    Could it be because people with autism are often said to lack social skills?

    As someone who also at times experience that I lack empathy, I know that some people assume its because of this. I therefore respond that there are also biological and environmental factors in this, and that its also inherent in our gene pool.
    Also, theres a distinction between empathy and sympathy.

  83. Reblogged this on Lost and Found and commented:
    As a child I was extremely “sensitive.” Everyone said so. It made me feel guilty and weak and rather stupid. I definitely grew up under the impression it was a bad thing and strove to distance myself from anything that overwhelmed me emotionally and avoided most situations that made me feel that way – except animals and especially horses. I’ll write about that at some point. This (reblogged) post is pretty spot-on. Original blog: http://seventhvoice.wordpress.com/

  84. This jives with my experience as well. I’ve been getting treatment for a genetic issue referred to as MTHFR that helps manage my adrenaline levels (which were overflowing without a genetic drain) and also my energy levels (which were so depleted because my faulty genes don’t make the hoods needed to use vitamin b). I feel completely different with simple supplements. I want parents of kids on the spectrum and people who are on the spectrum themselves to look into their genes and get that help. Run your genes at 23andme.com, google mthfr and genetic genie, get help and dump the kryptonite of this frustrating genetic issue that presents as ADHD, Asperger’s, Autism, bipolar, schizophrenia, sensory processing disorders, bluh.

  85. I’ve always been extremely empathic to the point where I’ve had to avoid, ignore, or close myself off to the emotional experiences of others. I think experts have often missed some very obvious things because they’re looking for deficits, not differences. The words used to describe phenomena are always negative: deficit, lack, deficiency, failure/failing, inability, etc. There’s also another big problem: the word “experience.” “Experience” is a sloppy term, because it groups together very different things–perceptions, thoughts, and feelings–and applies conclusions about one to all the others. So if you conclude that someone’s thinking processes are problematic, and you’ve already lumped “thinking” together with “feeling” in the broader category of “experience,” you’re going to assume that their emotional processes are also problematic. How I think and what I feel are not the same.

    I personally make a lot of unconscious assumptions about what other people know, what they think, and how their thought processes run. I had always assumed that everyone else’s cognition worked like mine because I didn’t know otherwise. That’s made it hard for me to recognize their normal interpersonal expectations and anticipate their reactions when I haven’t fun afoul of those expectations. So it’s not that I’m a robotic, unfeeling person unconcerned with other people’s emotions and how I impact them, but rather I don’t always understand how the way I’m interacting with them will impact them emotionally.

    For example, people close to me sometimes get upset with me because I don’t ask them how they’re feeling or what their opinion is about some event or subject. I get annoyed by this because my default assumption is that they will share their thoughts if they have something on their mind. For example, if my partner asks me what movie I’d like to go see, I’ll answer the specific question he asked. Then he’ll chastise me for not asking him the same question back. He sees it as selfishness and a lack of concern for his feelings. I find this frustrating because I just assume he’ll share that information with me without being prompted, either before he asks the question or after I answer. That’s what I would do, and it would never occur to me to be angry with someone who responded as I do. I do have empathy for his hurt feelings, even though I still don’t understand the why or how behind them. But since I feel bad when he is upset, I now make an effort to follow the script and respond in the expected manner.

    Anyways, it’s good to see that researchers are challenging old ideas and coming at things from new perspectives.

  86. As an Aspie, I resonate much more with this than the prevalent notions of Aspergian empathy (or lack thereof). Thank you.

    (On a side note, it’s funny that you mention Metal Machine Music. That was my study soundtrack for my Algebra final in 8th grade. I don’t know if the A+ was partially thanks to or in spite of this.)

