Autism Myths Dispelled: Empathy (or lack thereof)

Another common misconception about Aspies or others on the Spectrum is that we are not empathetic to the feelings of those around us. Put simply, this is a misconception in the sense that reading and expressing emotions are very difficult, and so it can be difficult to identify with and relate to the emotional needs or state of another. This can be very problematic in the case of friendships and relationships, which I will cover separately in another post.

“My spouse doesn’t care about my needs!”; “Why is my spouse acting so selfishly?” These are just a couple of things I’ve heard from spouses of Aspies or someone else on the Spectrum, and it’s a shame that this is commonplace in relationships or even friendships. In truth, people on the Spectrum lacking in empathy is a misconception largely because it is common for us to lack general awareness and therefore, forget to ask about the needs of whoever else is within proximity. McKenna and I have had numerous discussions about that, as I’m sure all you with spouses on the Spectrum might have. Sometimes I need a reminder that I have a one-track mind which makes it harder to be aware of other things or other people, not to be intentionally rude or hurtful.

Now I want to talk about how this myth could not be further from the truth with regards to what Aspies and others on the Spectrum actually experience and feel. Contrary to what is widely believed, we actually feel very deeply, the problem is that we struggle to express them in an appropriate manner. In my own experience, expressing empathy is not an easy thing to do, but I do feel it. I feel it and I try to find ways to express it, even if it is as simple as saying, “I’m sorry”, or “I wish I could help”, etc. This can be a double-edged sword, however, as I often have a meltdown or become very sad or angry because I feed off of the emotions of the person(s) around me, and that can be off-putting to someone watching from the outside.

What else can I say about this? For one thing, I can say to people on the outside who view this phenomenon that it is an unfair thing to place on an Aspie or someone else on the Spectrum, and it might actually make it happen! If someone is told they are something or doing something for long enough, they start believe it is true and it then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, I ask you to learn about Autistic behaviors regarding emotional understanding/expression, and maybe you will see that feeling empathy and expressing it are not the same.

I also want to encourage my fellow Aspies and anyone else on the Spectrum that struggles with empathy to not let people get you down. It is hard, I know that all too well, but you know your emotions better than others may give you credit for, and those around you may understand it better than you believe. Empathy is not lacking in those on the Spectrum, in fact it runs very deeply, we just need help learning how to express it as the situation demands.

All that to say…

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