Mind-Blindness, Theory of Mind, and Fiction

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mori_pastel
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23 May 2011, 11:23 pm

(NOTES: For the TL;DR version, skip to the numbered questions at the bottom and then use my giant hunk of text as a reference if needed. In text block, key text is presented in bold print for easy reading.)

I'm a self-diagnosed Aspie, and as such I am constantly second-guessing myself with hopes of arriving at a more definitive answer than "maybe I have it, maybe I don't." Asperger’s fits me better than anything I’ve come across, including every differential diagnosis that could possibly exist to Asperger’s. I hand-flap, I fail “reading the mind in the eyes” tests, I struggle in social situations in a way that can’t be contributed to social anxiety, I have sensitivities to lights and food textures, I’m incredibly resistant to changes in my routine and environment, etc., etc. But that said, it’s not a perfect fit. There are some “typical Aspie” traits that don’t apply to me. And the ill-fitting criteria I’m obsessing over today is fiction.

I am an avid reader of fiction. While I’m aware that there is some debate on this topic, that’s one of the questions you frequently see on tests like the AQ test. And when you do hear about things Aspies “typically” read, its sci-fi or historical fiction, something than connects back to a “typical” special interest. For awhile now, I’ve taken that criteria (or should I say characteristic?) at face value, but today I started wondering just what is it about fiction that Aspies aren’t supposed to like or have trouble with?

The most obvious answer would be to say that it comes from our difficulties understanding how other people think, but where does that difficulty stem? To the best of my knowledge, it is supposed to be only the difficulties in reading other people’s non-verbal communications and literal interpretations of figurative language. In other words, it theoretically isn’t that Aspies are incapable of understanding others, but that we’re not “hearing” all they’re “saying” which leads to the misunderstanding.

You could also point to the fact that Aspies tend to like socializing and the company of others in much smaller quantities than neurotypicals, but I don’ think this is a particularly valid characteristic when looking at fiction. If this were the root of the problem, than it would make more sense for Aspies to be drawn to fiction, not less. A book can substitute human relationships without making the same demands that people place on us. (In a sense, of course. I’m sure therapists have several reasons why books don’t make good substitutes for people.) That’s one of the reasons I’m so drawn to fiction. You can put down a book without it complaining that you’re neglecting it. A book doesn’t expect you to say hello to it every time you pick it up and it doesn’t expect you to buy it thoughtful gifts on its birthday. It doesn’t need you to consol it when it’s feeling bad. Yet at the same time books can provide us with the emotional experiences that human connection is all about. So why are Aspies rumored to hate fiction?

Does the answer lie in the elusive, indefinable empathy? Do Aspies pick up a work of fiction and simply fail to understand it? I find this answer both hard to believe and hard to reject. Firstly, how exactly impaired is empathy said to be in Aspies? Knowing what little I do of psychology, I find it impossible to believe that Aspies are simply incapable of empathy, an argument I’ve also seen from several others. To lack empathy completely is to be an individual with antisocial personality disorder. These are your skilled manipulators and your clever liars. (Personally, I think that if Aspies lacked empathy, there’d be more overlap with ASPD. Or any overlap at all. But that’s an argument for another time, I suppose.)

If I ignore the issues previously stated and make an attempt to consider the idea, we get to the reasons why I find the possibility hard to reject. Not being a diagnosed Aspie, I can’t say for certain what Aspies think or feel. Is a person with Asperger’s simply incapable of reading a work of fiction and understanding it? I’m not asking if they pick up the latest romance novel and understand all the little nuances or comprehend all the subtilities displayed in great works of literature, I’m asking if you can pick up a Goosebumps book or an Anne Rice novel or just any old piece of regular fiction you could pick up at a local bookstore and simply fail to comprehend the interactions between the characters on a very basic level. To me, that is simply incomprehensible. But the thing of it is, for Aspies to have a general distaste for fictional works, it would have to be not because they personally disliked it but because they had actual difficulties with it, and if you take out mind-blindness and the sensory issues, the only difficulty that could present would be one in which the reader simply failed to comprehend. When you read a book, you don’t have to be good at “putting yourself in another person’s shoes.” To say the right thing to an upset friend, you have to be able to put yourself in their shoes and realize what would comfort them best. When you’re reading a book, you don’t have to make that intuitive connection. Especially not with modern literature. Today’s literature is so focused on the psychological aspects of characterization (for instance, today our villains were all horribly abused and have a great reason to be horrible people, while only a couple of centuries ago it was just enough to say that the wicked witch was wicked; nobody cared why) that you don’t have to be good at putting yourself in the character’s shoes because all of the character’s inner workings are laid out for you on the page. You don’t have to make any intuitive leaps because all of the character’s emotional workings are explained in detail. So where exactly is it that Aspies struggle?

