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Aili
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29 May 2009, 6:47 am

i never thought of the differences between empathy and sympathy and so i find this discussion very interesting. I've always felt that aspies have emotions, including empathy, but we lack the language to communicate them in an NT way.

However, i'm not so sure the OP's question was about the how tos of empathizing.

Quote:
Can an NT person tone down their emotions when they are in a volatile state? And other than hiding or screaming, do you have any helpful suggestions for alternatives?


I think that it has to come from them. I've learned that i have be firm about my limits--what i can accept, what i cannot. i have to repeat them often because i think that NTs (or maybe its just NT men ;) don't take rules/limits that seriously. Especially ones they don't understand. You've done this No_Exit and i hope you let us know if it works.

i think that any real change does have to come form her. in my situation i tried every technique i could think of: getting volatile back (just prolonged the outburst), trying to use logic and reason (my calmness made him feel irrational and was taken as a lack of respect), leaving the scene (noise just got louder), waiting patiently with a look of concern and compassion on my face (i practiced but it must have still looked fake ... so ...).

things that worked some of the time but did not give consistent results: diffusing the situation with a joke (30% of the time, risk of serious backfire). apologizing profusely (only trick was to find what it was i needed to apologize for and about another 30% of the time it ended up as a joke as i tried to blame myself for making him spill coffee over himself or some such thing. but hey, that's 60% covered!).

things to avoid an outburst: make sure he's fed and well rested.

what finally -- after 15 years -- allowed him to change and check himself before he started hitting the roof: jesus* and sex (not together of course)




(* jesus was his idea and his idea alone. i don't mean that to come across as advice. just wanted to point out that he needed to find his own solution. and hey, jesus was an aspie, so he can't be that bad...right?)



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29 May 2009, 6:53 am

gbollard wrote:
With Empathy, it goes beyond that. You will feel sad as well.


nope, that's "advanced" empathy, when you actually feel what another person is feeling...i know like 1 person who can do it, it's a gift, and most NT's don't even have that. empathy is just about completely grasping/understanding what another person is feeling, you don't have to feel anything yourself, you just have to grasp what they're all about at that moment in time, and possibly (if you're nice) make a few adjustments for them that day, or hug them or something.

people find it difficult to empathise with me...they just don't get me, they can't really grasp what my past was like, who i'm all about, and what i'm trying to do with my life now, it really puzzles my gf, as she finds me really easy to understand. i'm much better at empathising with NT's than they are at empathising with mex



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29 May 2009, 7:31 am

The book I'm reading at the moment says that Empathy is an attempt to translate the German Einfuhlung meaning "to feel as one with"

The author, though, makes an action verb out of empathise, which he uses to mean getting a useful emotional response from the person you're in conflict with by a combination of reflective listening and innovative responses. Interesting stuff - I'll experiment more with it. The really interesting part is that the techniques he describes sound like they'll work just as well for aspies - he recommends overriding the immediate anger response to conflict, for example.

"I'm Right, You're Wrong, Now What?" by Xavier Amador for the source material fanatics.

This supports my gut feeling that the whole EI and empathy thing is an explanatory facade to cover the fact that human relations generally is a house of cards. Which gives me a modicum of hope.



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30 May 2009, 5:12 pm

I thought I had a lot of empathy because I care so much about other people's feelings but now I realize my empathy is terrible. If I upset my husband, I take what he's going through way, way harder than he does. I have trouble being in synch with the degree of someone else's feelings.

My husband, who is also on the spectrum, errs in the other direction and will, more often, not take someone else's feelings as seriously as they probably should have been taken. Both of us have to talk a lot about it. I even ask him, "on a scale of one to ten, how much do you care about this?"


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MKDP
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31 May 2009, 11:48 am

mikemmlj wrote:
Your post made me laugh man, that was an intense way to ask your question. The short answer to your question is yes, but remember most of us aren't professionals here, and your question is pretty in depth pal.. :D ..Are you trying to understand female emotions through logic and reason? That would drive Spock to a mental breakdown!


I don't think Spock had any girlfriends, and definitely not a wife. He pretty much only related to the ship's computers, or mind-melded with alien reptilian-type "intelligent" species.



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31 May 2009, 1:35 pm

No_Exit wrote:
Hello all,

Other than my introduction a day or two ago, this is my first official post. For those that may not have seen my intro (which may be pretty much everyone if you are like me and not inclined to look at the "introduction" section of a forum), I am 46, recently diagnosed (officially), married w/kids, professionally doing fine, sometimes socially inept, and completely inept at empathizing with NT adult female emotions.

