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Featured Autism & Empathy

Discussion in 'General Autism Discussion' started by Nex, Mar 4, 2020.

  1. Nex

    Nex Active Member

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    Long ago, I heard and read a bunch of articles about how people with Autism Spectrum Disorders don't feel empathy, or sympathy. That was the main reason I thought I wasn't on the spectrum, because I have some empathy.

    I feel emotions, but I can't always find a name for what I'm feeling. I check how I'm feeling physically, and sometimes deduce what I'm feeling, like "my fists are clenched, mouth is dry, and I'm sweating, maybe this is fear/anxiety".

    I have been observing people from the outside for so long, that I can sometimes tell what they're feeling. When I'm in a group that is sad, and crying, I occasionally react the same way. I don't know if that's mimicking to fit in, or not, though. It gets extreme if someone is physically injured. Like, if I see someone twisting their ankle, I sometimes react as if I injured myself, as well. But I don't always know how to interact with a person emotionally. If I'm with someone, and they start crying, I'll be unsure what to do/say, debating actions in my head. "Do I put my hand on their back? Do I hug them? I want them to feel better, but I don't know what to say!!"

    I have extreme empathy/sympathy for animals. More-so than people. Even if the animal just looks a little bit sad, I'll feel a twinge in my chest.

    What are your experiences with empathy, and sympathy? How do you deal with your and other peoples emotions?
     
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  2. Pats

    Pats Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    We are very empathetic. Our problem is knowing the correct way to show it so the world thinks it's lack of empathy. Also one of the first things my sister said when I was diagnosed was that I can't be because I empathize.
    Hello and welcome.
     
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  3. Tom

    Tom Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    I think your type of experiences happen very commonly with people on the spectrum. On the other hand, and contrary to popular belief I don't think lack of empathy/sympathy is a common trait with us. There are some like that but they seem a minority. So it's not that we don't feel it, but that we experience it and express/show it differently. For me it runs the whole gamut, at times I feel little and detached from it (like on the outside looking in), at times at the other end and swamped with feelings, and sometimes in between. But as you expressed an animal in distress is almost 100% sure to affect me deeply - ie. 'Stop the car! That Ground Hog needs help!" - something I have heard fairly frequently among autistics, though it isn't uncommon with NT's either.
     
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  4. Isadoorian

    Isadoorian Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    Welcome to the Forums! I hope you make new friends and enjoy your stay in the process! :)
     
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  5. tducey

    tducey Well-Known Member

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    I know I have empathy, it's just I have a different way of showing my feelings than others I know. I think that might be the case for most Autistics.
     
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  6. Mia

    Mia Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    I think autistic females and males are more empathic than thought previously. And the whole 'autistic people lack empathy' designation does not apply to us all. Often I have to turn off the emotions I feel when I read the news, otherwise I feel terrible all day. I think it's because we have difficulty with the expression of emotion.

    It's often overwhelming and I too don't know how to act around people when they are upset or excited or happy. Sometimes I've hugged them, which they have taken the wrong way as if it implied something else. So, I tend toward backing off and not doing anything but offering to listen.
     
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  7. Major Tom

    Major Tom Searching for ground control... V.I.P Member

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  8. Giraffes

    Giraffes Active Member

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    Hi I have empathy but often feel overwhelmed by feelings and due to delayed processing have delayed responses or am unable to sense my body’s responses to ‘get what I’m feeling’
     
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  9. SusanLR

    SusanLR Well-Known Member

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    Sympathy and empathy are different things.
    I had a difficult time understanding there are three types of empathy when I was diagnosed.

    I finally found the easy way to understand the types are as follows:
    Emotional- That is when you see something bad on the news or in real life happening to others
    and it has an emotional effect you can physically and emotionally feel from it.
    If you get sick, sad, depressed over seeing others hurt.

    Compassionate- When you feel the urge to help the person who is hurt or sad.
    It can compel you to talk with them or try to do something to help.

    Cognitive- This is more of a learned empathy.
    You don't really feel the first two very much if any, but, you've observed other's emotions to the
    point you understand how they feel. You mentally know the different emotions of others this way.
    This can help you know what to do for them or on the bad side it also allows for manipulation
    of others because you know what to say or do to make them feel what you want them to feel
    for your own reasons.
     
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  10. stringer

    stringer Well-Known Member

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    Indeed, one should not lump empathy and sympathy together as if they were interchangeable words for the same thing. I came across the following summary a while ago, and as far as I know, it is reasonably accurate:

    Empathy is about theory of mind. Figuring out what others are thinking and feeling.

    Empathy is subdivided into "cognitive empathy" and "affective empathy". The former is knowing what others are feeling, the latter is being attuned to, or being affected by, how others feel.

    Sympathy is caring what others are feeling.

    My impression is that autistics are often considered to be weak on cognitive empathy. I know that I have great difficulty figuring out what other people are thinking. If it is explained to me what someone is thinking, I can then be affected by what I have now understood.
     
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  11. AnnadinNoliman

    AnnadinNoliman Member

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    As other's have said the main thing I think with autism is having difficulty communicating our sympathy and empathy to others. I don't know if there's an autistic person out there that would claim to completely lack empathy I think that might be one of the things that other people just say about us without asking if it's true.
    When it comes to other people I personally have a lot of trouble figuring out what they're feeling, sometimes the best I can see with other people is just the severity. Like I experience their emotions in terms of absolute values I can tell when there's a lot of something going on but get lost in what it is unless I know them very well.
    But yeah sometimes I can tell clearly and I feel it pretty deeply and I want to help them more than anything but I don't have the instincts to know how to help. Cuz it's different for every person and one time I was told to treat people how I would like to be treated in that situation and that's backfired far more times than its worked when it comes to supporting people. Cuz when people need support I think they want it in their own language and I think we can have difficulty learning that language (but it's not impossible).
    ALL THAT BEING SAID, I've found one axiom that's had moderate success with every person and that's been listening. Just sitting and listening. Sometimes they get frustrated when I can't provide the audio and visual cues to confirm that I'm listening and hearing them and sometimes they get frustrated that I don't have much to say in response. But everyone seems to need someone to listen to their problems sometimes and that's really been my key to navigating emotional situations is trying to talk less and listen more and ask questions (asking questions itself being a nightmarishly complicated mess to calculate what they need to be asked, but I won't get into it right now).
     