The final point (which I admit seems most likely), is simply that Aspies are more “male-brained” or “left-brained” than your average neurotypical. After all, didn’t Hans Asperger first describe Aspies as “extreme maleness”? When you take the average neurotypical male (note: I’m speaking from an American perspective), they will probably not read even a single fiction book a year. And when they do read, they’re more likely to read books that are very action-packed, such as mystery and thriller novels. On the more intellectual end, you see more sci-fi readers. It’s not until you take an “intellectual” type of man that you’d typically see him reading any sort of general fiction on a regular basis. Where exactly does this stem from? I think that chances are, if we could find the answer to this, we could find the root of why Aspies are said to hate fiction.

To get more into this last point, I’d like to share something I found after a Google search that brought up some really good points for me, which you can find here:

Quote:
I think 'mind blindness' is misunderstood a little. Since our minds work differently than non-Aspergers people we have a hard time understanding them, just as they have a hard time understanding us. If there were more of us and less of you, we could describe you as mind blind for not understanding us. You assume others think like you and you are right. Before I knew I was Aspergers I would say things that I assumed others were thinking as well, such as 'this group of people is too big, I can't remember everyones' name and keep track of everyone, it is too overwhelming', assuming others would feel that way too--if it's too big to me, it must be so to everyone else. But others would get a puzzled look on their face and say they didn't think it was too big. (Incidentally, if non-Aspergers were in the minority we would say they have a remarkable skill in social relations). Non-verbal cues that you have from childhood, from other children and adults and in the rules and systems of the world, teach you in ways that you take for granted, that you learn/absorb automatically that we don't 'get'--it takes us actual learning and focusing and analysis to learn. We're also described as not having empathy, but this is the same thing as with mind blindness, empathy must be learned by everyone, you just get the benefit of most others and a world geared toward you, so that empathy is picked up by you without your being aware of learning it. There have been several studies that show that empathy must be learned, it is not automatic. As an example, I have frail health and I have found that super healthy people cannot have empathy for me. I could say they are unkind or deliberately being difficult, but they literally don't understand poor health so they can't be empathetic. Whether or not they are sympathetic or compassionate depends on whether or not they are humble and can concede there is another understanding then the one they have and their willingness to care, but the actual empathy is not there. I try to appear well all the time as I try to appear socially adept and non-Aspergers, to relieve them of the burden of having to deal with an empathy or understanding of something that doesn't come easily to them.

In a good book, the writer is usually skilled at characterization, helping the readers to get into the mind of the main character(s) and to a lesser extent, other characters. Often I'll ask my non-Aspergers husband to explain how he feels or understands something. Often he can't, he says, 'I don't know, it just is.' He is not a writer (and never would be!). Alas, the general public isn't skilled in the ways writers are, including descriptions and the use of illustrations, which is very instrumental in teaching something that is hard to understand in the way that can be understood by the person you're teaching.

Our love of science fiction is usually due the new ideas, imagination and philosophy expressed. Science fiction, besides having great imaginary worlds and people contained therein which is just plain fun, is full of allegory and ideas that are mind expanding. Sometimes questions are raised and by taking you outside the real world you can look objectively at issues, many philosophical. Sometimes it is a fight between good and evil and since many Aspergers have strong sense of justice, this appeals to us. Many non-Aspergers want stories about real life but we have to live real life why read about it? We care about people and their problems but don't want to read stories that go on and on about the problems. We would rather sympathise, then try to come up with a solutions (the male brain). I've been told by several people that I am better than the average person at perceiving intentions. I prefer science fiction with a good character (hero) that I can root for, which is the best of both.


So, here’s the TL;DR version:

1. Where do you think the rumor that Aspies hate reading stems from: difficulties tolerating as much socialization as NTs, are Aspies simply incapable of understanding fiction books because of a lack of empathy, or is this rumor simply the end result of Aspies being more “male-brained”/”left brain” than the average neurotypical? Why?

