autistic people lack empathy – except not

**

Have you ever heard it said that people with autism lack empathy?

Me too.

Did you believe it?

Me either.

Apparently, neither does Brooke.

*

*

While having lunch on Saturday afternoon, Katie’s toe had a nasty run in with a falling plate. While we debated the virtues of taking her to the emergency room for x-rays vs. doing exactly what the ER doc would do (taping the toe to its neighbor, elevating and icing it and giving her some Motrin for the ouch) Brooke quietly walked over to her and did this ^.

They stayed that way for a while, completely silent. Neither said a word to the other.

Brooke eventually got up and walked away. In so doing, she matter-of-factly stated, “I made Katie feel better.”

Indeed.

So shall we revisit?

Autistic people lack empathy?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

*

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© 2008 – 2011 Diary of a Mom.

41 thoughts on “autistic people lack empathy – except not

  1. A sister’s love is the best medicine

    – who ever came up with the lack of empathy thing? I have never known this to be true and find it harmful to the way society views autistic people.

  2. How wonderful! I’m sure that Katie indeed felt better!
    My 3yr old shows empathy too all the time. Whenever he sees a baby cry he is so concerned and tells the baby “is ok” which is what we tell him when he cries.

    All these generalizations towards kids and adults on the spectrum must come to an end.

  3. I agree 100%! my daughter is the same way when someone is hurt, she always asks ” do you want me to kiss it better”! BEAUTIFUL!!!!!

  4. I heard that somewhere, along with once you get the diagnosis you always have the diagnosis. I don’t believe either statement, nor should you or anyone dealing wig this disorder for that matter. WTG Brooke!

  5. I have never seen signs of that being true and this is the loveliest picture to disprove the myth.

    Love you,
    Mom

  6. I nearly fainted when my neuro specialist told me that my son will probably have no empathy – are you kidding me???? I love this one – my son, like your daughter is the first one to give a hug and make a boo boo go away!! Another win for us – the ones who REALLY know!!!

  7. Well, that’s a line of bull if ever I’ve heard one, as your daughter so clearly demonstrates. I believe that SOME people on the spectrum struggle with empathy,while others feel so much that they can appear cold because they have to shut down around people, so great are their empathic abilities they get overwhelmed by others’ feelings and pain. And most autistic people lie somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. Spread out across… the spectrum.

    My Jacob most definitely had empathy, will offer comfort to anyone who appears hurt – asking “Are you OK?” and offering hugs and kisses to boo-boos. He can however, at times, appear insensitive to feelings, and can laugh when his brother is crying because the heightened emotion excites him so much. Which gets his brother mad. Which excites Jacob. (Can’t you just see the negative feedback loop here now?)

    While this can look like a lack of empathy form the outside, I know it’s just crossed signals and Jake’s sensory (seeking) issues getting in the way.

    Anyone who REALLY believes all autistic people lack empathy? Is exhibiting rigid thinking, relying on outdated theory, not using their eyes, ears and brains correctly. Sheesh!

  8. I love it! By the way, I don’t know who you paid in Heaven to get such gorgeous tanned girlies…I hope poor Luau is polishing his shotgun (or javelin, or weapon of choice…)

  9. Thank you for bringing up that myth…it was one of the reasons I resisted the diagnosis for so long with my son. It may have been more difficult for him to demonstrate his empathy in the early years (at least in a socially typical way), but he clearly had compassion and empathy for others. Recently, we had to call the paramedics for my dad. My son insisted on staying in the room while they checked him out. Then, before the paramedics put my dad in the ambulance, H rushed to his side, hugged him, and said “I love you, Papi.” It was exactly what Dad needed in that moment!

