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Monday, November 18, 2013

Empathy

A study mentioned on another blog was making the rounds heavily on Facebook over the weekend and several people asked me my take on it. The article mentions that people with Asperger's may not, in fact, lack empathy but may have too much of it.

My first reaction to anything is to always state that, "if you've met one person with autism you've met one person." However, for myself, I've written many times about this topic that will be in later books I've written. One concept is, "The Denial of Self" in that I do everything I can to distance myself from emotions such as empathy.

Now why is this? Why is there this need to distance? The title concept of my 4th book is, "Life Unfiltered" which, I think, is the best way to describe it. This concept applies to most things in life be it sensory issues or emotions. When it comes to emotions I am very much a barometer of what the room is which this is unique because I am not a good judge of emotions; however, once emotions are understood then the impact becomes great. Here's another good question, is the lack of being a good judge a learned trait such as the avoidance of eye contact or is it simply that reading faces is not a strong point?

I can remember many instances in my life where empathy towards others proved to be overwhelming. The first was any time my brother and sister would have any sort of quarrel. If they did I think I did nothing but scream for at least a dozen minutes. The second was in 4th grade when we were learning about a Native American tribe and we watched a video of them dancing to which most of the class started laughing and cracking jokes. This infuriated me and I'm glad it was the last class of the day because I was a sobbing mess shortly thereafter as I felt bad for those who were mocked despite the fact that those people would never know what was said in that 4th grade class.

As with most things on the autism spectrum there seems to be little middle ground. This is an all or nothing system. Either emotions/empathy are not understood or the sensation of those will be overpowering. This, however, is where the, "if you've met one..." line comes in because I think each person has a different degree of emotions it will take to break through the threshold of understanding.

The other aspect which all this applies to is processing. Perhaps this is the core issue in nearly everything and would lead to the "life unfiltered" state. Anyway, if emotions and empathy can be avoided a big, big chunk of processing is avoided. When empathy is felt it feels as if nothing else matters in the world. Allowing outside emotions in creates a thought process that is hard to break and the processing that goes towards it makes doing other tasks highly difficult, if not impossible. On top of that the ability to express emotions, for us on the spectrum, is typically difficult so we become like a sponge soaking up all around us without the ability to express.

When I end my presentations now I explain that I want to find a couple of my teachers to say, "thank you" to them as back then, and even now to be honest, my ability to express emotions is often not there. I describe like this, "Imagine the part of the brain where emotions are felt to the part where they are expressed are very much like an interstate highway with 32 accidents and 97 brick walls lining the path. It certainly wouldn't be easy to navigate from point A to point B." So what this all means is that emotions are there, it's just hard to go the point where expressing them easily is.

While I've been writing this I've been torn on if attempting to distance myself from the world, or rather others in terms of emotions, is part of this. If so is this something learned? Is it like touching a hot stove in that once you've touched it a few times you're going to learn to be careful? If life is truly unfiltered does one then need to learn how to make filters of their own? If this is the case does this then give us more of a clear reason as to why online gaming is so popular among those on the autism spectrum? Think about it, it's harder to be a barometer of a room when all visual aids are gone. Also, people rarely, I think, will be online in the midst of a crisis therefore the emotions of now are gone.

All in all, as with most things on the autism spectrum it would seem, any study just leaves more questions than answers but one thing about this which is so important is that it counterpoints the media frenzy from last December in which so many 'experts' proclaimed, "ALL people with autism/Asperger's have no emotions, have no empathy, and are incapable of caring." I knew this was about the most wrong thing I've ever heard and with this study we have to be careful not to now have the opposite effect and proclaim the word "ALL." Remember, and I've said in multiple times in this post but in my opinion it is the #1 most important line about the autism spectrum you can remember, "if you've met one person with autism you've only met one person with autism."

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