Empathy: “Asperger’s” Style

Autism is defined by a lack of social reciprocity.

Empathy is a tough concept to explain to Neuro-Typicals (NTs), and those on the Autism Spectrum alike. I have made several attempts to define and describe empathy in my books. In fact most recently I published a book on what a serious lack of empathy looks like, “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS: How to Stop Those Hell-Bent on Destroying You.” But in spite of my efforts I still get readers who find it confusing at best, or even hotly disagree with me. Mostly my NT readers give me an “Ah Ha,” when they recognize that Empathy Dysfunction (EmD) is at the heart of their relationship problems.

This time I thought I would look at the concept of empathy from the polar opposite view, from the perspective of someone who is autistic. According to the DSM-V (“Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”) autistics do not have empathy, or as defined in the manual, they lack in “social reciprocity” and other interpersonal communication skills. Yet time and time again, “Aspies” assert that they have empathy. In fact, some are even angry that I would suggest otherwise.

In a response to one of my blogs, an ASD woman wrote:

“I have Aspergers and am highly sensitive and empathetic to the right people. It’s just that I know neurotypicals are generally jostling for social position or running on an impenetrable and often very obvious and boring program. Why should I be empathetic to that? They are not empathetic to my need for autonomy and to live in a healthy world.”

There is a lot of anger and hurt revealed in her comment. Clearly she feels marginalized by the Neuro-Typical world and she is fighting back. But there is a lot more. I want to take my time to unpack the meaning of her words because I think it will clarify what empathy is and is not.

Empathy is like an orchestra.

Is it sensitivity, intuition, kindness, or compassion? No, I don’t think so, even though those are elements that contribute to empathy. 

Is it consideration for others? Or perhaps, a sense that you should give someone space to be just who they are? Maybe, but that certainly doesn’t explain it all.

How about those people who say they are an “Empath,” because they sense the “energy” in the room and seem consumed by it? Nope, that is not how I would describe empathy. It is so much more.

There are so many parts to empathy that if you are missing just one element, you don’t really have empathy. It’s a sophisticated amalgam. I sometimes compare empathy to an orchestra that is composed of the musicians, the composer, the arranger, the director, the soloists, the concert hall, and the audience. There is some ineffable quality of a concert that just “comes together” with the right mix. We all have had this experience. Aren’t you in awe of the concert when the music reaches deep down into your Soul — and you are inspired?

Empathy is more than the sum total of the parts.

Another simple way to look at empathy is that “Empathy is greater than the sum of it’s parts.” Empathy includes all of the adjectives above, but it is more. Empathy is the ability to hold onto yourself (your thoughts and feelings) while you acknowledge the thoughts and feelings of the other person. Further, it is the ability to add to the mix of emotions and thoughts, words that describe both what is going on with yourself and the other person. It is the ability to take all of this information and formulate a plan that creates a win/win outcome. Both you and the other feel understood and appreciated. And yet even more, empathy is the ability to process all of this information in milliseconds. 

“Aspies” cannot do this. They may have many of the qualities of empathy as I have described them, but they struggle to integrate the parts into the whole, in the right time, with the right response for the situation. This profound disability leaves Neuro-Typicals not only feeling misunderstood, but feeling rejected — even bereft.

Empathy is so much more than sensitivity.

“I have Aspergers and am highly sensitive and empathetic to the right people.” [the first sentence from my blog reader].

Many “Aspies” believe they have empathy because they are sensitive, or compassionate, or kind. In fact, they usually tell me that they are so sensitive that they just can’t function in a room with chaos, or the roar of the music, or more than one person speaking at once. On the other hand, true empathy is the ability to function in all of those conditions, while maintaining one’s cool and being there for others.

I had an ASD (Autism Spectrum) Scottish marriage and family therapist tell me that he accepted that he has no empathy, but he felt it was irrelevant. Instead he teaches his couples that the Neuro-Typical (NT) should do the work of understanding his or her ASD partner. This therapist maintains that the autistic spouse needs so much more understanding than the NT. 

Choosing who should have empathy, or with whom to be “empathetic” is not empathy. Empathy is a neutral skill. It is the ability to integrate the parts of the orchestral performance into a whole that is much more than the sum of the parts.

