Posted in Autistic Identity, Parenting

Empathy and the Autistic: Learning the Words to Match the Feelings

While this post is from my archives and happened about a year ago, other than the fact that my husband no longer works with many neurotypicals, this post is effectively still true.  Hope it helps someone!

Funny thing happened that got me thinking.  Technically, a pair of funny things, close enough together for me to notice this.

Empathy is a skill people are somewhat overtly taught as a way of telling people you care about them.  This empathy thing matters a LOT to neurotypicals.  I remember learning about it in the (quite fabulous) book How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlish, which can ordinarily be quite helpful.  I say ordinarily, because a lot of people are neurotypicals and expect this.  Or, they’re Neurodivergent types like me who have been socialized to believe that this empathy stuff indicates caring.

 

[Image: Book cover of the Faber & Mazlish book. It’s yellow with two conversation bubbles on it]
My husband’s boss recently tried to empathize by telling him that she got “anxiety,” too, and my teacher tried to empathize by saying everyone hates construction and driving in the rain in the dark.  Well, yes, these are true facts, but they disregard our Disability as no big deal.  I get that commonalities are a way to bring us together, but if you’re actually saying the panic you get from driving in the rain, in the dark, will stay with you for hours upon arriving home, rendering you potentially unfit for work in the morning, okay, you get it.

But I suspect that’s not what you meant.

But it wasn’t my teacher, or my husband’s boss’ fault.  This is what we’ve all been taught to do: to focus on what makes us same.

This comes along with the idea of “empathy” where, even if we can’t sympathize (know what someone else is feeling), we can try to imagine ourselves in your shoes and go with it.

After coming to terms with my Autistic self, I realized that I don’t really give a damn about empathy (or even sympathy) because both assume that my FEELINGS are what I want validated.  I know that feelings are feelings; they are neither right nor wrong; rather, they just are.  This is the post in which I unpack empathy.

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