I said I was going to write more about my personal experience living with Asperger’s, but so far I haven’t done it. Joe Bunting’s recent practice on empathy got me thinking about it again. So here goes…
Aspies are often seen as lacking empathy because of their difficulty in expressing their own emotions and interpreting the non-verbal communications of others. I don’t believe this is necessarily true. It’s certainly not in my case.
One definition of empathy is: “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” This refers to the internal feelings of the person experiencing the empathy, not the external display of those feelings. This is the key distinction. Failure to demonstrate empathy is one of the cardinal attributes identified by Dr. Asperger. Aspies often fail to show empathy, but that doesn’t mean they don’t feel it.
It’s notable that empathy is not part of the current diagnostic criteria for Asperger’s. They do include impairment in non-verbal behaviors, failure to develop appropriate peer relationships, and lack of social or emotional reciprocity. These are all related to the apparent lack of empathy.
I know that I feel empathy for others. When I see someone get hurt I feel a physical pain in my abdomen. I get teary-eyed at weddings, graduations, and other happy events, feeling the joy of those involved. I feel the emotional pain of others at funerals, divorces, and other sad events. If anything, I think I get more emotional than others.
Of course, when I was younger, I had trouble understanding how people were feeling. It took years of study, careful observation, and experimentation (yes, I experimented on acquaintances without their knowledge of what I was doing) to learn to read people’s body language and display my own reasonably well.
Back to Joe’s practice, I didn’t have any trouble reading emotions out of each of the pictures and could have written about any one of them (I just didn’t have time).
There are still some areas I have trouble with, like knowing when to speak in a group conversation, without either interrupting or saying nothing. I just can’t get the timing right (so if you ever have a conversation with me, I’m not being intentionally rude 8^). And my display of emotions tends to flip like a light switch from apparently impassive to blubbering idiot. But overall I get along quite well in ordinary situations.
Let me know what you think about all this. I know I have some Aspie followers. I’d be really interested to hear about your experiences.
- Aspergerâs Syndrome and Receiving Social Security Disability (socialsecurityhome.com)
- Aspergers Letter: Be the Change (aspergersgirls.wordpress.com)
- I Feel Like An Aspie Cat (Cat With Asperger’s Syndrome) (seventhvoice.wordpress.com)
- Empathy Is The Most Important UX Emotion (barnabasnagy.net)
- Ex with Asperger’s (ask.metafilter.com)
- Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD (everydayhealth.com)
- Special Edition – Aspergers (education.com)
- Essential informations about Aspergers like me (nomisunrider.wordpress.com)
- Dysfunctional Detectives (bookwitch.wordpress.com)