Empathy (or lack thereof) in Asperger’s and autism


It’s really hard for me to explain, but when I try to process empathic issues, it literally feels like there is no pathway in my brain, like a train that comes to a bit of broken track so has to come to a halt. I can read what I’m meant to do, watch other people do it, have it explained to me, but I can’t do it myself.

I am such a bad liar too, if I tried to play the game I would look tragically disingenuous, not only clumsy and embarrassed. It’s situations where I am trying to say things to be socially acceptable that my eye contact can go downhill and it makes you look untrustworthy and people don’t warm to that. It’s like you have something to hide. I don’t go round announcing I have Asperger’s so people don’t have any reason to suspect there is a genuine reason for such an aura.

It sends me into a bit of a panic someone telling me to be flexible as I don’t know how, and more of issue is that I r-e-a-l-l-y don’t want to! It makes me feel like internally raging! The more I have to bend to other people the higher my anxiety sky-rockets. I resent having to give NTs reasonable adjustments for no reason whilst they refuse to give me them for genuine reasons!

Then there is the issue of sympathy, I’m very sympathetic, I cry at sad films and care about things.  This is affective empathy.  The type I refer to above, is cognitive empathy and that’s the one I struggle with.  I am aware (actually painfully so!) other people may think differently too me but that doesn’t mean I always take it on board or am happy about it or can easily process it.

To me, I see facts and logic, and I cannot get why someone else would not form the same conclusion as myself.  It can make me angry when it is something that seems so obvious.  Other peoples’ brains are an utter mystery to me.

I think this empathy problem, therefore feeds in to why I cannot understand peoples’ motivations.  I don’t understand why people are not honest, I find it shocking that they lie to get places in life, or to make themselves look better for some reason or to get something they want.

Yet despite all this, strangely I am empathic with my children, who both have autistic spectrum conditions.  Maybe because we are all on the spectrum I can read them better and that in combination with knowing them from babyhood all combines to make a pretty good showing of empathy.  I had the opportunity to “learn them” along the way.  When you meet new people it’s not instinctive.  I do think that researchers don’t fully understand empathy in autism and it’s an area that deserves more attention.


2 thoughts on “Empathy (or lack thereof) in Asperger’s and autism

  1. This was fascinating, thank you for the insight! As a mother of an autistic 4 year old (I am NT) I originally thought he couldn’t possibly be on the spectrum because he is hyper-sensitive to the suffering and pain he sees on TV, such as in cartoons – it can even lead to mini melt downs because he gets so upset for them. Empathy is just another area where there are many myths which can cause huge misunderstandings. I would love to hear more about what you experience as the differences in cognitive and affective empathy if you get the chance at any point.

    1. Hi Sam, thank you for your comment and pleased if it helps in any way. Blogging’s an organic thing for me, so if I think of anything else I will post it, and sometimes I look at research and may find something I want to comment on there too. It’s a watch this space thing!

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