Autists are empathetic

Autists are empathetic
For years it was assumed that autistic children are unable or less able to empathize with other people than children without autism. New research from Leiden University (by developmental psychologist Carolien Rieffe and her colleagues) makes it clear that autistic children are indeed touched by the grief and pain of others and also sympathize with them, but that they react differently to ‘normal’ children. They often don’t know what to do with it.


For example, autistic children are less likely to show compassion. When someone hits their head, they don’t always react to it, even though they do notice it. These children can become upset or even aggressive by the emotions and pain of others. In fact, the more they sympathize, the more overstimulated they become. They feel overwhelmed. Hence, they can ignore the pain of others. They can also withdraw from the contract. Many ‘normal’ children tend to be mothers or fathers when their parents are having a hard time.

An autistic child usually does not do that. This is something I intuitively knew for years. Often people with autism (also by scientists and care providers) are regarded as numb, unloving, or unable to empathize with another person. That they find it difficult to empathize with others, would even be one of the hallmarks of autism, without substantiating how these conclusions were reached. In fact, this negates their humanity. That’s what I call character assassination.

Autists are empathetic


I was ten years old. I watched the  Wildlife SOS program with my mother.  A team of veterinarians takes care of injured or sick wild animals until they are strengthened enough to be released. A deer had been attacked by a dog and was in bad shape. Someone measured his heart rate and then suddenly said, “He’s going to die.” I exclaimed in astonishment how he could know that and asked my mother questions about it.

Unexpectedly, my mother started screaming how insensitive I was and threw a pillow at my head. if she programs with my mother. If she had seen her mother or father have tears in her eyes, she would have reacted differently. At one time I had three different kinds of pain. The grief for the animal (which I felt too), that a projectile hit my head, and the idea that I was a bad kid.


The pain and sorrow of classmates (like a boy sent into the hallway for every trifle and spent hours in the hallway at least twice a week) I could feel like it was happening to me. Yet somehow it never occurred to me to show compassion. The situation was also too unsafe in special education. When I tried to speak out in school for fellow students who were wronged by teachers, that was called a sham empathy.


Autists are empathetic

Once in a while, I was able to really mean something to classmates. That was my last year in primary school. There was a school disco and four kids hadn’t gone there. A few weeks later we would go swimming with the class. The teacher and master decided that the children who had not been to the disco did not go swimming with them. The four children were outraged. I could well imagine their disappointment and anger.

That same evening I wrote a note why I thought the children should be allowed to swim. That the disco and the swimming had nothing to do with each other and that my classmates had not been warned beforehand. The next day I put the note on the teacher’s desk. Finally, the teacher gave a kind of speech and decided that the children could still swim. They were surprised and happy. “I didn’t expect that from you!” I was told, among other things. I still remember hopping euphorically across the square during the intermission.


Another reason I suspect that many children with autism have a hard time showing (but feeling) compassion is that they are often held responsible for the misfortunes of others. Because their problems would be so burdensome for the family. Then the child may feel that he is always doing it wrong. Perhaps the child also suffers a lot from the other family members! If a child does try to show compassion, it can be misunderstood.

For example, during his lecture, a young man told about a teacher who had stopped smoking. When he saw her light another cigarette, he asked, “Are you stressed?” This was seen as impertinent and it gave the relationship between the boy and the teacher a big blow, while she could also have seen it as interest. If you are often so misunderstood, then you can also start to believe that you are not social. People with autism are quite direct and say it like it is.


Autists are empathetic

A friend of mine who is also diagnosed with autism is more empathetic than most people I know. She always sympathizes when I am having a hard time, then puts a heart under the belt (the other way around), and shows people their value. Yet in the past, she was often bullied and mocked (also by adults), because she is not sobbing and is not normal. Many of my autistic friends can put themselves in another place better than adapted people.

I still don’t always manage to respond well to someone’s pain. It’s like there’s a glass bell over me. I am most successful in helping someone if they give me enough confidence to share their grief without expecting me to resolve the pain. It seems obvious, but in a loving, safe and understanding environment children come into their own, whether they have a label or not. Children with autism would also be better able to show empathy in a stable situation. Sometimes that happens very spontaneously.

“I love you mom.” If you’re always upset, it’s hard to deal with other people’s needs. When you feel safe and welcome, you also pay more attention to other people. In the publication, Carolien Rieffe also argues that children with autism should first learn to regulate their own emotions before they concern themselves with the emotions of others.

I can relate. then you also pay more attention to other people. In the publication, Carolien Rieffe also argues that children with autism should first learn to regulate their own emotions before they concern themselves with the emotions of others. I can relate. then you also pay more attention to other people. In the publication, Carolien Rieffe also argues that children with autism should first learn to regulate their own emotions before they concern themselves with the emotions of others. I can relate.

In connection with animals

Autists are empathetic

Sometimes a direct connection can arise between an autistic child and an animal. They feel good about each other. The best example I know is  The Horse Boy (2009), written by Rupert Isaacson, father of Rowan, an autistic boy with panic attacks and epilepsy. The parents were afraid to lose all contact with him. He was often completely unresponsive. He often yelled or beat around all day long.

A regular treatment made the condition worse. Walks in the woods to calm him down. One day, while out for a walk, Rowan crawled under the fence. Laughing, he dropped to the ground, right in front of the moody mare Betsy. Then the miraculous happened: the mare did not startle, she did not kick at the boy, but she bowed her head – a sign of submission. There was an immediate bond between animal and child.

Rowan started talking and he learned to express what he thought and wanted, whereas before he had only gibberish. This was the beginning of a long, incredible adventure. Rowan learned to laugh and play with other children and became more and more independent. We would be more likely to recognize empathy in each other if that empathy were mutual. Source:News Leiden University


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