Missing the subtle nuance of communication.

“It’s just that I know neurotypicals are generally jostling for social position or running on an impenetrable and often very obvious and boring program.” [the second sentence from my blog reader].

Without the ability to empathize, or integrate the parts into a whole, it is no surprise that “Aspies” develop some interesting ideas on what empathy is. I want you to think about how difficult it might be to understand empathy, when you have never experienced it. Not easy, is it?

My blog reader thinks empathic communication among NTs is “jostling for social position,” and “. . .running on an impenetrable and . . . boring program.” I can understand completely that she misreads the intentions of NTs. Empathy isn’t always so easily observed because it comes from an inner knowing. Because empathy skills are not strong for “Aspies,” they rely on cognitive observations, which miss the subtle nuances — and the intended meaning.

Here are a few examples of how some “Aspies” described their NT partner’s empathic behavior.

  • “When she talks with me it’s like confetti. I just wait for the confetti to fall to the ground. When she finally gets to the point, I listen.” From an “Aspie” husband.


  • “My wife gives a lot of back story until she gets to the point. I am a very good listener so I try to follow all of this back story, but I usually get lost. I never know where she is going.” From an “Aspie” husband.


  • “In order to make my writing more interesting to Neuro-typicals, I have learned to add all of these extra words to my manuscript. It’s like they need these curly-Qs, for some reason.” From a woman who writes fantasy novels.

Empathy is definitely not treating another person’s words as if they are confetti, or back story or curly-Qs — or impenetrable and boring, but at least these “Aspies” are trying to connect. They know the NTs in their lives want more and they are making an effort to figure it out. Nevertheless, empathy is still a mystery to them.

Why“Aspies” feel marginalized and disconnected

“Why should I be empathetic to that? They are not empathetic to my need for autonomy and to live in a healthy world.”

Can you blame this woman for being angry? She wants acceptance for just who she is. Without the ability to read between the lines, she has spent her lifetime being misunderstood. Good intentions don’t come across well in the NT world, when they are missing the empathic touch, something she calls “impenetrable and . . . boring.”

We NTs believe that all people have empathy, or that they should. When the “Aspie” misses an important social cue, or puts their proverbial foot in their mouth, we are aghast. No one helped us understand what autism may look like in an intelligent, quirky, high functioning individual. So, we fail them. We dismiss their behavior as rude or ignorant. We can do better.

On the other hand, “Aspies” need to accept that they do lack empathy, and that this is unnerving for NTs. For example, my former spouse made an off hand comment one day, in front of our guests. We had people over to play board games. At the completion of one game, Trivial Pursuit, I won. My then spouse looked astonished and said, “Wow! You really do know stuff. I always thought you just pretended to know things.”

I found his comment offensive and my guests were unnerved. In fact, because he lacks empathy and a theory of mind, he had no awareness of what I know or do not know. He only knows what he knows. He did observe that I won the game fair and square, but he didn’t congratulate me. Nor would he be able to ever acknowledge in the future that I had a mind (and knowledge) that is different than his own.

Building an interface protocol.

One man with ASD form the UK is a faithful follower of my work. On the release of my latest book he said, 

“The Aspie person always sounds like the villain in your writing, Kathy.”

That hurt. I don’t want him to believe I consider him the villain. Blaming someone else for just who they are is certainly no solution. It doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. It is such a delicate balance to explore the dynamic of Empathy Dysfunction (EmD) in order to enlighten people, and yet not blame. 

My goal is to enlighten and to search for the elusive interface protocol, so that even without empathy, “Aspies” and NTs can connect.

100 Replies to “Empathy: “Asperger’s” Style”

    1. You are so welcome Anne. I hope my summary brought some clarity. It’s such a complex issue isn’t it? But when you live it, I suspect my blog resonates.

    2. I feel that this article is missing the part that ASD individuals, as the writer calls “Aspies” can get to empathy through different mechanisms – cognitive empathy being an example. They are not lacking, and thus, many people with Asperger’s, particularly women, can be perceived as great with others on the outside and in social interactions even though they may be screaming on the inside.

      People call this “masking”, but I think it’s smarts and empathy – cognitive empathy that mitigates emotional empathy a lot of the time – and that a fast cognitive processor can have that in a similar amount of time as an NT…. just saying.