  10. i have never believed this. i thought it was one of those outdated, misunderstood clinical findings that no one took SERIOUSLY. i know so many autistic children, and while (at times, but not always) i have seen them struggle with their expression of empathy… i believe that more often than not when engaged with those around them, i watch them feel… and try (to express) their connection -happy, sad, frustrated, excited, loved… empathetic. (ps i hope the toe is on the mend 🙂

  11. It’s one of the things that hurts the most. Cymbie dos not seem to display empathy in any form, at all. I can be crying in front of her and she doesn’t seem to notice or care. When my ex husband and I would argue, I would tell him to stop yelling bc he was going to upset her…but she never showed any reaction at all.
    Seeing this picture and posts from others on here gives me hope. Perhaps it will come in time? I hope it is a myth.
    It’s been one of the hardest things for me to swallow. I can’t accept it. It hurts too much. I have always been hyper-emapthetic. So much so that to this day I avoid malls and places that are crowded bc I can *feel* people’s energies and emotions, and some times it’s just too much.

  12. In this case…a picture speaks a million words. 🙂 Empathy is definitely not lost when it comes to our kiddos.

    M

  13. Well… it’s another one of those “when you meet one person with autism…” things, I believe. Honestly, I do lack empathy. I don’t think it’s because I’m heartless but rather because I’m so busy processing that there’s nothing left over to notice people’s emotions.

  14. This put a huge smile on my face this morning. Your girls are so special. I hope Katie’s toe is better soon.

  15. Beautiful, beautiful. Yes, some people on the spectrum struggle with having or showing empathy. And some people not on the spectrum do as well. Every time I hear that line as it relates to my own son (who’s 3), I almost want to laugh. He actually shows more empathy than his 7-year-old typical sister. This is not a blanket statement anyone should make about all people with ASD!!

  16. I love it. My little guy has empathy for sure, from his little sister to crying dogs. He may not always show it in a “typical” way, but it’s there.

  17. I never believed that either. Great photo. I’ve seen plenty of empathy from my son with autism. They may not always express it in a way that others think they should but it is there. Your girls are precious.

  18. Things like that bother my son also. He’s not very good at expressing how much he is affected, but he feels it. He’s the first one to offer up a hug. And if my eyes are leaking, his get misty also. And he immediately offers up his best knock-knock jokes in an effort to make me smile. Beautiful picture, btw. You must have a great camera, or great timing. Anytime my kids do something picture-worthy, I manage to click the photo about 3 seconds after the moment has passed! haha 😉

  19. What do “they” know. My 5 year old daughter (PDD-NOS) cries hysterically when her brother is hurt and crying.

  20. My son (26 months) shows little empathy when someone is hurt. At times, I will “cry” to see how he will respond and most of the time he actually comes up and starts smacking me in the face and is very aggressive. It warms my heart to know that a lot of your children do have the ability to show empathy and it gives me hope that with time, Ethan will, too!!

  21. There is both truth and beauty in Brooke’s actions that should prove to anyone that although autism does cause one to function differently, it does not turn them into unfeeling monsters. Last week I fell and nearly broke my ankle, it swelled up the size of a softball before I could get it elevated w/ice and happily down my ibruprofen. My little autistic man leaned over and hugged me then brought me his favorite Christmas bell. He smiled really big and said “Here you go, Mom, just ring if you need anything.” He kept coming in to check on me, bringing me things to keep busy and even asked me if I needed a blanket to cover up my head with. (He uses the blanket to find solitude when he needs a break from things.) There is no way my child lacks empathy either. Thanks for postng this story, it is incredibly sweet to see her take care of Katie.

  22. totally agree!! My son will rush across a room if someone is crying. It can be a complete stranger and he wants to know if they are alright. He is the most sympathetic, sensitive little boy!!

  23. Autistic youngest suffers from an excess of empathy. It’s what leads her to the biggest meltdowns, seeing someone else in pain or suffering an injustice!

    There is no one universal manifestation of autism – the sooner people learn this, the better!