My question relates to the concept of empathy in a relationship. My understanding of empathy (and correct me if I am wrong) is that empathy means to "understand another person's situation, feelings, and motives as though you were in walking their shoes." Further, as I have come to understand, there's also a closely related notion of a "correct way" to "show" empathy. That is, after you empathize with another's emotion, you are supposed to "do X" to demonstrate your empathy.

Drum roll... My actual question is this: Is it reasonable to view empathy as a two-way street? That is, in an AS/NT relationship, should both partners endeavor to demonstrate empathy toward the other?

Now that I understand what empathy is and how it is important in my relationship with my wife, I'm trying to learn (as quickly as possible) how to interpret her emotions and respond in the way that she needs. At the same time, when she is in a state of emotional volatility (by that I mean high intensity, rapidly changing or even simultaneously felt emotions), I simply cannot keep up and I become overwhelmed and want to either (a) scream or (b) hide.

It doesn't help that this often occurs when I am trying to solve a problem like "help get my (also AS) son to school." It's hard enough to get him to school sometimes. But, when she gets emotional about the fact that he can be hard to get to school, it makes it even more difficult ... (at least for me).

I'd like to be able to ask her to, "please understand that when your emotional intensity is high, I just want to scream or hide, and it makes it hard to complete important things, like getting <son's name> to school."

Does that make any sense? Can an NT person tone down their emotions when they are in a volatile state? And other than hiding or screaming, do you have any helpful suggestions for alternatives? To me it is painful to hear, like nails on a chalkboard. (Hmm... I think that description is something I might want to include in the discussion, assuming it makes sense to talk to her about it.)

TIA,

"Doc"


I don't think your Aspie-ness and my autism condition are at all alike. First, I do understand empathy, and would not need a lecture with drum rolls to explain or introduce the subject. Also, in my long experience, I find it is usually more the neurotypical who stays cool and likes to bait the spectrum person into having a meltdown or going off. I don't usually find neurptyicals as you describe going tnto "volatile states," or "hiding and screaming." They usually have more frontal impulse control than that, and is why they are better are lying in wait to deceive and bait a spectrum person -- if the two are fighting or something.

And as far as neurotypicals presenting "emotional intensity" to a spectrum person the spectrum person's can't take, I tend to find that, too, a very calculated manuever in the neurotypicals designed to cause an upset to the autie. For instance, I can't take people coming too close proximity and breaching my space boundaries while wildly waiving their arms around and elevating their voice in sound or animation intensity. I guess due to so much actual violence of others perpetrated onto me over a lifetime, it outs me into a feeling of experiencing lack of safety. That situation can set me off into a freakout, and I run away or scream back and put my hands over my ears, to tell the other person to stop what, to me, is a violation of the calmness, stabillity, and safety I need in my environment. But I have seen neurotypicals deliberately bait me this way, especially if they want to pick a fight or cause a meltdown, and after they have seen it occur with other disabled folks who inadvertently did this around me, like my old roomate with the TBI, Jeamie, when she got agitated and emotional would lose motor control and her left arm would raise and wave around over her head, and it was just something that I couldn't take. We worked this out, since we were roomates, and when it happened, we would just put more physical space boundary distance between ourselves, but other neurotypicals who have seen my inability to take this type of event, have in the past actually baited me to use it against me as a form of aggresion toward me. And it does really suck, because it does set off a sensory safety issue freakout and meltdown in me.

I really can't take it when anyone screams-shouts-yells, not just a neurotypical -- I have hyperacusia cortical sensory hearing issues -- too loud noises are a real problems for me, especially certain sounds and especially if they are speech ones. I tend to throw my hands over my ears because I get immediate shooting-stabbing pains in my ears, and sets off instant headaches, and I either have to run out of the room or tend to scream back even louder to stop the noise. But I don't really have a problem if a neurotypical hides. Doesn't bother me in the least, and psychologically, all people and animals that use a hiding strategy have to come out sooner or later. Being patient is not a problem for me. It is the sensory attacks I can't take, just my neurology of the autism difference. But then, people who deal with you or with whom you have a friendship or relationship are capable of understanding these autism issues and adjusting for them -- if they care about you. Just like we have to adjust to some of their neurotypical problems. Everyone understands how to be quiet while an elderly person is taking an afternoon nap, so it is not such a leap for a neurotypical to understand auties need quiet and calm environments. When the neurotypical disregards this, I see it more as atrociously bad manners on their part and definitely an incursion of the relationship, that hopefully can be addressed in a way that both perople can co-exist with.

