Friday, April 10, 2009

Lack of Empathy?

Asperger's, autism, empathy, family, random acts of kindness
It is commonly said that people with autism or Asperger's lack empathy for others. I disagree. This strikes me as an oversimplification. I know of many cases of Autistics or Aspies showing empathy and/or concern for the people who are important to them. If they don't show empathy for strangers, well, I can point to many people without diagnoses who do that. Just look at the number of people who walk by the homeless as if they are ghosts.

As I write this I have one of the worst headaches I've had in a long while. I've had to keep my right eye closed for much of the afternoon and evening - that seems to help, along with sitting still and not bending. Migraine, sinus headache, eye strain? Who knows? I don't really care. The point is it hurts like a mutha.

After his bath, Gus was a little energetic and climbing on me as usual. I normally don't mind, but 'noggins' (soft head-butts) and having him generally anywhere near my face was just painful. So I said, "Mommy has a headache and I need you to be still."

He grabbed the sides of my face, gently and laid my head against his chest. That was unexpected, but very sweet. Then he kissed the top of my head and stroked my hair. Yes, he really did. Empathy, compassion, care giving...and I could see him doing the same for his sister or father or grandparents or aunts, uncles, cousins....

He may not kiss a stranger on the street on the top of their head, but he would notice a homeless person in the street as a person and not a ghost. Makes you wonder about the definitions or these 'criteria' and 'symptoms.'

Speaking of symptoms, I should probably go and close my eyes. Have a great night and a great holiday if you celebrate one!


  1. I hope you feel better now.

    Andrea, I agree with you. All my autistic kids are able to comfort others.

    But the way they observe others and interpret emotions are different. As is the way they show their love.

    Happy easter

  2. Feeling much better, Laane, thanks!

    I've seen the differences as well in interpretation & expression. All are still valid though :-)

  3. Hi Andrea,

    I love this post!

    I run a site called "Autism and Empathy: Dispelling Myths and Breaking Stereotypes" at and I would like to ask your permission to reprint your piece on the site. You can contact me at rachel (at) autismandempathy (dot) com.



Welcome - thanks for sharing your insights!