      This article was limited.

      1. Hi Rae. I frequently get this comment that “Aspies”can get to empathy through cognitive means. I do understand why this false belief exists because NeuroDiverse individuals have the same range of emotions as anyone else and can be kind, sensitive, compassionate (or the opposite) and so forth. However, empathy is a great deal more than cognitive understanding. It takes the conscious mind a great deal longer to process data than the unconcious/intuitive mind. Reliance on cognitive understanding limits the ability to connect in the moment — something “Aspies” are known to be poor at doing. NeuroTypicals on the other hand generally have the ability to do both cognitive and emotional/intuitive processing almost simultaneously. This leads to the kind of empathic “connecting” that NTs speak about. Sadly many “Aspies” believe that the cognitive portion of empathy is all there is, or all that is necessary. They often refer to the emotional/intuitive step as “fluff,” or unnecessary. Further, they can be unkind with their NT loved ones by insisting that they “get to the point,” or even to “stop being so sensitive.”

        To your point that a “fast cognitive processor mitigates emotional empathy” — as many NTs know — NTs can pick up in a split second that the “Aspie has mastered the words only. That’s why my upcoming book is entitled, “EMPATHY: It’s More Than Words.” Without all components of empathy, which I call the Empathy Triad, there is no true empathy. So no, it is not true that those with EmD-0 have empathy.

        On a much shorter note, the term “Aspie,”was coined by those on the Autism Spectrum. While it has fallen out of use for various reasons, it is not something I started. I do continue to use some popular colloquialisms for High Functioning Autism to help those who are not as familiar with the history. However, I prefer the term “NeuroDiverse” these days since it implies only that those with Autism just think differently.

        1. Thank you for repsonding. I still believe that I am capable of empathy despite having an Asperger’s profile. When I was a little kid, in fact, I had almost heightened or inappropriate amounts of empathy. My mom got me a headband one time when I was 5. My friends told me they liked it. I gave it to one of my friends and asked my mom to buy the rest one. When I was 13, I went and volunteered at a soup kitchen for school. The woman I first served talked with me. She told me that she didn’t have anything to give to her granddaughters for Christmas and that she was distressed. I felt heartbroken, personally, like it was me living that because I had used cognitive empathy to identify. I went home, got some of my favorite stuff, and gave it to her to give to her granddaughters to bring them joy.

          I think that you have a subjective definition of empathy, as do all people. But to pigeonhole people with Autism and say that they don’t have empathy is a tragedy to me and a portion of the narrative that has gone awry. I wrote novels in high school – without empathy, how did I develop the characters?

          Autism can also be thought of as a sensory and behavioral disorder, and it’s a spectrum. For me, the problem area socially is in understanding how others might perceive me, and it causes me great stress. But I can empathize with others. I don’t want to get into all of the details of my ASD, but I just feel that you should be careful with blanket identifiers on a “disorder” that is a spectrum and has different levels of individuals and manifests differently in different people. Also, there are gender differences, too.

          1. Again your feedback is invaluable in demonstrating the “Spectrum” of ASD. My ASD daughter is similarly sensitive and caring. When she was just five I took her to watch some construction next door where a housing project was starting. I thought she might find interesting the mechanics of prepping the land for building. There were trees laying on the ground as the workers cleared the land to build. Bianca burst into tears and asked me “Mommy, why are they raping Mother Nature?” Clearly she was confronted by a painful truth about human “progress.” But I still have to disagree with you that this is empathy.

            Empathy is a social skill that grows stronger as we practice it. It is the ability to step into the reality of others and to invite them into your own world. It is a recognition of the other in a way that makes them feel seen. It is not an exchange of stuff. While it is kind to ask your mother to buy the other children headbands, did you ask all of the children if they wanted one? Are you aware that individuals can admire your headband and not want one for themselves? Did you consider whether they would feel obligated to return the favor? Did you even wonder if your Mother cared to do as you asked?

            Furthermore, giving a grown woman things that a 13 year old treasures is not empathy, though it is a sweet childish thing to do. Your gesture is a sign of sympathy, not empathy. Sympathy is giving a gift of your things. Empathy is to recognize her pain and talk with her about it. The gift is your understanding — to know her and appreciate her — not seal up your pain with some presents she can give her children.