2. If you are a diagnosed Aspie, do you have difficulties understanding things like motivation in works of fiction? Where do you think this trouble stems from? What kind of things strike you as difficult or frustrating? (Note: A good example would NOT be something you read in your English class; those books are designed to be challenging reads. A good example would be something one of your friends/siblings/peers would pick up and read for fun.)

3. In general, what are your thoughts on empathy and Asperger’s? How would you define empathy? Do you think Aspies lack empathy? What do you think of the author’s opinion in the quote provided that NTs seem to lack empathy just as much as Aspies do, that we both have problems relating to one another, and that Aspies are only labeled empathetically challenged because we can’t relate to the majority of people (NTs)?


Finally, just wanted to thank everyone who put up with this super-long post. Asperger’s has become something of my special interest for the past six months, and I still feel like there’s just so much I don’t understand. I would really like to move forward soon and find some professional certainty, but thank you all for putting up with my anxious doubts in the meantime. : )



SilverShoelaces
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23 May 2011, 11:42 pm

I, for one, enjoyed fiction very much as a child. In fact, it was reading fiction that taught me the most social skills as a child, far more than my forced group therapy sessions or actually interacting with people in an unstructured environment. And that's got to count for something, right? Then again, once I got friends and lots of homework, I slowly stopped reading for fun....

Um, I don't have much more to say, but I did enjoy reading through all of that. Thanks for posting.



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23 May 2011, 11:51 pm

I like this, but first:

I think the "extreme maleness" description of autism is pretty bollocks. It cherry picks some traits that are stereotypically masculine, and most likely function via different mechanisms in autistic people to a greater extreme, and defines them as extremely male. It should also be kept in mind that Hans Asperger thought that only boys had "autistic psychopathy," and he was characterizing the boys as going to the extreme of their gender. Which is to say, it may very well be that "extreme maleness" is taking things out of context.

As for what you said:

mori_pastel wrote:
You could also point to the fact that Aspies tend to like socializing and the company of others in much smaller quantities than neurotypicals, but I don’ think this is a particularly valid characteristic when looking at fiction. If this were the root of the problem, than it would make more sense for Aspies to be drawn to fiction, not less. A book can substitute human relationships without making the same demands that people place on us. (In a sense, of course. I’m sure therapists have several reasons why books don’t make good substitutes for people.) That’s one of the reasons I’m so drawn to fiction. You can put down a book without it complaining that you’re neglecting it. A book doesn’t expect you to say hello to it every time you pick it up and it doesn’t expect you to buy it thoughtful gifts on its birthday. It doesn’t need you to consol it when it’s feeling bad. Yet at the same time books can provide us with the emotional experiences that human connection is all about. So why are Aspies rumored to hate fiction?


I've been trying to put something very similar to this into words with regards to CRPGs, especially the kind that give you a cast of NPCs to accompany your character. I think this is precisely what I got out of the first Mass Effect, for example, and one reason I found it so compelling. The nice thing about all the social stuff being scripted is being able to interact socially and not make a faux pas unless you want to make a faux pas.

Anyway:

1) I have no idea. It seems to me that people with AS are frequently interested in fiction, and learn a lot of detail about that fiction. I think the problem with SBC's criteria in this case is just that they're downright wrong.

I also do not think there's anything particularly "male" or "left-brained" about interest in science fiction, except for social expectations that women should like other kinds of fiction. It doesn't take much to find a lot of women who are also science fiction fans - just look at the fan communities on Livejournal for one example. This is one of the problems with taking a cultural attitude and making it a matter of neurology.

2) I sometimes have trouble understanding motivation in works of fiction. Sometimes the fiction broadcasts it fairly effectively. One thing I like about the Dune and A Song of Ice and Fire books, for example, is that they give an insight into the characters's thoughts to sufficient detail to understand why they are doing what they are doing. That said, while I have had trouble understanding fictional characters' intentions, I didn't really notice because a) their actions often made sense in retrospect, and b) I didn't realize I was experiencing a deficit.

