A common misconception of folks with autism is that they lack empathy.
That could not be further from the truth – at least in our case.
There is a difference in not being able to see someone else’s perspective and feeling empathy for another person experiencing emotional turmoil.
Tucker’s dog is getting spayed tomorrow – for more on Tucker’s puppy see Day #122- Animals Belong OUTSIDE, Right?!?
I’m late posting tonight for a couple of reasons, but the largest is because we’ve talked over and over and over about all possibilities of what could happen to White Sox. We’ve talked through the schedule at least ten times in the past four hours. We’ve talked over the procedure. We watched a YouTube video. These conversations have been laced with tears, worry, and stress.
The puppy has to be at the Vet at 7:30 tomorrow morning and worse yet…has to spend the night.
What a night we’ve had…
You better believe he has empathy. As he begged me to let the puppy sleep with him and as he tearfully said good night to her the love was overwhelming – so much so that I wiped tears away. As he recounted the story of bringing her home and how she chewed up his favorite hat the tears and smiles abounded. These are the moments that are so much like any other child…but sometimes he seems even more emotional. Is it hormones? Is it spectrum? Is it just a boy and his dog?
Think about it – if children on the spectrum have a tendency to sense more and stronger – why wouldn’t it be a natural tendency to feel ‘harder?’ With all of the work we did (and do) on recognizing emotion – both in our brain and in our body…why wouldn’t he have a heightened awareness of his emotions?
Everything is more intense. Laughter, sadness, anger – everything.
Dr. Isabel Dziobek is a researcher in the area of languages and emotion. In her article about empathy entitled, “Who cares? Or: The Truth about Empathy in Individuals of the Autism Spectrum” she wrote, “More generally speaking, our data shows that people with Asperger syndrome have a reduced ability to read other peoples’ social cues (such as facial expressions or body language) but once aware of another’s circumstances or feelings, they will have the same degree of compassion as anyone else.”
Empathy…he has it.
One of my favorite articles (and one you should definitely read) about this topic is “Empathy, Mindblindness, and Theory of Mind.” The article is full of great information and explanations about the relationship between empathy and mindblindness. I would attempt to summarize the thoughts and findings but I am afraid I would leave something out – so just click-through and read it.
Mindblindness is the idea that an individual is unable to put meaning on the experiences on another person and therefore unaware of another’s mental state. There is plenty of research to support the idea that folks with autism have a certain level of mind blindness. The article explained the very popular ‘Sally-Ann’ test.
The idea here is that most of us will immediately know that Sally will look for the ball in the basket – that is where she left it. She does not know that Ann moved the ball.
A person with poor ‘Theory of Mind’ skills will believe that she will look in the box. Tucker believed she would look in the box. Why? Because that is where the ball is – it’s right there, in the cartoon.
He may not immediately understand another’s mental state. However, once made aware of another’s mental state – it happens, it gets real.
Tucker was fine until I talked about an incision. That is when the tide turned. That is when the tears began. The moment it became ‘real.’ The moment that I put meaning to Sox’s upcoming experience – that is the moment that the empathy arrived.
Actually, it’s pretty simple…he feels when it’s real.