Dawn-Marie Potter

Home schooling mother of 3 amazing children, life coach/public speaker specializing in positive parenting of special needs children.

MH900289480 e1376717082709 Empathy and AutismI have heard many specialists and doctors quote a lack of empathy as something that is naturally occurring in autistic children and I completely and utterly disagree. I think that the problem is not a lack of empathy, it is instead directly related to the diminished social skills a person with Autism often possesses. I believe that children with autism have just as much empathy as neuro-typical children, the difference is that they have a lack of understanding as to how to show or convey that empathy.

Empathy and autism:

They can learn how to express the natural empathy that they too possess. One of the biggest boons of behavioral therapy is the assistance it provides in teaching an Autistic person how to express their natural empathy for those they care about.

Behavioral therapy can also help to show them how they can express their emotions so that they too can have more fulfilling relationships. Regardless if they are platonic, romantic, employee-employer related, or family. When we know that someone cares if we’re sad or that someone is happy for us when we’re happy that helps us to feel a connection or bond with that person.

If someone doesn’t know how to show that they empathize with another human being’s situation, they come across as cold or indifferent, but that is not the reality of the situation for an Autistic person.

It is the same as if they go to Spain and don’t know how to say I’m so sorry for your loss or for your difficulties in Spanish.

If they are speaking to someone who only understands Spanish and they try to say it in English they’re not going to be understood and it won’t come across the same way. However, when that same person is able to say in Spanish “I’m so sorry for your loss” because the other person speaking Spanish now understands the message and its corresponding empathy it’s going to receive a much more positive reaction from the recipient of that message.

An Autistic person often just needs to be taught how to express their own natural emotions in positive and effective ways, teaching empathy expression should go hand in hand with that.

When we give them those tools, we provide them with a far richer ability to experience life, and to experience relationships in all the varied forms they come in.

Positive ways of expressing one’s emotions is the key component to behavioral therapy for them.

The reason for this is because they too feel all the same emotions that anyone else feels, they simply lack the socially acceptable forms of expression of said emotions.

When socially acceptable forms of expression are explained during each interaction that produces the emotions they have difficulty expressing in socially acceptable ways it leads them to build their own solid base of understanding. The understanding is two-fold, it begins with them being able to be self-aware and identify exactly what they are feeling and how to express what they are feeling in ways or forms that will ensure they are understood.

Additionally, it will also ensure that they can express to another that they really do understand how the other person is feeling.

When someone close to us, be they friend, family member, colleague, or romantic partner feels that we empathize with their situation, be it positive or negative it helps to ensure the bond that we have with them is being positively cultivated.

While there is no empirical formula that I am aware of at this time, I fully believe that there is a direct correlation between the level of natural empathy an Autistic person possesses and their sensitivity to sensory input. I believe that both are acutely heightened and that is part of the problem with why they have such a hard time expressing their emotions and their subsequent natural empathy to how others are feeling in socially acceptable ways.

They already have such a deep understanding of emotions, but their understanding is on a primal level, one that is beyond mere words for they live with deep, intense emotions all the time. To try to express just how much they really do understand those same emotions is hindered by the fact that they are firmly entrenched 24/7 in deep emotions themselves. Just because their own instinctive responses are not language based does not nullify their ability to empathize, it in fact increases their ability to empathize with others.

When we come to understand that, it’s simple to see that just because they can’t express it instinctively without help does not mean they don’t possess it. That is like saying that a baby screaming does not feel hunger because they didn’t ask for food but they did express it with their scream. Maybe that wasn’t the best way but it was the only way they could. An Autistic person’s natural empathy is the exact same, they too feel it, but often need some guidance with understanding socially acceptable ways to express it to those they care about.

When how to express their natural empathy is treated as a vital component of behavioral therapy then they are able to foster deeper connections with those they care about because they are able to express in appropriate ways that they care and that they do in fact empathize with their loved ones. For their instinctive capacity to love is just as deep, they care just as much, and they feel the same myriad of emotions as everyone else, including empathy. They just need a little bit of help to show them in the ways that we currently state in our society are socially acceptable.

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