3) There are two kinds of empathy - cognitive empathy and affective empathy. The former is the ability to look at someone and tell what they are thinking, and determine now to react to them. Autistic people tend to lack this and intellectualize it to some degree. I know I have. Affective empathy is the ability to look at someone and know what they're feeling, but not necessarily how to translate that knowledge into social action. Autistic people tend to have as much of this as neurotypicals. I do think that neurotypicals are impaired in their cognitive empathy toward autistic people, although this is usually defined as a deficit in autistic people to use nonverbal cues.

That's kind of short, but I have a headache and some pains and everything is making me feel impatient at the moment. However, you touched on something I really wanted to bring up and so I do appreciate that.



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23 May 2011, 11:54 pm

mori_pastel wrote:
just what is it about fiction that Aspies aren’t supposed to like or have trouble with?


i think it's that we're supposed to be more interested in train schedules than human interaction.

some people on the spectrum definitely enjoy fiction. post a poll.

however there is probably some truth to this idea: our thirst for knowledge (esp. in areas of interest) supersedes our interest in socializing. so maybe a lot of fiction just isn't as interesting to us, unless we are writers and are also interested in story structure and character development or something like that. or unless there's some crime or history thrown in, or whatever etc.


[apologies .. i really did the TL;DR version and just answered the post topic question.]


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Last edited by katzefrau on 23 May 2011, 11:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Verdandi
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23 May 2011, 11:55 pm

Oh, and there has never been a time that I did not enjoy fiction: Science fiction, fantasy, murder mysteries, some of the classics (I read The Three Musketeers on my own in grade school, IIRC, not because it was ever assigned in a class). The fiction that compelled me the most was fantasy or horror, followed by SF.



mori_pastel
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24 May 2011, 1:12 am

SilverShoelaces wrote:
I, for one, enjoyed fiction very much as a child. In fact, it was reading fiction that taught me the most social skills as a child, far more than my forced group therapy sessions or actually interacting with people in an unstructured environment. And that's got to count for something, right? Then again, once I got friends and lots of homework, I slowly stopped reading for fun....

Um, I don't have much more to say, but I did enjoy reading through all of that. Thanks for posting.


See, that's sort of touches on another idea I had. Maybe another reason this rumor exists is because the Aspies that lean more towards the language skills and do enjoy reading are that much harder to diagnose because they have picked up social skills from reading. Theoretically, it's learning from a low-stress environment just as you would in a group therapy session. It seems to me like it'd just be another mask, like Aspies who mimic.

Verdandi wrote:
I think the "extreme maleness" description of autism is pretty bollocks. It cherry picks some traits that are stereotypically masculine, and most likely function via different mechanisms in autistic people to a greater extreme, and defines them as extremely male. It should also be kept in mind that Hans Asperger thought that only boys had "autistic psychopathy," and he was characterizing the boys as going to the extreme of their gender. Which is to say, it may very well be that "extreme maleness" is taking things out of context.


A month ago, I would have agreed completely with you. Actually. I still completely agree with you. To say that female Aspies are extremely masculine (or even male Aspies!) is a borderline sexist comment. And I also fully understand how invalid that view is in terms of modern psychology. I am a big believer that the only difference between males and females is what society expects of us. And... you know, basic biology. But recently I've been questioning that belief a little bit. According to some recent socialization I've done, I don't understand the difference between "chick" music and "guy" music. I didn't think there was such a thing, then apparently I tortured a guy by making him listen to "chick" music. Two different people used that exact phrase. Anyway, that combined with the research I've been doing into the differences between how Asperger's appears in males and females has made me a little bit hesitant to jump on my "we're all the same!" soapbox.

Verdandi wrote:
I also do not think there's anything particularly "male" or "left-brained" about interest in science fiction, except for social expectations that women should like other kinds of fiction. It doesn't take much to find a lot of women who are also science fiction fans - just look at the fan communities on Livejournal for one example. This is one of the problems with taking a cultural attitude and making it a matter of neurology.