            I realize these are subtleties. Your examples of empathy are transactional, whereas true empathy (the Empathy Triad) is interactional. It is transactional to give a headband. The headband seals the transaction but does not leave room to deepen the interpersonal connection. Furthermore, have you considered that when the child complimented your headband, she may have wanted your attention — to get to know you — not necessarily get a headband? NeuroDiverse individuals start with the transaction and sadly that is often where it ends.

            What I am trying to explain Rae is that empathy is much more than words — much more than cognitive analysis of the other person. It is certainly more than making a decision all by yourself as to what the other person needs (i.e. headbands or Christmas gifts). Human beings all want to be known and loved for who we are. Your gifts are an attempt to do this, but because they are transactional only, they may fall short of the love you intended.

          2. 5 year old example, aside, let’s unpack the 13 year old one.

            I did talk with her about her pain and internalized it. Her pain was that she could not give a gift to her granddaughters. I empathized with that. I talked with her about it. The “sympathy” of giving things I treasured was more an attempt to identify with what the granddaughters may like, as I had not met them. The decency of the act as a 13 year old required empathy first. The woman was elated. I was able to feel that, and when I went back, she told me that her granddaughters treasured the items.

            Empathy is more that a cognitive analysis, but my point was that I believe it can be cognitively mediated. I believe that ASD is not a disorder, just a different way of thinking and a different set of heuristics and hurdles to experiencing life.

            That different strengths may be at the forefront or back-burner, but for many on the spectrum, there is no “disability” or incapability for empathy, true unadulterated empathy. I think it is very easy for neurotypicals to try to bucket people who are different from them into a category of disability.

            In that regard, an inability to see and feel and perceive how someone with ASD lives their life means that a neurotypical individual cannot truly empathize with us but just have theory unless a lot of time is spent trying to learn and understand. Even then, it’s a spectrum.

            I would argue that high-functioning ASD individuals, on the other hand, have had to spend their entire lives learning about neurotypical individuals and their drivers/how they function.

            In that regard, empathy becomes possible, but because thinking patterns, perception, and life differs between NTs and Aspies, then some cognition has to mediate that empathy to do the “translation”. So in that regard, I would say that you as a NT cannot understand my experiences as I an Aspie can understand yours (though you may think you can), and that cognitive empathy is mediating your ability to try to empathize with me and your daughter and how you think we may feel.

            Again, this is my opinion. All of my friends were shocked to learn I had Asperger’s, though my partner and parents were not. I was always told I am very empathetic and caring. Maybe some of that was excellent masking, but I can tell you all of it wasn’t. I always put “myself in others’ shoes” mentally.

            I think your analysis may apply to some people with Asperger’s, but as someone on the spectrum to whom it does not apply, I find these generalizations to be potentially damaging.

            I would no more generalize someone without ASD that I would try to generalize someone with it, as we are all individuals at the end of the day.

            I will say that I do not find my ASD to be a disability. It caused me problems within my life, but no more than some of my friends had problems not being as quick to learn in school, etc. as me, and it has brought me a lot of strength and joy. Maybe certain aspects of empathy do not come as naturally to me as some of my NT friends or they come differently, but we all learn and develop and grow.

            Also, I think in the end, some aspects of social understanding lead to group-think, cliquishness, and bullying, which I was a subject to. Is that empathy? No, there are downsides, too, to being a slave of social behavior.

            Maybe ASD just adds another layer of versatility and independent thinking. Again, I think it’s unfair to generalize.

          3. Just wanted to add, there are many typos in the previous message, as it was typed on my phone. Also wanted to add the context that I am successful and have a career high ranking in people managing, where being able to empathize with my reports and those in my organization is a core part of how I am able to achieve success. It is not easy, and it does require some masking. I’m not naturally the best at small talk, but I can empathize.

          4. Dear Aspie, I am not a therapist, but an NT who is highly exposed to ASDs. I can tell you do not possess the full set of empathy skills. The very fact that you’re still arguing this proves it. You cannot see what you do not have.

            I admire your patience Dr Kathy.

          5. Thank you so much for your open honesty and transparency, I’d like your input on the following.

            Sympathy is feeling (sorry) FOR someone.
            Can you give an example of THIS?