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  12. HidinginPlainSight

    HidinginPlainSight Well-Known Member

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    Empathy is about being able to share in the emotions of others from their frame of reference. Many people confuse empathy with having feelings or sentiment towards people.

    I have an extremely low level of empathy, but that does not mean I don't care about how other people may feel, I simply mistake the frame of reference.
     
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  13. Giraffes

    Giraffes Active Member

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    A truest interests topic as I work in the care industry often with the paradoxical ability to support individuals with Autism very effectively alongside a clear inability to adjust my lack of empathy and reciprocal communication incredibly frustrating and often leading to anxiety, depression and social isolation
     
  14. BrokenBoy

    BrokenBoy 戯言使い(Nonsense User)

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    I feel no empathy towards others. I can't "see" their feelings at all and my sympathy towards tends to be at a all time low. I can fake sympathy effectively when I want to though.
     
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  15. SDRSpark

    SDRSpark Well-Known Member V.I.P Member

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    This is my understanding of empathy as well, and to be honest, I'm totally baffled by the concept. My understanding is that empathy is supposed to be an inborn trait, and I had to learn it by building a "bank" of similar experiences in life to draw from, and there are certain things I just still can't empathize with and at this point, probably never will.

    So I learned how to understand what other people might be feeling in a certain situation (to be honest, it's more like "what I would be feeling if it happened to me" and therefore more like a "best guess" and quite likely a totally wrong interpretation of what they're actually feeling.) With that, I feel something when someone else feels something, but I have no idea if what I'm feeling matches what they're feeling. Sometimes I see a facial expression that I can't read and it makes me anxious and upsets me because I can't even guess what the person is feeling and don't know if they're thinking something bad about me/my actions or not.

    I wasn't born with this at all. I've tried to find out a concrete answer on whether empathy is supposed to be something you're born being able to do but so far I've come up empty handed.
     
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  16. Captain

    Captain New Member

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    As a child/young adolescent I was extremely empathetic for particular things, especially animals (the slightest bit of animal cruelty, down to killing a spider, would kill me) or something bad happening to my mother, I couldn't handle that. Over the past few years I've learned to switch that off, since it's too exhausting to deal with on a daily basis. Only it's hard to switch back on. I don't seem to feel passionate for anything anymore. A sort of moral detachment from everything.

    I think this "cognitive empathy" stringer mentioned might explain why a lot of autistic people I've seen tend to feel empathy for animals. They are less complex, at least to human eyes; fear, pain, and joy are a lot easier to understand an empathize with, than emotions humans might feel, so we may feel more drawn to the former.
     
  17. Adora

    Adora Well-Known Member

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    When I got diagnosed by my psychologist with being on the spectrum the first thing I asked is what about empathy because I feel it and I heard at the time that people on the spectrum don’t have it.

    She told me from what she had experienced with her clients is that it’s the opposite case and a reason that there could be a misconception about autism is for example someone could be talking about something that is upsetting them to a autistic person and because they might not be making eye contact it can come across to the other person as someone being uncaring.

    I also have very deep empathy for animals and sometimes more so than humans because I find them more trustworthy than people I have known in my life.
     
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  18. Tony Ramirez

    Tony Ramirez Christian with Asperger's Syndrome

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    I am very polite when I am outside amongst people from the Church however at home I am told I have little empathy when I get upset over something.
     
  19. Baphocletian

    Baphocletian Nihilist Militant V.I.P Member

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    I have no doubt that I'm capable of empathy, I'm just selective about the people toward whom I empathize. Most of the time I can relate to another person's emotions, I just don't always see why they are feeling that way. Not innately, at least.
     
  20. Daniel

    Daniel Well-Known Member

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    The whole "autists have no empathy" idea is the product of the original academic studies they did decades ago and the theoretical framework and methodologies they were employing. The paradigm in psychology back then was this "black box" concept--behavioural psychology. They assumed, "We can't understand what's going inside the mind, so we treat it like this mysterious black box, into which we can input stimuli, and from which we see responses. We can't assess the thoughts in someone's mind, but we can assess the behaviour that results." Therefore psychology, at that time, gained their insights by studying behaviours--not psychological states.

    So they "stimulate" the autistic person with a stimulus that is "supposed" to trigger a particular, typical response (one they expect) that would be the behavioural indicator that empathy is going on within that black box. And when they don't see their expected response, they logically proceed to the conclusion that since they didn't see the expected behaviour, there is no empathy inside that black box.

    Never occurred to them that they might be dealing with a new kind of human with a different operating system!

    Anyone with some intuitive sense can see the limitations of that method. Humans are so complex and unique that you have to really go deep in order to understand what a person's external behaviour truly "means" in relation to their internal experience. Psychology has come a long way since then, but that old idea is still lingering.

    One of the challenges of collective knowledge management is the clean-up process. Old ideas stick around until they get replaced by new and better ones, but it can take a long time, like generations, for the adjustments to work their way into the collective. So it's helpful to know how, why, where, and when a particular idea came to be.
     
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