Part 4: Empathy & Philosophy – Different Perspectives

A brain in a light bulb

If you’ve followed this series to date, thank you for your readership.  We at the Aspergian appreciate the time you’ve invested to take this perceptive journey with us and hope that it has been as thought-provoking for you as it has been for us.  If you haven’t first read the rest of the series, you’ll need to at least read parts 1 and 2 in order for this segment of the series to make sense.  For your convenience, you can click the following links to read them:

Part 1: The Nature of Empathy – A Case Study
Part 2: Empathy Case Study – Feedback
Part 3: Empathy & Philosophy – The Neurotypical Response

A Demonstration of Taking Things Literally:

This case study and the subsequent replies have been a lot more accurate an example of the differences in what it means when it is stated that people on the spectrum take things literally.  This is much different than just thinking that an idiom like “killing two birds with one stone” is a measure of praise for animal cruelty or “letting someone off the hook” is about physically releasing someone from a giant fishhook apparatus.

The reality of what it means to “think of things literally” is much more complicated and would be more accurately stated as “being oriented for empiricism.”  In response to this vignette, autistics did not reference at all how Elise “seemed.”

No one remarked on how her attitude, word choice, or timing were reflections of narcissism, arrogance, tone deafness, nor any other quality.  What’s more substantial, though, is that while most of autistics did align more with Elise, no one mentioned Linda’s character or conjectured that she was a bad person.  They simply referenced that, in this instance, given the facts, Linda was being unfair to Elise.


So, what does this say about the autistic brain; and specifically, what does this demonstrate about how autistic people empathize?

The answer, as with anything dealing with the human element, is complicated.  I’m going to speak on behalf of autistics, but I’m generalizing.   Of course, this is more about the rule with autistics, and just as when characterizing neurotypicals, there will be exceptions to every rule.

Before Elise would even speak on the legislation, she invested a lot of time in study and research, even consulting the direct source.  This was a reflection of her values, in that she needed to be as informed as was possible before she came to a conclusion.  She didn’t bring up the subject in a vacuum, either.  She referenced it in context, as her mother was already seeing the subject discussed on television.

It’s not that autistics can’t understand the tone of Linda’s interactions, nor that they can’t empathize with Linda and her preferences.  It’s that they don’t find emotional responses to be as important as the facts.  Yes, causing Linda to question her firmly-held political alignment might have caused her to bristle; however, it was worth the social discomfort if it could have given Linda the gift of truth… that which is most sacred to the autistic thought process.

Good Intentions, Bad Approach

To me, it seems obvious that telling someone they are being manipulated is a gesture of concern about their well-being, and therefore comes from a place of love.  To add layers of “lubricant” before introducing a meaningful topic would be insulting the intelligence and maturity of the other person in the conversation, and would undermine what should be the safety of a no-risk conversation between people who should just assume the good intentions of the other.

Some People Never Learn

One thing that many neurotypical liberals said about Elise and her inability or failure to empathize was that they should have acknowledged that some people never learn and cannot be educated.  These were mostly people who were liberal talking about how people with conservative views are unwilling and unable to change, even in the face of facts.  Essentially, they felt that Elise should have just stopped trying with her mother.

Your Thoughts?

After getting this far into the series, what are your thoughts on the differences in autistic and neurotypical interpersonal relatedness?  Have you had any new insights or thoughts?  Has there been anything you’ve wished would have been covered or explored that hasn’t yet been?

Next in the series is Part 5: My Personal Journey Through this Empathy Series.

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