  87. My daughter was originally diagnosed ADHD in the 3rd grade, finally Asperger’s in the 6th grade only because I related a story to her counselor of her jumping and flapping in her upstairs bedroom knocking out my dining room light fixture below it. She is very emotional as is typical with ADHD, but also compassionate, she wants to fix people’s hurt feelings, she wants to become a counselor herself. But in the past few couple of years of high school a complication has arisen. Watching movies/re-enactments or presentations on highly charged subjects such as bullying, genocide, murders of missionaries, and narrated letters of the Donner party (western US migration, wagon train trapped in snowy mountains, and survivors began cannibalizing the corpses to survive) she has had what she calls meltdowns, where she goes way beyond melting into a puddle of tears, she has had to go to the counselor’s office. I’ve had to go retrieve her from school and it took hours to calm her down. But other than these incidents, her friends say that she is ‘robotic’ in that she doesn’t show much emotion. Perhaps not relative to how off the deep end emotional a few of her drama queen friends are. But it is mostly she doesn’t understand what the appropriate response is for some events, conversations, reactions, etc. so she just doesn’t say anything at all. But our other problem is her intensely emotional attachment to her best friend. This friend is always having some crisis or another and my daughter is hell bent on protecting her friend, saving her from herself, propping her up emotionally, it is bordering on obsessive. Our daughter’s counselor says it is a definite codependence situation, dangerously so for our daughter. This girlfriend has a need to have someone pay attention to her and our daughter has a need to be needed. This girl may be changing schools due to falling behind academically and my daughter is coming almost unglued at the thought that she wouldn’t get to see this friend everyday. I think if this girl were out of the daily picture at school that my daughter would have more friends because I surmise from things I’ve gleaned from former friends of both girls that her friend runs people of overtime and many people avoid her and hence they don’t connect with my daughter, either.
    I will definitely share this with my daughter’s counselor who doesn’t have explicit training in Asperger’s but work with my daughter’s social and emotional challenges in high school that are caused by the Asperger’s.

    • I can relate to everything that you’ve shared about your daughter. Yes our Aspie girls are such compassionate beings and big on issues of social justice. My daughter also needs to feel needed and I worry sometimes for her emotional safety. On a personal note, I can’t watch movies depicting the Holocaust or true events depicting violence. Thank you so much for sharing your understanding :)

  88. Pingback: Открытие, перевернувшее представления о людях с аутистическим расстройством | Родители по-умному

  89. I was only recently diagnosed with Asperger’s at the age of 28 (I only ever thought this was a condition for men/boys) and so everything is only now suddenly making sense as I come to understand things better. Reading this article definitely hit the mark on something that I only just, consciously, put a connection between.
    The fact that I become completely overwhelmed when I’m in any type of charged atmosphere (both negatively and positively), that I cannot read or watch true stories because it tends to physically hurt me, or just watch a really good show/read a good book and become too embroiled in the story that I start feeling exactly what my favourite character is feeling (and usually it’s more intense emotions then the story itself is displaying).
    It can be such a frustrating thing when I’m suddenly feeling overwhelmed and hysterical and the only way to deal with it is to remove myself from the situation even when I don’t want to leave, or it’s very embarrasing when you starting crying during a cartoon because something emotional has happened…
    It’d be nice and an easier life if I could just turn this particular ‘feature’ of mine off… Anyway, thanks for sharing this it was very helpful and interesting!

  90. Spot-on. Empathy is not an issue for my 18 year-old daughter. Reading others emotions is difficult. The concept of withdrawing to protect oneself makes perfect sense.

    If I express a negative tone in a statement my daughter will say ‘stop yelling at me’.

  91. I am a 22 year old woman with Asperger’s/ASD. I have always recognized the symptoms in myself as I’ve read about them, except the lack of empathy. I have been baffled by that one, because I have always considered compassion and empathy one of my strong points. I can’t stand to see people or animals suffer. I have always noticed the people who were not accepted at school and my heart has always hurt so much for them. I can hardly stand to see elderly people because I think, all at once, about how they are so likely lonely and sick and losing their independence, etc. Hearing babies cry without being responded to right away overwhelms me- I am so sad to think that something so small, with such limited communication, is struggling helplessly. If I’m at a grocery store and someone is ignoring a baby crying in the cart, I get clumsy, in people’s way, and forget what I am needing to do.

    However, I can see now why others might believe I don’t have empathy. I remember when I was twelve years old an acquaintance told me her mom was dying of cancer. I didn’t know what I was supposed to say, so I said “Oh” and walked away. I felt terrible for her and prayed for her every day for years. I just had no idea what a response to that might be. I still hate it when people tell me emotional or personal things for that reason. Now I say “I’m sorry” but it still never seems right.

    I seem to frequently offend people because of being too blunt, I guess. I’m married, and my husband says it’s because I need to engage people in conversation before throwing things out there. I try not to say things in an offensive way when I talk about politics, etc., but I am so incapable of beating around the bush, using flowery language to get to my point.

    I don’t consider myself aloof at all, but getting to know people and “putting myself out there” is terrible for me. For example, I was in a class last week and debated about making a comment during the lesson. I finally decided it was a good idea to, and I did. Long story short, I ended up offending what seemed to be most of the people in there and they all retaliated in their comments. They misunderstood what I was trying to say, and thought I was being insensitive. I was on the verge of tears for the rest of class and I’m sure it showed too. I take things too personally and have been bursting into tears about the incident ever since. Because of situations like this, I frequently avoid saying anything to anyone. I don’t like to introduce myself either, because what is normal to say about yourself? Your age, or am I too old to do that? The fact that I’m married? Does that demean my individuality? Where I live? Is that too personal? What I like to do? Is that childish or getting too comfortable too fast? What conversations are acceptable to initiate and which are not? How do I initiate conversation on a particular subject? I struggle with this so much.

