Harper Lee wrote a wonderful line for Atticus Finch in the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird. He told his daughter, “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” That’s a great definition for empathy.
This may be “a simple trick” for some, but it’s not for those with Asperger’s Syndrome. Empathy is usually lacking in a relationship with an Aspie. This lack can cause deep emotional pain to the neurotypical (NT) partner, because empathy is very important for feeling connected and loved.
A troublesome dilemma for many NT partners is the realization that empathy is not the same as caring. Your Aspie may care about you and love you. But if they have Zero Degrees of empathy (as described by Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen) it just doesn’t feel like love or caring. And that can leave you bereft . . .or depressed.
Just imagine this ironic story showing how an Aspie can care about someone, yet not have empathy. Imagine the wife is deeply depressed one day, so she wraps herself in a blanket, and huddles in the recliner to nap away the day. Her Aspie husband noticed this and asked if she’s Okay. When she says that she’s not doing well, he offers to get her a Pepto Bismol. He cares so he tries to help, but it’s way off the mark of what she really needs.
So, what is a NT partner supposed to do? You understand intellectually that your ASD partner cares, yet is incapable of extending empathy to you. Do you really have to give up your need for empathy, for the kind of connection that means so much? How do you continue to appreciate that they do care, even when you’re not getting what you need? If you’d like to find a group of people who understand what you’re going through and who can support you online, check out Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD.
For those of you who are in a relationship with a person with Asperger’s and live near Portland, Oregon, you can connect with others who can empathize, by joining us for our next Meetup locally. Come prepared to share your stories of empathy v. caring. Let’s find ways to cope with this dilemma. It’s on Saturday, September 21, 2013. Click here for more information.