Autistic people do show empathy

Dear friend,

I love our conversations around the dinner table. I really feel it is so important to sit around a table on an evening share a meal and talk together. It has become one of my favourite times of the day, especially on a day that I work because this is maybe the first 'proper' conversation I have had with the boys.

I don't know how it is on a morning in your house but I am normally found rushing around, making sure they're dressed, have eaten their breakfast, the dog is fed, school bags are ready etc I sometimes feel like an army sergeant barking commands at his company, poor kids. Anyway, I digress...





The other evening at dinner we were trying to sort out our schedule for the week. The boys regularly announce that "Mark is playing tomorrow" or "I am going to Dave's" and we are generally OK with that but we like them to 'ask' as there may be other plans. At first I found this strange as I was used to the mum's arranging the play dates not the kids but I have learned to go with the laid back flow here and as long as the boys are happy that's fine.

The little man announced that he had a friend coming to play tomorrow then the big lad said, oh yes I have 'friend' coming too. But he didn't look very happy about this so I asked the question; Is there a problem because you don't look very happy about it? What he said next totally knocked me off my feet.

I don't really want to play with 'friend' he is not really one of my 'best' friends and I find him a bit annoying but no-one really wants to play with him and I think that's not nice for him so I think that I should. 

I have read so many times that autistic people lack empathy. This can be linked back to the work of Simon Baron-Cohen on Theory of mind.

Yet, I do not believe this as here is another example of my big lad demonstrating perfectly that he does have empathy for others. In a previous post I have also discussed how he almost seems to feel the emotions too much.

Theories develop as understanding grows and Simon Baron-Cohen and his team are conducting further research at Cambridge University into Theory of Mind. It appears that empathy has now been broken down into two distinct areas:

ToM is the ability to attribute mental states to others, to infer what someone else is thinking or feeling. It is one of the two major components of empathy, sometimes known as 'cognitive empathy'. The other major component is known as 'affective empathy', or the drive to respond with an appropriate emotion to someone else's mental states. Our work is showing that in Asperger Syndrome it is primarily cognitive empathy that is impaired, whilst affective empathy is intact. In classic autism, both components of empathy may be impaired.

If I understand this corectly then my big lad is showing signs of affective empathy, responding with an appropriate emotion to someone else's mental state. 

For me, however this is just another example of the complexities of autism and a reminder of how no two autistics are ever the same. But ultimately it a moment to feel immense pride that my son is growing up to be such a kind and caring person.









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