I never really had a problem getting kids to school or into the horse show ring, or carrying oout other time-deadline tasks even in the middle of extreme environmental chaos -- just one of my abilities to separate them and carry on with the activities that need to be done despite other chaos-meltdowns-whatever going on around me with others, or provoked by others in myself.



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31 May 2009, 1:45 pm

No_Exit wrote:
mikemmlj wrote:
Are you trying to understand female emotions through logic and reason? That would drive Spock to a mental breakdown!


LOL. I tried the logic approach for many years and failed miserably. I'm just trying to figure out what her emotions look like and then what she likes to hear me say in response. That's probably what NT men do from the start, while it took me 18 years and a new diagnosis to figure it out. 8O

I really can get the emotions if she gives me a little time. But, when she's stressed out, her emotional state changes so fast that she's already at State 5 before I've figured out State 1. And this can occur literally within a minute or two ... It's frightening, one minute she's levitating over the bed, then she might turn her head 360 degrees and puke green stuff on me. Ok. I'm exaggerating a little. But, the rate of change was not exaggerated. :lol:


I have problems recognizing some of the emotions in a neurotypical, but I do recognize enough of them/know what they look like to relate. And I don't really have any problems processing rapidly changing neurotypical emotions like that, if I *get* the particular emotion I am seeing during the rapid-fore of so many emotions -- referring to the scenario that you depicted. Figuring out my response, that is a little more ackward for me sometimes.

FYI, I don't think the Exorcist stereotype really helps spectrum discussions, since it is really, to me, a very offensive stereotype, and one others have used on me to depict my autism. And, moreover, I did ride horses in the same barn as Linda Blair before and during while she was making the movie, and she used my autism as her study to act her part in the movie. Which, though I love Linda and we were dear friends, I also found highly offensive. (I am not one who has a problem separating the issue I don't like from the person I do like).



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31 May 2009, 2:03 pm

mikebw wrote:
A definition that kind of made sense to me is this: Sympathy is having feelings for a person, key word FOR. Empathy is having feelings with a person, key word WITH. Sympathy does not require experience, while empathy usually does, that is to say that to sympathize with someone you need never to have been in their shoes, whereas to empathize with someone you need to have had a similar experience.

And in my experience asking someone who is highly emotional to tone it down is a good way to get them to turn it up. So I'd not suggest going the direct route to accomplish that.

Good luck.


Yes, funny -- your observation. This is one of the things you learn when you give a lot of riding lessons to children -- the art of reverse psychology of getting them to do what you want by telling them to do exactly the opposite. It works everytime, like a charm. But the parents tend to go a bit nuts as they are standing at the arena railing -- of course, they wouldn't be sending you their little darlings to work with in the riding lessons if they were not having problems getting thie children to do the things they ask of them !

I had one little girl with a major "can't harm the animals PETA complex," who was about 12. She was slender and had fairly weak legs in terms of squeezing to keep ponies and horses in the canter without wearing out over a regular workout--she was so delicate, and the pony she most loved to ride and requested for her lessons, had a real lazy streak when it came to figuring out a rider wasn't on top of keeping her in the canter. So, a once or twice wack with the riding crop-enforcement to the leg was frequently necessary with the pony to remind her to maintain the canter with a weaker rider like this particular child student.

The PETA objections went on for awhile, several lessons, with her mother coming over to the arena fence everytime I asked her to give the pony a wack with the crop as pony was about to break the canter back to a trot (not allowed in horse shows, would get point deductions and eliminated from the ribbon placings for this), to explain to me why her darling felt emotionally unable to use the crop -- the PETA problem. It was getting very frustrating, because we would go to the little horse shows, and when the gilr would break the canter and be left out of the ribbons, the tears would start and a big crying session ensue. And everyone would feel terrible.

So finally, during one of our lessons, I told the little girl at the point of the impasse when I asked the canter and the child refused to use the crop and went into her typical PETA litany, that unfortunately we would not have time to get to the jumping part of the lesson, and probably wouldn't have time for the carrots after the lesson, either, because I could see we were going to have to spend the entire lesson and the carrot time working the canter, and it was awful because it was so hot outside, but I knew how much she loved to jump and feed the pony her carrots, and I was truly very sad for her we would be running out of time; then I turned my back and walked away from her and toward her mother standing at the arena railing. within seconds, I heard a couple loud wacks with the crop, perfectly administered to the pony, and looked back, and amazingly, my little darling riding student was cantering with no problems at all ! I never heard another PETA objection, either. And then, the horse show ribbons came, along with all the smiles.

