Friday, October 19, 2012
Empathys Definition Misplaced in Autism
I hear a lot about autists as lacking empathy, and by strictest definition you might be right about it. It is easy to empathize with someone who shares your physical reality. Autists don’t share a neurotypical reality. Neurotypicals are no more able to empathize with me as autistic, than I with them. But I recognize a different definition of empathy. It is God's "Love your neighbor as self". It far more important to look to see the underlying point of empathy - Compassion.
I think all emotion is processed through the amygdala. I know mine is definitely affected. My emotions are exaggerated and delayed. I absorb the emotions of all around me like a foul stench. I feel all you feel at times with you, but that doesn't mean I understand it. I can't even interpret my own emotions at times. It stands to reason if my amygdala is impaired, then too others may be impaired; and others still, may not be. But emotional sharing is not the source of compassion, love of God is. I would be a fool to empathize with my tormenters, yet God requires I forgive them. It is my love of God that yields forgiveness. My attention to his tenets that breed sympathy and compassion for others. Empathy is nowhere in my equation, unless it includes autists of like affect.
How do you judge me my lack of empathy when yours is equal? You lack empathy for autistic individuals all the time. You grieve not for them and their struggles, but for your own loss. It is why treatment is directed toward neurotypical functioning. Treatment should be about developing an autist for coping skills in a hostile environment, not changing their nature.
Love is the true source of compassion not empathy. Empathy may be unique to like species. The fallacy is in the pairing of our species, autists and neurotypicals. I feel the fear and joy and anger just like you do, I just don't feel it for you. What I do feel for you is sympathy for your misdirection and forgiveness for sins against me as autistic. That takes an act of compassion, and an understanding greater than empathy. It requires accepting in others that which is not understood and God's wishes for loving them anyway.