Again, I'm still a bit torn on this subject. I mean, I'm certainly not going to go out there and say that no woman in her right mind would ever like sci-fi/something typically seen as masculine. I myself am a female who likes sci-fi. But the thing that really stands out to me is the feeling I got when I was younger looking over at the "adult" section of the library. All the books were about family troubles and relationships and wanting kids and wanting the cute boyfriend and all that other "girly" stuff, and I remember thinking how I was never going to grow up and read "adult" books because they were all so boring. I want the books about monsters and adventures and far away places. I know I'm nothing like alone in this, but if it just boils down to personal preference, why do all these books clearly marketed to men or women exist? Does society teach men and women what kind of books to enjoy through adherence to gender roles, or are men and women more likely to like books with different focuses? It seems to me that the latter is more likely. I don't know how much weight you can place on BaronCohen's Empathy vs. Systemizing theory, but if you believe that studies show that the average woman is more empathetic and the average man is more systematic, it would make sense that their reading choices would reflect that. And it would also make sense that people on the spectrum, who are noted to often be extreme systemizers and low empathizers, would also make reading choices that reflect this. I honestly think it's less of subject matter than it is of writing style, though. A "masculine" writing style tends to focus more on concrete details and physical conflicts over emotional ones, which could be part of the appeal to both NT males and people on the spectrum.

But like I said, I'm really kind of torn on the subject. I'm just not sure what to believe right now about maleness vs. femaleness. It's hard reconciling my own experiences and beliefs with what research defines as "normal."

Verdandi wrote:
That said, while I have had trouble understanding fictional characters' intentions, I didn't really notice because a) their actions often made sense in retrospect, and b) I didn't realize I was experiencing a deficit.


Do you mind if I ask you to give me a bit more detail about this? One of the tricky things I think there is about self-diagnosing Asperger's is it's hard to recognize when you have difficulties in areas like this. For instance, I didn't think I had trouble reading faces until I took a test with my sister and learned how differently we saw things. What you said about things making sense in retrospect resonates with me. When I pick up a book, the characters are to me like puzzles. There's usually some point in the book where I have an "Aha!" moment and all the pieces fall together. After that, everything is just crystal clear. And I love books for that. That "Aha!" moment is just amazing. And it's the same way for me with people. Does this sound similar to your experiences?

Verdandi wrote:
3) There are two kinds of empathy - cognitive empathy and affective empathy. The former is the ability to look at someone and tell what they are thinking, and determine now to react to them. Autistic people tend to lack this and intellectualize it to some degree. I know I have. Affective empathy is the ability to look at someone and know what they're feeling, but not necessarily how to translate that knowledge into social action. Autistic people tend to have as much of this as neurotypicals. I do think that neurotypicals are impaired in their cognitive empathy toward autistic people, although this is usually defined as a deficit in autistic people to use nonverbal cues.


I had not heard of this before. Thanks for bringing it to my attention! I'm going to look some more into that, I think.

katzefrau wrote:
i think it's that we're supposed to be more interested in train schedules than human interaction.


Yeah, but what confounds me is why, exactly? The biggest thing to me is, it just seems from my perspective that books would be an ideal alternative to seeking actual relationships for an Aspie. You can have controlled, low doses of substitute-human interaction without the strain that people put on us. From my perspective, books have the things Aspies enjoy without the things that make actual socializing difficult (facial expressions, etc.). And if Aspies freely seek human interaction (i.e. "active but odd") then why is it that they are rumored to dislike fiction? What is it that is repulsive about books that isn't about human interaction?

(Also, that is why the TL;DR version exists. I know I have a tendency to be super-wordy. It's practically a necessity. XD)

Verdandi wrote:
Oh, and there has never been a time that I did not enjoy fiction: Science fiction, fantasy, murder mysteries, some of the classics (I read The Three Musketeers on my own in grade school, IIRC, not because it was ever assigned in a class). The fiction that compelled me the most was fantasy or horror, followed by SF.


Thank you. You help me to understand myself. : D



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24 May 2011, 1:14 am

mori_pastel wrote:
1. Where do you think the rumor that Aspies hate reading stems from: difficulties tolerating as much socialization as NTs, are Aspies simply incapable of understanding fiction books because of a lack of empathy, or is this rumor simply the end result of Aspies being more “male-brained”/”left brain” than the average neurotypical? Why?


I have no idea on the answer to this one. I for one loved to read, and I read both both and non-fiction. The older I got, the more I chose non-fiction; however, I still read some fiction as well.


mori_pastel wrote:
2. If you are a diagnosed Aspie, do you have difficulties understanding things like motivation in works of fiction? Where do you think this trouble stems from? What kind of things strike you as difficult or frustrating? (Note: A good example would NOT be something you read in your English class; those books are designed to be challenging reads. A good example would be something one of your friends/siblings/peers would pick up and read for fun.)