So, funny, your observation -- how true.



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31 May 2009, 2:24 pm

No_Exit wrote:
Aili wrote:
Understanding why a person gets stressed out in stressful situations is not empathy in my opinion. I also don't think wigging-out over little things is a female thing. It's a stereotype.


Aili,

You are so right and I apologize for being overly general in what I said. In this regard, I've had similar experiences with NT males. My initial reactions are roughly the same, though I am better at handling out of control male emotions now. When I was younger I would hide. Then I took martial arts and decided to start screaming and pounding my chest like the other guys. That was equally pointless.

Now I just ignore them or tell jokes, depending on the situation. For example, about a month ago I was flipped off at the kart track. After the race session I went up to the guy and said, "hey, I noticed you signaled to me that I was number 1. But you are mistaken... I was number 2 in that race. My 8 year old son, the one who beat both of us, was number 1." The guy laughed when he realized I was really joking, that I wasn't angry, and that my 8 year old son is freakishly fast in a go kart.

Aili wrote:
Yes, i do believe our spouses need to learn how to be empathic with us. They need to learn how *their* tantrums hurt *us*. It's abusive otherwise. pure and simple.


I've always felt that way. FWIW, I did discuss the issue with her. It seemed to go ok. Will see if it has an effect the next time she's stressed out.

On another topic, how would I recognize if a woman I know well has AS? For example, my sister... She's sure an awful lot like me (diagnosed), my son (diagnosed) and our dad (not diagnosed but who IMO seems very AS-like in many respects).

Best,


I, too, have tried to conform to *be* a neurotypical, but after a lifetime I have realized I just can't do it because I am NOT a neurotypical ! But how is it a bad thing to be what we are -- spectrum people ? And you don;t need to repeat your 'everyone is on a spectrum,' analysis from the other thread -- I heard it, and I agreed with you there. Yet, I know as a person with autism, I am NOT capable of becoming a neurotypical perfectly -- although I do try my best to be ont he same wavelength so we can relate.

As far as a spouse's tantrums and abuse that is aimed at us, that may even trigger us to have our own meltdown or not be getting along or even fall out of love with the person, I also addressed that I believe, on the other thread -- as to me and my own situation.

My spouse has TBI, and unfortunately major frontal lobe damage and epilepsy (which I did not know about when I married him), and when he goes off, I am not always sure there is an intentionality or volition-ness to his acts or abuse of me, it just is part of his brain impairments. That does not, however, make it go any easier on me, since I don't like being caught in the cross-fire of his episodes of going off into a sometimes violent rage streak. I have actually been attacked a few times he has woken up and gone into a rage over something (as trivial as losing his glasses and thinking it is my fault when I never even saw his glasses), and I mean a Real Evil Scary RAGE, and he has begun hitting me and dragged me off my bed by my hair and ears as I am coming to, waking up, not yet copis and not yet fully comprehending or realizing what is happening to me -- jolted out of a deep REM sleep cycle.

So, even though I do have my own autism issues with sensory overloads, and sensory reaction meltdowns, etc., there are aspects of my marriage that I really don't know how to deal with that are MAJOR issues of safety for me. It doesn't do any good to tell my spouse to stop, because when he gets in these uncontrollable TBI rages, he is ... completely out of control, so can't control himself -- and he denies he has any problems, and he refuses to let anyone talk about it (I am not even supposed to be talking about it, since we have to hide our little anger-problem because we have a professional license !), and he also has repeatedly refused to take the Dilantin his psychiatrist prescribed ! ! I would not have a problem with a person deciding not to take the medication for a good reason, but in his case it is necessary to control his uncontrollable rages, and at that point, it is really a matter of SAFETY -- for me, my safety. And I really don't know how you can have a relationship when you are having thiese kinds of problems, even though through his Jeckle-Hyde events, the nicer, better person does eventually come back out.



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31 May 2009, 2:32 pm

No_Exit wrote:
gbollard wrote:
Empathy is much more than understanding of one's feelings.

It's very easy to understand why someone is crying when a loved one dies.

With Empathy, it goes beyond that. You will feel sad as well.


Actually, that's the definition of sympathy, not empathy. And IMO it is a common mistake that many people make when they hear that aspies aren't good at empathy.

