I get it now

I’ve seen many blog posts and arguments and protestations from the autism community regarding empathy. Many of them boiled down to “yes, we have empathy!” stated in a most emphatic fashion. I will confess, I didn’t really understand them. Not so much the content, as the need for such posts in the first place. I mean, I knew that there are people out there saying less-than-flattering things about ASDs and empathy, but I also knew that I struggle with certain forms of empathy (since “empathy” is an incredibly broad word with lots of different meanings).

Then I read this blog post.


Now I get it.

I have never actually read anything by Simon Baron-Cohen. I knew he was someone who said less-than-nice (or true) things about those of us on the autism spectrum. What I did not know was just how bad it was. Just how awful the things he says are, and by extension, just how harmful he is as a so-called “expert” on autism, as someone people listen to and take seriously.

He isn’t saying that we struggle with empathy. He says that we do not have any empathy, nor can we develop it. Plus, now I get to add him to the list of those that other us, and who say that being different makes us wrong. Similar to my puzzle complaint, now we also have that if I pull away from other people it’s because I lack empathy. Yet if they pull away from me, it’s because I’m wrong somehow. Similar behaviors from two different groups, but both get to be my fault because I am the one who is different.

For the record, I am tired of being othered.

In any case, I’ve decided that Simon Baron-Cohen needs to be added to my reading list. I think it will be useful to me to have a better understanding of the dialogue out there about aspergers and autism, including the harmful voices.


Filed under personal, ramble

5 responses to “I get it now

  1. *blink*
    Ok, I have interacted with a variety of ASD peeps, and a few sociopaths…. very,,.. very,.. different. This guy is so full of brown sticky stuff that… just… wow.

  2. Good grief, is he where that comes from? I’ve actually only heard that bit recently, and I was confused as all hell. I’ve known several people on the spectrum (I recently discovered I share a lot of perceptual/cognitive brain-things with people on it, but all my childhood social horrors were circumstantial) and I think it’s utter bollocks. Autistic people don’t lack empathy. Sociopaths lack empathy. Autistic people have trouble understanding in real-time where allistic people _expect_ them to have empathy, and trouble getting it across to allistic people when they do. Even the infamous Temple Grandin, who herself claims to have huge difficulties understanding empathy when it comes to people, has great sentiment when it comes to animals.

    I also have trouble lending credence to a lot of variations on the “lacking ‘theory of mind'” thing when it seems to me that at least half the communication trouble occurs when allistic people don’t make any effort to figure out how the autistic kid thinks. I haven’t done nearly enough technical reading to have an official academic opinion yet, but my knee-jerk reaction is that there are a lot of insensitive people in autism research, and most of them aren’t the autistic ones.

  3. Tricia

    Wow – using that example, sounds like Michael was in a class full of bullies. And it’s exactly what I grew up with – a class full of bullies. My Mom was at a loss for a solution because all the kids in that grade, regardless of the school (public or private) in my town were bullies. It was… challenging to grow up in such an environment. Nothing in that example shows that Michael does or does not have empathy, nor does it show that he does or does not have Aspie’s. It shows that his class environment sucked and his teachers didn’t do enough to stop the bullying.

  4. The cool thing about this is that you are not alone. Many people without an ASD label have a lack of empathy or have problems displaying it during these moments. I agree with you, take in Cohen’s thoughts on this subject and prove him wrong. My suggestion for you is to always be cognitive of times when others should feel empathy towards someone or something. Study how correct empathy is given, what is looks, feels and sounds like. Then the most important part is recognizing your feelings when you feel for something else. It should make you feel warm.

    • “How correct empathy is given”? How about allistic people showing some empathy towards autistic people and trying to feel what they feel? Why is the allistic way of expressing empathy the only correct way?

      This rant is probably only because you used a highly triggering word, but it just pisses me off. It ties in with the whole “try harder” dichotomy, of needing to “become normal” or as close as possible.

      No. We should focus on forms of empathy that work. That make both the giver and receiver feel understood and cared for. That is what empathy is. If an autistic person needs some additional support, like someone explaining what they feel or need instead of only using body language, to be able to express that caring, then why not give that support? Does it make empathy less “valuable” if it doesn’t happen automatically? If the other person has to make a cognitive decision to show caring? Does that devalue the experience?

      Or could we say that someone who makes an EFFORT to care and show that caring is actually just as sincere as someone who does it automatically?