Yes, definitely. I also have trouble understanding motivation. I never know what will happen next or what people's intentions are. That is not for lack of trying, either. Sometimes I think I have this great theory in my mind and that I finally just "got it". Then I prove myself wrong again. I don't know where this trouble comes from except to say that I believe it is because I am autistic and I am mind-blind.


mori_pastel wrote:
3. In general, what are your thoughts on empathy and Asperger’s? How would you define empathy? Do you think Aspies lack empathy? What do you think of the author’s opinion in the quote provided that NTs seem to lack empathy just as much as Aspies do, that we both have problems relating to one another, and that Aspies are only labeled empathetically challenged because we can’t relate to the majority of people (NTs)?


I know a lot of people here will disagree with me, but I do believe real empathy is difficult for people on the spectrum. As a person with autism, I know firsthand that we do not lack emotion and cannot feel sympathy for a person. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person's shoes and understand how they think and feel. I think this is a true challenge for many people with autism, even if they do not realize it. Me personally, I definitely lack empathy and always have. I do have a lot of sympathy for certain people in certain situations though.



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24 May 2011, 1:36 am

littlelily613 wrote:
I have no idea on the answer to this one. I for one loved to read, and I read both both and non-fiction. The older I got, the more I chose non-fiction; however, I still read some fiction as well.


Do you mind if I ask if you believe this is because fiction geared towards your age level became less interesting to you, or if it was because you just stopped having an interest in fiction in general?

littlelily613 wrote:
Yes, definitely. I also have trouble understanding motivation. I never know what will happen next or what people's intentions are. That is not for lack of trying, either. Sometimes I think I have this great theory in my mind and that I finally just "got it". Then I prove myself wrong again. I don't know where this trouble comes from except to say that I believe it is because I am autistic and I am mind-blind.


Do you mind if I ask you for a concrete example of this? You don't have to tell me the whole plot of the book, but just enough to understand an instance where you missed something you thought you shouldn't have. The reason I'm asking is that I think that a difficulty in understanding motivation would be difficult to gauge when looking at reading. In social interaction it manifests in easier to notice ways such as bullying or getting taken advantage of or simply being thought of as dumb for missing something. With a book, I don't know how you'd draw the line between the element of confusion that the author intended when s/he wrote the text and an extra level of confusion you experience due to being on the spectrum. Also, what exactly makes you feel as if you experience mind-blindness while reading? Do you feel you miss things in the book other people easily understood? I'm not trying to undermine your own beliefs in any way, it's simply that I am trying to understand my own behaviors by comparative analysis.

For instance, I have an online friend who shares similar tastes to me in games. We often play games at the same time and talk to each other about our progress. There have frequently been instances in these discussions where when we predict the outcome of the circumstances within the game that he was spot on and I was really quite horribly wrong. I know for a fact that my friend is NT. Is this an indication that I am suffering mind-blindness as well, or is this just and example of two different people with two different ways of looking at the same thing? I don't know how to even begin to understand that.

littlelily613 wrote:
I know a lot of people here will disagree with me, but I do believe real empathy is difficult for people on the spectrum. As a person with autism, I know firsthand that we do not lack emotion and cannot feel sympathy for a person. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person's shoes and understand how they think and feel. I think this is a true challenge for many people with autism, even if they do not realize it. Me personally, I definitely lack empathy and always have. I do have a lot of sympathy for certain people in certain situations though.


I agree with you. Difficulty with being able to "put yourself in another person's shoes" can be clearly seen in situations where a person on the spectrum has to comfort another/etc. I think that Verdandi brought up an interesting point though. Did you see where she defined the differences between cognitive and affective empathy? I think clinically that might be a more precise way of saying what you're saying.



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24 May 2011, 2:11 am

I love novels, but I get overwhelmed and confused. I have studied this, and have come to the conclusion that my brain focuses in on the details (strong AS trait) at the expense of containing the narrative (strong AS trait)

All the above is down to my Working memory problems which are severe. Executive function and working memory amongst folk with AS is very varied.

