Autism. The blind pathologizing those who have sight? Extraordinary insights from my friend. Empathy deficit? Deep empathy overload. Overloaded souls in a sick world.
To my friend who has children with autism I sent this video that you've probably seen, along with the following note. And my friend replied.
Depressed and Then Diagnosed With Autism, Greta Thunberg
I wrote: I so relate to this young person. I've often wondered if I am on the autistic Spectrum though that is supposed to involve profound lack of empathy and that does not seem to be my problem. Hugs
My friend: ahhhhhh well that's the very very common and very very wrong assumption that so many make about those with autism...even folks who are supposedly experienced and trained make this mistake all too often....that those on the spectrum lack empathy. I have never seen this to be the case. Not in my children and certainly not in any of the other autistic folks I've been around of any age. If anything it is more suffering from a profound SURPLUS of empathy and being near paralyzed by it that is far more typical. And I read more and more articles that back up this more radical view.
It is more a lack of empathy on the part of the caregivers and the researchers in my opinion that leads them to this very wrong conclusion. Because they fail so utterly to understand the motivations and reactions of these unique individuals. Because how could they understand? Their brains are not wired at all the same.
Here's an example. When my child was in 2nd grade he got suspended and I was called down to the office to school for a "very serious" incidence of my child apparently "BULLYING" another child. I was shocked, flabbergasted and appalled that his teachers and administrators at the school so utterly failed to see who my child is and what he is capable of. So I went to the school and listened to all the things they accused my child of. Here was the tale: there was another student who was having a hard time, crying, throwing a tantrum, apparently inconsolable. and while the teachers and "responders" were trying their hardest to contain the situation, My child was absolutely incapable of following the instructions all the other students were given to ignore what was going on and get back to work. What /they/ saw was that my child walked over and started laughing in close proximity to the boy. In defiance of their orders. So they interpreted that as malicious, as him laughing AT the boy and trying to make things worse. Which somehow escalated into him being a bully. So I kept quiet and listened as they all scrambled to roll out this story about my son that not a single bone in my body felt was true. When they concluded I said, well, what did my child tell you happened when you asked him? And they all stopped and looked at each other and said, well, we didn't ask him. We just sent your child to the office for disobeying and making everything worse for everyone. Your child was being a BULLY they insisted.
So I said, did my child cause the student to be sad? or upset? No, no your child didn't do that. I said, okay well my child is in the next room, go ask my child. So my child came in and looked red and ashamed and vulnerable and sad and I said, can you tell me why you laughed when that boy was having a hard time? And my child started crying and said through his tears, "I was laughing because the teachers told us that laughter was the best medicine for sadness, so I wanted to go over and cheer him up"
You could have heard a pin drop. I smiled and looked at my child and said, "of course you did honey, thank you, that's what I thought. You need to know that most people didn't understand that's what you were trying to do, and that most people here don't think the way you do, so you may have to occasionally explain to them what you're doing so they understand."
So they let my child go back into the other room. And I stared them down and said, okay, so first you're going to tear up that piece of paper that uses the word BULLY that you want me to sign and put in my child’s permanent record. And then you're going to find a way to apologize to my my child for traumatizing him over my child’s misguided attempts to help a friend in need. And then you're going to let my child get back to class and learn some stuff rather than punish my child for giving a fuck.
ANYWAYS, they did all the things I asked. And my child has been treated and responded to differently ever since. They now understand that my child is NOT even capable of lying and if anything is more likely to get in trouble by confessing to doing things my child thinks maybe shouldn't have even when nobody is looking for someone to blame. They also understand that my child’s heart, even if actions are awkward and confused because of difficulty connecting with and understanding how to interact with neurotypical folks, is in the right place. It's gotta be so frustrating and challenging for my child when I'm not there to help translate for or advocate for him, but my child's getting better at doing that all the time.
James, I'd say, there's a pretty strong chance you are on the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum. I know that I very likely am. It's just that being female for some reason makes the symptoms different, less severe, than it can present in males. I suffer greatly at times from an excess of empathy. It's crippling, if you look at it in a way...but in other ways it's enormously liberating, because I can see and understand things at a level so many others seem utterly incapable of. Fascinating, really...
Thank you for sharing this :) I love reading stories of children standing up to asshole adults Heart.
My friend provided some of the research and I found a third piece easily.
The blind Society pathologizing those who can see.
PS. What a tremendous contribution from my friend, and personally I find it extremely Illuminating on my own life. A shallow empathy cripple am I, but deep empathy, not so much. For much of my years I yearned for the reverse. But for decades now I have understood it as my wealth. My soul. My life. Thank goodness it was never the reverse.