I'm actually great at sympathy. But that gets me nowhere as (1) for those that want sympathy, you must first have empathy and (2) my wife prefers empathy with no sympathy. (Perhaps strange, but true.)

gbollard wrote:
Instead, concentrating on your question... You can't do anything "in the moment". Once your wife has "lost it", you'll have to wait until she calms down. Instead, you could say.

"Tomorrow, I'm going to try a different method of getting our son to school". I need you to just watch without becoming involved because it might work, or it might not. Make it clear that it's a sign of respect to give you a chance to see if it works.


Now that is a very interesting suggestion that just might work with her. I noted that someone earlier said something like "don't say anything when she's upset," which is my SOP. But, your suggestion could actually allow me to say something at the time (thereby reducing the nail on chalkboard sensation) and not risk making her even more agitated.

Thanks all for your thoughtful suggestions. Gotta run now for "family time."

Best,


I am amazed when other people just can't figure out how to deal with autie meltdowns, agitation, sensory overloads, etc. For me, what always works everytime, is just the other person, rather than reacting with escalation of the upset (or wanting to drug it), just comes over and gives a very long, very deep, pressure hug and holds me for awhile and tells me it is ok -- this calms the overstimulation, for me. But, heck if I have ever met ANYONE who *gets* this is how to calm me down. Most people just don't understand autism and how to deal with it.



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31 May 2009, 2:41 pm

No_Exit wrote:
gbollard wrote:

Sympathy is when you feel sorry FOR someone - as in "oh, the poor guy has lost his relative"
Empathy is when you feel the emotion in their shoes - as in "oh... it would be awful if I lost my relative"


I have never found a definition of empathy that contains the word "feel" in it. IMO that's a slippery slope. But, to avoid a semantics-related argument (that probably won't help much in the end), I think the situation is much more complex than either of us can really discuss succinctly as we've tried. My thoughts about the topic are more along the lines of the following, which I think is a more complete treatment of the relationship between empathy and sympathy.

http://www.scn.org/people/autistics/empathy.html

Best,


The article is ok, but sounds more like it was written by a neurotypical trying to guess what empathy is like from the perspective of the specrum person (a ToM issue). For me, the description that peopel with autism cannot describe their feelings and emotions in words is a wrong take on how it is. I can described all of my feelings and emotions in words, with teh caveat that I process letters and words as picture symbols. But, I can describe -- articulate -- exactly what it is I am experiencing or feeling or the emotion, and this is true even with some of my more traumatic aspects of my life. I don't experience it as just some sensory that I can't put words to describe. Although, I am pretty fairly certian I do disassociate in response to extreme stress and/or extreme traumatic events, because without the slitting and compartmentalizing off of the sterssor/trauma event, there is no way to carry out every day tasks to carry on and move forward -- it is, by the way, the compartmentalizing, a skill they actually teach you in law school ! Perfect for the need to disassociate and cause a splitting. It is a much better way to cope with things that ever strike, harm, or hurt another person -- which, thankfully for all my Mom's autism interventions, instillled in me a person does not do even when under the most extreme of stressors/trauma. I have never been unsafe to any other person; however, that does not mean I don't disassociate, which does not necessarily always help and can have longer-term harmful effects on me.



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31 May 2009, 2:47 pm

apologies I am making so many typos today -- I am having extreme pain syndromes everywhere. Corrected some below.

MKDP wrote:
"because without the slitting and compartmentalizing off of the sterssor/trauma event" = because without the splitting and compartmentalizing off of the stressor/trauma event"

"It is a much better way to cope with things that ever strike, harm, or hurt another person" = it is a much better way to cope with things than ever strike, harm, or hurt another person



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31 May 2009, 3:18 pm

gbollard wrote:
No_Exit wrote:
gbollard wrote:
Empathy is much more than understanding of one's feelings.

It's very easy to understand why someone is crying when a loved one dies.

With Empathy, it goes beyond that. You will feel sad as well.


Actually, that's the definition of sympathy, not empathy. And IMO it is a common mistake that many people make when they hear that aspies aren't good at empathy.


Actually. I don't think it's sympathy.

Sympathy is when you feel sorry FOR someone - as in "oh, the poor guy has lost his relative"
Empathy is when you feel the emotion in their shoes - as in "oh... it would be awful if I lost my relative"


I don't know why neurotypicals assume we people with autism cannot feel sympathy or empathy. I had a terrible experience, an unavoidable accident, very difficult to deal with for a person with autism and the little empathy deficits, that I think really is an example of how sometimes we don't ask to be thrown into these situations, but it can happen and we have to deal with our empathy deficits sometimes in terribly difficult circumstances.

