Welcome to day five of the A to Z Challenge on autism. Today, I focus on empathy. Many autistic people are accused of lacking empathy. Since empathy is thought of as very important, autistic people often feel offended when they're accused of lacking it. I will present what I know about autism and empathy.
Empathy is the ability to feel emotions along with another person. Do autistic people lack this ability? It depends. Empathy requires many social and cognitive skills, which may be lacking in autism.
For example, many autistic people have troulbe reading body language, such as facial expressions or tone of voice. This means that they do not know what another person is feeling, so how can they feel along with them?
Some other autistic people, like myself, sometimes very acutely sense another person’s emotions but do not know how to respond. I often absorb another person’s emotions, but thinking of what to say or do in response to these emotions, is often hard for me.
It is also required for empathy that the person empathizing can relate to the situation the other person is in. Some autistic people do not have the experience or cognitive abilities to do so. Some other autistics do not have the same desires or aspirations as neurotypical people, and hence they cannot relate to what a neurotypical person is going through. For example, if a person were sad because they didn’t get a promotion, I would not be able to empathize. I do not work and do not care for a highly-esteemed job.
Many autistic people appear to lack empathy because they do not respond with the same emotional expressions that neurotypical people expect. It is tempting to assume they do not feel emotion or do not want to empathize. However, autistic people usually do want to connect emotionally to other people. I will discuss the experience and expression of feelings in autistic people tomorrow.