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Study: Aspies might not lack empathy

Neat article, it says:

A groundbreaking study suggests people with autism-spectrum disorders such as Asperger's do not lack empathy – rather, they feel others' emotions too intensely to cope.

People with Asperger's syndrome, a high functioning form of autism, are often stereotyped as distant loners or robotic geeks. But what if what looks like coldness to the outside world is a response to being overwhelmed by emotion – an excess of empathy, not a lack of it?

This idea resonates with many people suffering from autism-spectrum disorders and their families. It also jibes with the "intense world" theory, a new way of thinking about the nature of autism.

As posited by Henry and Kamila Markram of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, the theory suggests that the fundamental problem in autism-spectrum disorders is not a social deficiency but, rather, a hypersensitivity to experience, which includes an overwhelming fear response.

My thoughts:

The whole "Aspies lack empathy" thing never made any sense to me. Especially in my own case. Sure, I have trouble reading body language, but I have long been able to feel people's emotions like a sixth sense. And a few years ago, when I was still living with my parents, I spent a year or more caring a lot about what was going on in the world... in fact, I cared so much I drove myself to the brink of madness, even having fits of paranoia and other phobias I'd never had before. Events in my life forced me to get off that kind of thinking, thankfully. But even now I tend to care too much about the crap going on in the world around me and I have to either shut my emotions off for awhile to cool down, or balance out the effect with good news.

The hyperstimulation from social situations theory makes a lot of sense also insofar as Aspies tend to have at least one sense that is hypersensitive. Mine is vision: I notice things most people don't, and I can memorize places to a bizarre level of detail so much so that I can still remember precisely what the Buffet at Terrible's Lakeside Casino looked like before they remodeled, and that was way back in 2005. I can also remember all the details of every stage of the remodeling, even if it was up for only a day (as long as I was there that day). My room-mate's hyper-attuned sense is her hearing: music I can barely hear when it's playing right in front of me, she can hear loudly and clearly three or four rooms away. My Dad has a similar hyper-attuned hearing, one of the many reasons I suspect he might be an Aspie too.

It also makes sense because I can barely tolerate my own emotions sometimes. Also, I used to think I was a loner by nature but have since discovered that I need other people in my life, especially where I can touch them... touching, especially cuddling, is so important to me that when I lived by myself in Osceola and had almost no physical contact with anyone, I nearly went crazy. (I had other issues, too, but that was a BIG one.) I've since figured out that I'm not a loner: I just need to be by myself sometimes to recharge, since other people's emotions just overwhelm me; it's exhausting being around other people sometimes. (Though when they're happy, I can be around them longer usually.)


( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 25th, 2009 01:04 pm (UTC)
This... resonates with me.
May. 25th, 2009 03:18 pm (UTC)
Iam very sorry for myignorance, please forgive me:) . IDoyou have this syndrom? If so you absolutely DO NOT lack empathy. On the contrary, reading you Isee youas a sensible, fragile, very empathic girl. Ilike you.
But from time to time youremind me of the girl from "Serial Experiments: LAIN"
And thats another compliment, Ilike her:)
May. 25th, 2009 11:28 pm (UTC)
Yes, I have Asperger's. No official diagnosis, but when 99 out of 100 signs point to a certain conclusion, it would be foolish to ignore it. But yes, that's a large part of why the "lack of empathy" thing never made sense. But not all Aspies are the same, so if I lack a few of the signs but still have a major fuckton of the signs, then one is still an Aspie.

And there's another possible reason for the misinterpretation of Aspies as being without empathy: one of the possible signs of Aspie-ness is abnormal responses to emotional displays. My roomie knows an Aspie, a former boyfriend, who can feel people's emotions just fine, but quite often can't figure out *why* they feel as they do; when that happens, he shuts down emotionally and goes into hyper-logical, "Vulcan" mode.

That, and some Aspies, like me, don't smile as easily as other people. I rarely smiled as a child, and now my face doesn't do it as readily. I *can* smile, and do when I'm happy enough and/or laughing, but 90% of the time I feel neutral, and my face reflects that. My face's default expression is a neutral mask. And believe me, I've tried learning how to smile when I'm not especially happy, for jobs where I have to deal with other people, but while I can do it, it hurts my face and takes too much energy. And I probably scare away more people with my fake smile than with my usual neutral mask anyway.

*Looks up "Serial Experiments: LAIN"* OMG OMG OMG! That sounds WICKED AWESOME! *Goes to Library website to look for it.* Drats! They don't have it. :-( *Suggests to them that they purchase it*
May. 25th, 2009 03:28 pm (UTC)
as somone who also fits in the autism spectrum (NLD) this hits home
May. 25th, 2009 11:29 pm (UTC)
May. 25th, 2009 11:54 pm (UTC)
Non-verbal Learning disorder.
May. 26th, 2009 01:50 am (UTC)
Ah, I see.
May. 25th, 2009 04:53 pm (UTC)
That's very interesting...
May. 25th, 2009 11:30 pm (UTC)
May. 25th, 2009 07:43 pm (UTC)
I posted that same article a while back ^_^
May. 25th, 2009 11:29 pm (UTC)
That's where I got it from! :-)
May. 25th, 2009 09:44 pm (UTC)
The "Aspies lack empathy" comes from the assumptions made about the behaviour of Aspy kids--the general "living in their own world, ignoring people around them" thing. It's a good example of evidence leading to a false conclusion.

...Ah. Which is just what the article says. Hurm.
May. 26th, 2009 01:17 am (UTC)
Here via DrJon's LinkFrenzy

OK, so I've always had trouble trying to figure out what other people are thinking, and stressed because I couldn't work out what others expect of me. And I'm not a logical robot: indeed, I have difficulty controlling my frustration and anger at times. And I've been a depressive since I was a teenager.

I always thought they were coincidental.

I thought that the Aspie part was what blocked reading others' minds, but my emotional issues were a result of the depression.

If this theory is right, maybe the depression is a side-effect of the Aspergers (mild as it is).

I need to ponder this.
May. 26th, 2009 02:44 am (UTC)
Re: Here via DrJon's LinkFrenzy
And I'm not a logical robot: indeed, I have difficulty controlling my frustration and anger at times. And I've been a depressive since I was a teenager.

Amen and AMEN!
May. 26th, 2009 02:54 am (UTC)
You look familiar. The icon and the username both. Have we met on LJ before?
May. 26th, 2009 03:14 am (UTC)
Re: PS
Almost certainly, around and about. A quick look shows that the only member of our friends lists in common is drjon.
May. 26th, 2009 03:40 am (UTC)
Re: PS
I've probably seen you there, too, but I think I know you from discord_society.
(Deleted comment)
May. 26th, 2009 11:00 am (UTC)
Goes along with the whole "hypersensitive senses" thing. :-)
May. 26th, 2009 01:28 pm (UTC)
I'm not an aspie but being around the wrong people(most people) makes me feel super duper drained, but the few close friends I've had I could literally live with and spend months with before getting sick of them.
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )


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