            Empathy is feeling WITH someone.
            Can you give an example of THIS?

            Can you explain what the difference is?

      2. The entire point of the article is no, you can’t. You’re asserting a literal opposite point, this point cannot be integrated into this article because it directly contradicts it. Empathy cannot be found or created through any other channels no matter if a person believes otherwise

    3. I do agree with Dr. Kathy that as an Aspie/ND I support what she intimates about what we lack in terms of empathy, because we do not pick up the hidden messages/xues some or most of the time. In my case I have found that when it comes to the concept of sarcasm, unless I am visually watching a comedy routine, or when people make sarcastic remarks, but when I can only read the words in a dialog, I find it hard to comprehend as the context is unknown and just reading the words do not seem humorous to me. That is due in part, to us taking things too literally when we should be focused on listening to the content . That is why i like the chart for the “ Empathy Triad” that clearly, in my opinion fills in the gaps for those of us who are listed as being on the spectrum and are Empathy Dysfunctional. I do feel, however, that some of the responders have taken a rather negative tone to what you have written. For those spouses who have had difficulties their ND husbands I think they may be wearing their personal emotions on their coat sleeves, which comes out as criticism, or finding fault with us. I don’t think it is intentional. If we lived in an ideal world where we genuinely respect human social differences and along with inclusiveness, it is opening a dialog for us to explain to NTs the best we can that our regular transactional mode of communication is what it is, and I do feel that sometimes we mistakenly take it for granted, even though they are equipped with a full range of intuitive empathy (that was learned as children) that they automatically or instinctively can understand us, which is obviously not factual. When they express themselves to us we may interpret it as blaming. But perhaps it might be more similar to feeling the disruption caused by culture shocks. As a manager once told me talk less and listen more. Really listen.

      I do have thoughts that I exist in a NT world,?particularly when the feedback feels like criticism and blaming, along with venting. There is always room for them to a improve their own skills of empathy towards us a bit more. Otherwise, it might appear that their communication is a kind of pressure for us to assimilate and be more like them, much like how some people who join and are active in Faith Based groups — talk the talk about inclusiveness, but don’t walk the talk.

      Some people have ulterior motives and agendas for their joining Faith Based organizations. I’m referring, of course to extremist Evangelicals and Christian Nationalists who seek to impose their beliefs on others, and/or disparage both the non-religious and members of the LGBTQ Community. I have little patience for such disrespectful behavior. Peace

  1. Wow, some great thoughts about empathy I had never considered before. Some of your examples described my husband perfectly. The part I am struggling with is whether it is wrong of me to want a partner who is empathetic. I assumed I was getting one and discovered I didn’t. (We barely knew each other, so it’s not that he was pretending or that he changed. I just didn’t know.)

    1. Hi Elizabeth. Of course is’t not wrong to want an empathic partner. All human beings are “wired” for that. It’s just that with our “Aspies” they get the benefit of our empathy, but don’t reciprocate. They may be kind, compassionate, sensitive and kind, but empathy requires more, as I have explained in this post. There is not much in life to enjoy that doesn’t require empathy, so we can feel pretty lonely and isolated when our special someone doesn’t get the real YOU. However, life without an empathic partner can be alive and fulfilling in other ways. Just not the same though is it?

  2. Appreciate your work and your writing. There’s a lot of truth to your writing from the perspective of my experience – living the NT / ASD struggle with 3 immediate family members…

    1. Thank you Liz. My goal is to get our story out there and to bring together those who struggle on both sides.

      1. So crazy! This explains a lot
        I’m a 44 year old female & I believe I’m on the high functioning end of aspergers. Only a few people close to me agree/ most people don’t see how I really am & im great at being a chameleon. I believe I’m an Empath/ thought I had so much empathy – but now realizing I’m just caring, super super sympathetic & very intelligent & spent my whole life trying to meet others needs- at my own expense. I love hearing this. There’s not a ton of info regarding high functioning neuro diverse areas people. & I went to a therapist to have her see if I was on the spectrum & I’m so good at appearing neuro typical in short spurts & certain situations/ she dismissed me & said I just have anxiety & depression.
        I feel it would take so long for a therapist to truly know me & see all my quirks. But the people who live with me (my 20 year old daughter & her bf & my bf of almost 2 years) think I’m on the spectrum. When I first read about aspergers a few years ago- it felt like things about me finally made sense & I didn’t feel so bad about myself. Just would be nice to have an expert tell me I am neuro diverse.
        Thank you for this article.