If you look at the works of people in the spectrum like Lewis Carol, Hans Christian Anderson, Emily Dickinson, they were unable to hold narrative and create it........

I am very right brained, strongly sensing and my natural language is one where metaphor and the use of figurative language is blossoming all over the place.......but my ability to hold a story together is crap, so sadly most novels frustrate not because I dont understand human nature, i do, I just can process a story line to save my life.



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24 May 2011, 4:20 am

I have never enjoyed reading ficton, and once I finished school I stopped.

For me it stems from a number of issues-

My lack of visual imagination (I think in words). I could not imagine what a character, place or situation looked like. A lot of fiction is very descriptive to "paint a picture" for the reader. But for me it paints nothing and so I find much of it just boring. I can read an entire book without forming a single idea of what a character/place looks like. It makes it quite difficult to keep track of the characters.

Perhaps because of this I find it hard to connect with the characters and hard to feel anything about them.

My thirst for knowledge definitely influences what I read. I mostly can't see the point in reading something that doesn't teach me hard facts. I don't have the same need for my TV to be non-fiction though. Strange.



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24 May 2011, 5:22 am

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1. Where do you think the rumor that Aspies hate reading stems from: difficulties tolerating as much socialization as NTs, are Aspies simply incapable of understanding fiction books because of a lack of empathy, or is this rumor simply the end result of Aspies being more “male-brained”/”left brain” than the average neurotypical? Why?

2. If you are a diagnosed Aspie, do you have difficulties understanding things like motivation in works of fiction? Where do you think this trouble stems from? What kind of things strike you as difficult or frustrating? (Note: A good example would NOT be something you read in your English class; those books are designed to be challenging reads. A good example would be something one of your friends/siblings/peers would pick up and read for fun.)


I cant speak for other aspies but I hate reading fiction, any kind of fiction. I cant follow the storyline, I try to read it, I just cant get into the book and I get lost a lot. My mom tried really hard to get me into the habit of reading. The only kind of reading I ever do is non-fiction reading. Its the same thing with movies made for adults, I'll miss many subtleties and I dont know how one thing jumped to another. Childrens movies and teen movies are fine.

Quote:
3. In general, what are your thoughts on empathy and Asperger’s? How would you define empathy? Do you think Aspies lack empathy? What do you think of the author’s opinion in the quote provided that NTs seem to lack empathy just as much as Aspies do, that we both have problems relating to one another, and that Aspies are only labeled empathetically challenged because we can’t relate to the majority of people (NTs)?


Aspies do have empathy, we just have a hard time identifying emotions and knowing how to react approprietely even when we can identify the emotions. We're not as cold as people think, we just cant express it. As for myself, I have little empathy. I can theoretically identify a bad situation and think an approprete course of action should happen but I cant feel for someone else nor can I take care of someone else. Empathy also extends to more then just a persons problems, its feeling what other people feel. Ive been told many times that a smile is contagenous. For me, a smile isnt always contagenous, to a small extent, not as much as others. Im slowly learning to "fake" empathy. I get a sense of how NTs expect me to react to different situations, so I just try to give them what they want.



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24 May 2011, 6:08 am

The term "fiction" is too broad - it covers everything from YA emo-authors like Maureen Johnson to science fiction like Frank Herbert to traditional fiction like Thomas Hardy.

My guess is that autistic-spectrum people do not get much out of Thomas Hardy style fiction which is all about relationships and emotions. In fact, I look back at books I read in school now that I know what AS is and finally understand why I didn't understand them at the time. But I imagine that most would like some sort of fiction, particularly narratives in which something actually happens besides emo-relational stuff. "Return of the Native", for example, doesn't have a discernable narrative plot - people just go around having emo-trips and being melodramatic. To me, it's very hard to understand. "Dune" as a counter-example, has a narrative plot where something happens. Johnson, as another example, tends to construct budding narcissists in their teen years as characters and you want to tell them to get over themselves.



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24 May 2011, 6:35 am

mori_pastel wrote:
But that said, it’s not a perfect fit. There are some “typical Aspie” traits that don’t apply to me. And the ill-fitting criteria I’m obsessing over today is fiction.


This is the important thing in all your words.There is no such thing a a perfect fit. Ironically, your obsession over this strikes me as another indication of Asperger's (perserveration).