I was driving at night to see my horse, and on a busy road with no street lighting, rural areas. There were four cars coming at me in the other lane, head-on, and two cars in front of me, all of the cars blocking the view of the edge of the woods next to the road on the opposite side of the road from my driving lane, all of which was in shadows and dark black. Unknown to me, a girl and her brother were standing near the edge of the road on my side whistling and calling the girls two large dogs to come back out of the woods and cross the roadway back to their house without regard to the traffic -- like kids do when they are not thinking about the consequences.

Out of my line of sight, and unknown to me, until they appeared less than a foot in front of my front fender directly in the path of my car, came the two dogs -- both solid black, at full run, weaving between the cars, which were all at the speed limit of 45 mph. They emerged from between two of the cars head-on to me in the opposite lane, running at top speed head and head, and there was no possible way anyone from my vantage point would or could have seen the dogs coming until there were there directly in front of me with no options to avoid hitting them.

I was suddenly faced with the terrible options of running off slightly onto the shoulder and risking ricocheting back into the oncoming traffic, which would have caused a multiple car accident and human injuries, no doubt -- or running over the dogs. There was not much shoulder on the roadway, and it dropped off into a deep ditch. There was also not time to stop a car going speed limit 45 mph when the dogs suddenly ran a foot in front of the fender. It was completely unavoidable that I could not avoid hitting the dogs, and one ran off yelping. I don't know if it was ever found subsequently to my involvement, but I did stop and accompany the children to look for that dog.

The other dog had internal injuries and was going into shock, and the girl and her brother didn't know anything about animal injuries or veterinary care. So there I am with severe autism, with a 13 year old girl I don't know and her 9 year old brother, and he says to her: "You knew you shouldn't have called the dogs, this is exactly how your other two dogs died, calling them across the road when there are cars." And their parents are nowhere in sight.

The boy was functioning just a little better than the girl, and I told him to go run and get his mother or father and the phone book for the large animal veterinarians, and he did run off to get his mother. The girl was in shock and then started sobbing -- a 13 year old, and I didn't know her, thre I am with a girl without her parents, and I had to hold her and tell her how sorry I was and it was unavoidable, and if there had been any way I could have avoided the accident, I would have done everything possible. I told her I had many animals in my life, and a horse, and had dogs before, and I was soooo sorry, if I could take it back I would. People say, well people with severe autism don't feel empathy, but believe me, I was feeling the same flood of awful feelings and emotions I know the girl I was holding was feeling about her dogs at that moment. I couldn't believe with severe autism I got thrust into this situation.

Her mother arrived with her brother, and started to try to pick up and move the injured dog with the internal injuries that had not been able to run off. I could see she did not know anything about veterinary care to injured animals. The dog needed immediate veterinary care and looked pretty iffy if it was going to make it. I had to stay with them, the mother, too, and show them how to put a blanket as a sling under the dog and not move it physically, to lift it in the sling into the back of their SUV without causing the animal to be moved. The mother was very lost on who might be the nearest large animal veterinarians, so I helped her with suggestions from what I knew (I knew some of them and where they lived with their night clinics), and got her to understand time was of the essence in getting the one dog to the veterinarian for probably surgery. The mother and brother took off for the veterinarian with the one dog. They left the girl with me to go walking several miles looking for the other dog that had run off, which we never found.

When I hear neurotypicals says we people with autism can't or don't understand empathy (or sympathy), all I can ever think of is that night. I have been in other situations, not even bad situations, but some good (a different kind of empathy--positive feelings and emotions), and can feel empathy. But, we people with autism are not supposed to be able to -- right ? We have deficits ...



No_Exit
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01 Jun 2009, 2:25 pm

mikebw wrote:
A definition that kind of made sense to me is this: Sympathy is having feelings for a person, key word FOR. Empathy is having feelings with a person, key word WITH. Sympathy does not require experience, while empathy usually does, that is to say that to sympathize with someone you need never to have been in their shoes, whereas to empathize with someone you need to have had a similar experience.


Mike,

Thanks for sharing your definitions. After I read them several times, I realized they actually work quite well in that, to empathize, you generally (but perhaps not always) have to have experience, but to sympathize you don't necessarily have to (though you can) have empathy.