    • thx for asking, gail. she’s hanging in there. got her checked out yesterday and they sent her to the hospital – not broken, but the darn thing had formed a hematoma under her to nail and they had to actually poke a hole in the nail to get the blood out. too much info? lol – kinda gross, but she’s on the mend. 🙂

  24. How sweet!! My son is a bit like that. He’s 3.5, on the spectrum, but when his 11 month old sister cries really hard, he goes to her, rubs his little hand on her head and says “shh, baby no cry”

  25. My son was never diagnosed with Autism but we’ve often suspected that may he is autistic. He does have a lot of empathy. Always caring of me.

  26. They don’t lack empathy! One of my campers, T, was sitting with me when I had a horrible headache. When I said to hi, “can we sit for a minute, Molly’s head hurts” he looked at me, grinned and said “I love your face!” and kissed me on the arm.

    Is that typical empathy? Nope. But it’s empathy!

    I’ve had kids with autism RUN to embrace kids who have been stung by a bee, gotten a nose bleed, etc. Man, I love my kids.

  27. Hi Jess, Kylie here. I was reading a book today where a character had dealt with being “different” from others and went up until grade 9 where he was labeled as “On the Spectrum” –

    I want to type a passage from the book that deals with Autism & Emotional Connection. When I read it – I got tears in my eyes and had to put the book down for a moment. Here it is:

    “On the last day of school, he told his parents he would run away unless he could start tenth grade in the school. No special treatment no labels. Because although Dwight was different from other people he read enough books about autism and Aspergers to know that those labels didn’t apply to him. Each of those conditions was supposedly accompanied by a lack of emotional connection. Dwight, in his view was the opposite. He had the ability to feel so connected to a person that the sensation was overwhelming.”*

    I was hoping maybe you could offer your opinion or feedback on this for me – do you believe that because of how strongly they can feel another’s feelings that is what has so wrongly labeled them with a lack of emotional connection?

    Another passage I found interesting:

    “Dwight had realised in middle school that he wasn’t like other people. It wasn’t that is on behavior was so unusual at least not that he could determine. Instead, he was different in his reactions to other people it was as he heard voices more loudly, perceived moments to be bigger and faster, and felt every single hand shake and hug more intensely; some people – too many of them – or simply too much for him.” *

    *passages from ‘The Cinderella Murder by Mary Higgins Clark.

    I hope you don’t mind that I wanted to share these with you. I just found them – especially the first one – to be something that could maybe help start to change the way those who are Autistic are viewed. If there were a way to get people to realize that it isn’t that they don’t feel emotional connection, its that that emotionall connection can be almost too much at times.

    I’m sorry to ramble on so long – And I hope none of what I’ve said is offensive in any way. But when I read those 2 paragraphs I knew I had to share them with you!

    ❤❤❤👏

    • yup. if you look in diary’s blog roll, you’ll find a section entitled Things I Wish I’d Written, one of which is the Intense World Theory of Autism. i’ve written quite a bit about how it resonates with me. You’ll also find a LOT of posts in which i talk about how hurtful and harmful it is to imply that autistic people lack empathy, when I’ve found that the opposite is true and it is merely the expression of it that tends to be different from the norm.

      • I’ve read many of your entries in regards to that topic, actually. And I must say, though I don’t have a loved one who is on the spectrum, I find myself wanting to just… Rewrite all of those books that have that ridiculous notion in them. I was a “best buddy” all 4 years of high school and one of my buddies was on the spectrum and never once did I see any signs that he lacked empathy or emotional connection.

        Just the opposite in fact! We had had lunch together one day and I was sad about my boyfriend and I fighting and the next day, my sweet friend had brought me a little toy piglet and tulips, but they were like a stuffed animal almost? I didn’t remember ever mentioning that tulips were my favorite flower or that piglet was my favorite character – or that I was totally a nerd for stuffed animals. I’d say that right there knocks that autism = lack of empathy/emotional connection right out the window.

        Sadly my buddy moved that same year, with pretty much zero warning – but I will never forget those gifts, or the sweet sound of his voice saying “I’m sorry you’re sad, Kyky. I hope these will make it better.”

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