Empathy & Autism

(Disclaimer: Different Autistic people experience and process in different and unique ways. While I may be talking about a hallmark of Autism, my descriptions and ruminations about and around the topic only have to do with my personal experience. If you know another Autistic person, ask them how this affects them and how they handle these things.)

Have you ever been met with an overwhelming situation that you were unfamiliar with? How long did it take you to process what was going on? How long did it take you to decide how best to react? Did it make you an less uncaring or unfeeling?

It is often said that Autistic people have no empathy or emotions. They can only process the logical side of an experience. That is only partially true. We have emotions. We just process them differently.

It is true. Autistic people tend to process situations according to the logical and rational facts available at any given time. The tangible nature of this information feeds to the need to have all information, which in turn keeps chaos at bay. I can be paralyzed in my reactions and my decision-making if I don’t know what’s going on. In fact, for years before being diagnosed as Autistic, I often would tell people that I just prefer to know all the details up front. I can handle things as long as I know, good or bad.

So, when you get in to emotions, they are irrational, unquantifiable factors that I cannot predict and process…unless I’ve already gone through them myself. For instance, this is how I decide for myself if a TV show has portrayed an Autistic character well. I don’t analyze what’s happening. I can feel it.

So how does this connect with mind-blindness?

Think about what language you speak. It is second-nature for you to speak your native language. You might learn other languages, but you may be translating in your head. Or maybe you haven’t learned that additional language yet. So instead, you are using a translation dictionary. It’s going to take you awhile to process that. It’s going to take you awhile to understand.

This is the same with me and the emotions of a situation. If I am directly involved in an issue with someone, I may not understand until days later why they were reacting the way they did. My first instinct is tangible discovery of the situation.

The funny thing about mind-blindness with me is that it only occurs when I’m directly involved in a situation. If I have the chance to observe full-blind (fly on the wall) or even part-blind (indirect conversation about a situation I’m not personally involved in), I have a chance to read what is going on.

All this to day, I understand emotions and have my own emotions. I am sorry for the possibility of adverse reaction that exists because I often process emotional information secondary. Please know this is the way my mind naturally works.

Also published on Medium.