By your definition, I also have to argue that aspies must therefore have empathy. We may vary in how good or bad we are at interpreting and showing it. But, we must have empathy because (a) we do have feelings and (b) we do have experiences. Therefore, when someone else has an experience that is similar to one that we have had, we must be capable of empathy. Again, how competent we are at empathy will vary. But, like most things in life, the more we practice, the better we will get.

Now, I would go one step further and say that people (NT or AS) don't even have to have the exact same experience to have empathy. For example, by having experienced anger before, I can empathize with someone else who is angry, even if I don't necessarily understand specifically why they are angry. Likewise, if my wife feels "less of a woman" at times because of certain hormonal changes that occur after 50, I can empathize with her because I too feel "less of a man" at times due to certain physical changes.

I know that my ability to empathize has improved with experience. And I think it is true that NT people had a tremendous headstart on me. But, I think that gap has narrowed so much so that I think I can empathize as well as the average NT man. Now, admittedly, that's not a particularly high standard! :lol: I'm still nowhere near as competent at empathy as a well adjusted, relatively "disorder-free" adult NT female. And I probably never will be.

I also think that, given that my son was diagnosed AS at 5 (he's now 8), he will be able to empathize much better than I could at each stage of development.

Here's another really interesting example of empathy that I finally learned one day after missing it for the first 38 years of life. When I was a child and even through most of my adulthood (until 9 years ago), I had absolutely no understanding whatsoever why anyone would ever want to have a child. I had no idea what it felt like to be "attached to a child"" or to a parent for that matter. I felt very detached with most everyone. Further, when people would oogle over babies and talk about how they wanted kids, I honestly just thought they were deluded sheep. :lol:

But then my business partner, and one of my only adult friends ever, had children. At first I thought, "how did this really smart guy turn into just another member of the deluded sheep herd?" But, then one night I went to dinner with him, his wife, and his then three-year old daughter. The connection that I saw that existed between him and his daughter somehow touched me inside. I could not explain it. I'd never felt it before. Then, something even stranger happened. His daughter engaged me (virtually all kids had previously ignored me) in a game of peek-a-boo and various other silly things for the next hour. Suddenly, I had experienced that connection to a child and it clicked inside of me. Not too long after, I had two kids of my own and that experience of parent child bond has become the single best thing I've ever experienced in my life. And it is that way every day. Now I realize people with kids aren't delusional sheep after all! (Or, I'm a member of the delusional sheep herd???) In any event, I now have a great sense of empathy with children, NT and AS. It's odd, but wonderful.

Switching back to my opening topic, I disagree strongly with the popular but harmful misperception that aspies and other aspies lack empathy. My prediction is that this notion will be once and forever dispelled very soon. We may struggle with it, but we do not lack it. Indeed, we may have too much of it...

I think the false notion of an empathy deficit is a result of flawed experiments and an NT-biased interpretation of the results of that flawed experimentation. People used to believe the world was flat, that time was constant, and that solids were, well, solid (when they cannot be since one single particle can pass through two holes simultaneously... in fact, we can't even observe the smallest particles we can only see where they were and/or where they might be in a probabilistic sense).

With regard to empathy, I think the ToM issue has merit. But, the conclusion that it therefore implies a lack of empathy is balderdash. It's akin to the same type of "junk science" that led people to falsely believe that being gay is a deviant personality disorder and that autistics (and others, such as those with very different cultural experiences) were retarded (below average intelligence) because they didn't do well on standard intelligence tests.

To me, empathy is only problematic if (1) if I haven't seen or experienced the same emotional display before, (2) the emotional display is predatory in nature (I simply do not understand that sentiment ever and I frequently miss it when it is occurring, but I have seen certain types of predatory behavior that I can now identify if and when it happens again), or (3) when the feeling is so intense or multifaceted that I cannot process it effectively. With regard to the latter, if a person expresses or displays several very intense emotions in close succession, chances are I am much more likely to misinterpret most or all of the situation. In contrast, I think my NT wife can process intense multifaceted emotions better than she can interpret a 100% logically consistent and relatively simple sentence. She tends to assume that the 100% logically consistent and simple sentence somehow contains hidden meaning and emotion that was not presented adequately to her, or was intentionally hidden from her (when in fact those attributes were not there by design).