There is not one criteria that is required to be present in ALL aspies. There are multiple criteria, of which you must have enough present. What you are doing is equivalent to insisting that all cars must be red convertibles with a 600 horsepower motor and ground effects. And your vehicle only has 599 horsepower. And is a burgundy. And a T-Top.

Go get a real car!


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24 May 2011, 6:38 am

Well, to be honest, I've never heard of this before. I am diagnosed, and read about a book a week, more if possible. Of course most of them fall within the sci-fi category. During the literature class I used to be the most vocal of my classmates (most of whom hadn't even read the books) and had relatively good analyses so, just like with NTs, reading in aspies must come from an interest in fiction.

I definitely have empathy for people, but am unsure on how to act on it if someone is for example sad. Because of this I often seem uncaring and thoughtless.



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24 May 2011, 8:50 am

I'm a very slow reader, and I have a tendency to read the same books over and over again. Besides science fiction novels, I've read a lot of science oriented books, e.g. astronomy, physics, geology, other natural sciences (junior and adult books). Obviously, they contained little about human interactions. I've only read a couple of fiction books voluntarily, and a few compulsory readings, mainly (now) classic literature. I think characters in sci-fi novels tend to be more simplified than in standard fiction, but it may be only my bias on my interests.

Usually I'm not good at estimating or foreseeing the motives of the characters, especially the villainous ones, so I get surprised frequently.

mori_pastel wrote:
(...)The biggest thing to me is, it just seems from my perspective that books would be an ideal alternative to seeking actual relationships for an Aspie. You can have controlled, low doses of substitute-human interaction without the strain that people put on us. From my perspective, books have the things Aspies enjoy without the things that make actual socializing difficult (facial expressions, etc.). And if Aspies freely seek human interaction (i.e. "active but odd") then why is it that they are rumored to dislike fiction? What is it that is repulsive about books that isn't about human interaction?

Perhaps, we can not realize the importance of the social interactions, thus, have no interest in them. At least, I imagine myself so.

To me, social interactions felt superfluous in a sense. I could not understand them and their purpose, had little to none knowledge about them, and I didn't feel the urge to have one anyway, while I had my interests satisfied with more factual knowledge, combined with the phantasy world of a teenager or a kid. Later came the fascination with philosophy. This leads here:

Quote:
Our love of science fiction is usually due the new ideas, imagination and philosophy expressed. Science fiction, besides having great imaginary worlds and people contained therein which is just plain fun, is full of allegory and ideas that are mind expanding. Sometimes questions are raised and by taking you outside the real world you can look objectively at issues, many philosophical. Sometimes it is a fight between good and evil and since many Aspergers have strong sense of justice, this appeals to us. Many non-Aspergers want stories about real life but we have to live real life why read about it? We care about people and their problems but don't want to read stories that go on and on about the problems. We would rather sympathise, then try to come up with a solutions (the male brain). I've been told by several people that I am better than the average person at perceiving intentions. I prefer science fiction with a good character (hero) that I can root for, which is the best of both.


Putting yourself in a fictional world helps to release some pain accumulated in the real life. Fictional worlds are always easier to deal with. The more detached from the real word you are, the more you read. And, you don't want to read about unsettling stories that remind you of your difficulties with society.

I very much appreciate the work of Stanislaw Lem, the best sci-fi writer of all times IMHO. Lem expresses his doubts regarding black-and-white philosophical views, and also, in too optimistic, human-like (anthropomorphe) approaches of the contact with other worlds (not only civilizations). It is not surprising, that I don't like stories built around the concept of "good guys" and "bad guys". Something I seem to differ from others. His critically most acclaimed novel, Solaris, has so much layers I always notice something new when I re-read it, and it is a pure pleasure to read anyway.

I also don't support the male-brain idea. Considering my general lack of masculine stereotypical behaviour, only the extreme-systemizer property remains, which might be easily attributed to impaired social abilities, independently of genders.

About empathy. This question still hits me with puzzled-mind. Though I had been thinking about it, I still lack comprehension. I'm sure I can feel empathy in some cases, when the situation is simple, e.g. a child cries in my presence. On cognitive levels, it is much more difficult to me. One example for a strange and appalling behaviour of mine I experienced in my life was "the lack of empathy" when my grandmother died after a series of suffering. I felt relieved when I was supposed to show pain...