    My husband is very social and very outgoing. My idiosyncrasies and social/emotional struggles have strained our relationship many times. How could they not? But he knew what I was like when he married me and he’s very sweet and patient! One difficulty we have is that because I so desire social interaction but don’t understand the dynamics of it very well, I tend to get my “socialization” through him. If I want to know what people would say to something, I ask him to put it in conversation. Or I read his text messages and emails to see what the conversations are. I know it’s pathetic. It just feels like it gives me some small taste of a social life. I know it drives him crazy sometimes.

    Something else I want to know… am I supposed to tell anyone I have ASD? I frequently wonder if I should to explain myself, but I know that people can be cruel about emotional or social disabilities. My husband knows, but no one else currently in our lives. Is it something that is “normal” to say or talk about or is it TMI? I also worry that people would question my parenting ability. My husband and I have a two year old daughter. I’m a good mother and I love her more than anything! I know that even though I have trouble socially, she still needs socialization and so I make sure she gets it regardless of how I feel (having to interact with the other mothers, etc.) I’m also afraid that they would find it somehow irresponsible that my husband and I plan to have more children, given the genetic nature of ASD and their questions concerning my ability to appropriately parent.

    Any insight would be great.

  92. Pingback: ASD: Too much or not enough? - Chaos Organized25

  93. This article has reassured me that in fact, yes, as a person with ASD I can (and do) feel empathy. Yesterday for example I walked home crying because I saw a traffic accident further up the road where a child had been knocked down, all I could think of was that poor boy and his poor parents, I’m still shaken up today. My friends mum passed away recently and I cried at the funeral. Like others have said I think I am sometimes so sensitive to other emotions that I have to step back a bit, I have a good gut instinct for reading people, I can spot a nice person and I can spot a two-faced person a mile off, and if other people were told off at school I also felt upset.

    I have recently been through the NHS (I’m in the UK) assessment process which confirmed what I’d known for the last 10 years and that I did indeed ‘have’ ASD. Sadly what I thought was a positive diagnosis and would explain my dreadful teenage years looks like it will turn into a nightmare and I will have childrens services on my back to make sure my children are ok. The psychologist doesn’t seem to think parents with ASD can empathise with their children and the children may suffer because of this. The double whammy is because I am a working single parent I have to have some sort of routine or else homework / activities / housework will go pear shaped! Again, having a routine is a bad thing according to the NHS report. I’d like to see what they would have said if I was a working single parent without a routine whose children were late for school and homework wasn’t completed. As long as the important stuff is done then the children can watch TV, play out as much as they like. I’m not some terrifying tiger mother working to the clock!

    Anyway, I am so glad I found this page. <>

  94. I’m incredibly grateful that this article was sent to me. This describes me perfectly. I’ve read through many of the other comments here so far, and I haven’t been able to find one yet that doesn’t seem like it could have been made by me. For the first time in my life, I feel wholly understood. This means the world to me. Thank you!

  95. It wasn’t till college, when my professor made a comment that I acted like a student he had in the past would had aspergers. I was going through a very hard time as I was starting to pick up on thing I had not noticed before.. like they said, everything was turned up to eleven.
    I thought that my proff, might have known something of the concept so I researched.. as I did I was surprised to see things from my childhood become extremely apparent as signs and soon facts that I do indeed have aspergers. However unlike others I have found my piece with what I have, this might be because I was left to sink or swim. It is not the hiding from others emotions however that I have used to cope but the discovery of individual things at a time, ive learned to focus on one thing at a time. Practice makes perfect after all. Some come so naturally now that I dont worry about them.. some like eye contact I will most likely never master.. but the important part is to take it slow an try to see the fun in the learning part. To anybody else that is having trouble with this.. Your not the only one, and if a boy who got grounded in sixth grade for “faking a mental handicap” can tell you anything, its that the past is the past. You have made it this far somehow.. but you know what your dealing with now, go out there an enjoy looking at the world through the eyesof a child, other people your age have lost the wonder when they were young.. you.. your just getting started

    -Sam
    p.s. 15 years I had no idea why I got ground after my parents came back from my sixth grade parent teacher meeting.. luckily I have a good sense of humour.

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