When you realize the types of experiments that were used to come up with this nonsensical and demeaning theory that aspiess lack empathy, you realize they were badly flawed experiments to start with. (Experimental design coursework was required in my PHD program given my field of study, behavioral finance.) Take for example that ridiculously flawed puppet experiment. Just because the autistic subjects couldn't anticipate where Judy would look for the marble hidden by Jane (or whatever those puppets names were) doesn't mean autistic's lack empathy. It just means the autistic subjects didn't realize that Judy was assumed (by the experimenter) to be unaware of where Jane hid the marble. So they replied that Judy should look in the hat, since they saw that the marble was put in the hat.

One possible explanation is that they lack ToM and therefore didn't realize that Judy should be assumed not to know where the marble was. On the other hand, maybe the autistics just thought that the experimenter told her where the marble was. Or that Jane told her. Or maybe the autistics have such a keen sense of hearing they actually heard marble bouncing off felt sitting atop wood. And they didn't realize this puppet was assumed not to have hearing as acute as theirs. In truth, there are many reasonably possible explanations for the result that present confounds which the scientists did not account for (perhaps even due to what's called "experimenter bias," which in this case could easily result because they simply did not have much of an understanding of autistics when the experiment was conducted).

Now, I happen to believe that an underdeveloped ToM is a half decent hypothesis and it could be right. And the results of the puppet experiment are consistent with the ToM hypothesis (just not sufficiently well conceived to rule out a large number of confounds that would take me 10 pages to list). But, to then conclude that because ToM appears to be underdeveloped that autistics therefore do not have a (or have a very underdeveloped) ability with respect to empathy is just badly flawed logic. On a 10 pt scale measuring rigorously derived logic, I'd give it a 2.

There are thousands of reasons why someone might have difficulty with empathy which need not be related to ToM. Some people may have great ToM but they can't be bothered to worry about other people because they simply aren't interested. Another might have perfect ToM but are unable to empathize very well because, just after they developed ToM, they lost their hearing, site and ability to read in any form. So they have so few experiences and such an impairment with respect to learning about other people's current thoughts and emotions that they just can't do empathy. That's an extreme example, but by extension is suggests (though I am not saying it proves) that someone who is blind might struggle with empathy when sighted people attempt to express their feelings about seeing certain colors to them.

Looking at the case of aspies, even if we assume (for the sake of argument) that ToM is delayed and/or underdeveloped for us, that doesn't mean that the ToM deficit explains the purported lack of empathy. To the contrary, it could be that our skills as an empath are so heightened that it is painful to us. Indeed, there is a line of research that suggests this may be the case. I know in my case, that is what it feels like inside my head. As the intensity or number of emotions expressed by another rises, the level of discomfort (it feels like nails on a chalk board to me) rises. And there comes a point where I simply cannot process it effectively. Does that mean that I lack empathy? Or does that mean that my empathic senses are so acute that they can cause me pain and I when that occurs I can no longer use my empathic abilities so I appear to lack empathy? Experientially, I feel confident that it's the latter scenario that is behind my symptoms.

Here's a link to a newspaper article that references the research I referred to:

http://www.thestar.com/article/633688

Here's a link to a bio for Professor Markram, the individual who posits that it is the "intense world" we live in (i.e., the intensity of sensory inputs, "sensory integration issues") that causes aspie wiring.

http://people.epfl.ch/henry.markram


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Aili
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01 Jun 2009, 4:42 pm

Quote:
Switching back to my opening topic, I disagree strongly with the popular but harmful misperception that aspies and other aspies lack empathy. My prediction is that this notion will be once and forever dispelled very soon. We may struggle with it, but we do not lack it. Indeed, we may have too much of it...

I definitely agree with this. I have way too much. I always thought lack of empathy was a guy thing not an aspie thing. I'm glad to hear that neither is the case.

Now could someone pass on a link that explains ToM?



Mysty
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01 Jun 2009, 4:47 pm

One thing about empathy the more like you someone is, the easier it is to have empathy with/for them.

Thus, for that reason, the more we tend to be different in our way of thinking, the less empathy we tend to have, simply because we meet less people who we easily have empathy for -- nothing to do with capacity for empathy. So, aspies probably do really have less empathy simply because we are different, not because of anything to do with capacity for empathy.

I tend to see empathy as a part of theory of mind. The ability to see that someone's perspective is different from one's own, in this case, with respect to emotions.

As for the question in the subject heading (is it a two way street), I wouldn't say it's a two way street. It doesn't have to be reciprocated. But, in a healthy relationship, each should have empathy for the other, not just one way. Or, in a healthy relationship of equals, that is (which for most of us would include relationships with significant others, but other relationships too).