        1. Thank you SO much for sharing!
          Especially the comment “I went to a therapist to have her see if I was on the spectrum & I’m so good at appearing neuro typical in short spurts & certain situations/ she dismissed me & said I just have anxiety & depression.”

          My ASH (Asperger husband) I believe had the same experience and I looked like the bad guy pointing it out! Getting and accepting an accurate diagnosis is critical to beginning to get help. Thanks again.

  3. Dr. Kathy,….quite honestly I’m
    Expecting someday you will be nominated for a Nobel
    Peace prize.
    The degree to which you seem to
    Understand every aspect of this state of thought and the far reaching effect it has on others is astounding. You have not only begun the work of understanding this better and sharing it with the world but seem to have blown the gate off the
    Mental prison that all to
    Often seems to become the dark and lonely home to those of us who have journeyed much of their lives with a
    Partner with Aspergers. I look
    Forward to learning the rules of engagement that I might finally understand how not to be so hurt
    The time.

    1. God bless you. Thanks for your words they resonate and are felt by many here. “How not to be so hurt…” wow that is a powerful statement. How to give up the hope of ever being loved by someone that “gets us” and cherishes us with actions that show it…?! Lord help us.

      Please check out the books by Brant Hanson, he is an Aspie and successful Radio host and is really honest. Find his radio station and buy his book “Unoffendable”. it is super good….and written by and Aspie!

  4. I am so emotionally struggling with leaving my aspie after 18 years of trying to get him to step up to the plate and get his hoarder house cleaned and fixed and ready to sell so we can get married and get a house of our own. He rarely lets me come over and help…which I could easily do . But says I’m working on it. And it will be ready SOON…which is always next month…next 2 weeks for 18 long long years of promises. the most crazy head bashing part of this is when I ask him why he hasn’t done anything he ignores the question and wont answer OR HE WILL SAY …I JUST TOLD YOU OR I ALREADY ANSWERED YOU…WHEN HE HAS SAID NOTHING. Or he will say. “What is the question again??? Or he will hang up or break up with BUT NEVER EVER EXPLAINS WHY HIS HOUSE IS NOT READY. ONE TIME HE SAID HE WAS WORKING ON CLEAMING HIS ROOM. AND SAID IT FOR 8 MONTHS…I am a smart, capable woman…rehab director of 2 clinics, paramedic on fire dept AND A CERTIFIED LIFE COACH. but he always get me crying and feeling crazy….and then when I am hysterical he says…sorry my fault…I am going to start getting my stuff done and we will get married this year….over and over for 18 miserable years.
    I need help getting out , moving on and letting go..I am now 66 and miserable.

    1. Oh dear Teresa. Your story is all too common. He probably can’t answer your questions because that would require understanding himself better and knowing how to convey his intentions to you. Instead and without empathy, he just stalls. If he won’t get professional guidance, you can’t keep enabling him. Time to take your life back. You sound like a shero to me. Use those wonderful talents of yours to make the most of this incredible gift of life you have been granted.

    2. Oh god you poor thing. If you want to be together give him an ultimatum.
      I walked out, recontacted by a short note after three months. He wanted to get back but I said only if we get married asap. I had to organise it but it’s been ok for 21 years.
      He still fascinates me and I don’t underestimate him. It has allowed me to develop my talents without restrictions. He is fridgid and in his own world most of the time so it’s not a cuddly life. Very like the Mr Bean character. Emotionally immature in a way. He’s always trying to develop intellectually, meditates and reads heavy philosophical books. Not lol.
      I try to find things to do independently to have a break and some fun but you do feel lonely and fear being needy as a friend or relative.
      Tell him what you want and if he doesn’t agree, walk. You can sort his house out or pay someone to do it. If not, join a dating agency, an expensive one so you don’t meet losers.
      Does that make sense?

    3. Thank you for sharing. I identify with the hoarding. It never gets done. Next month, next month, … ad infinitum. No real empathy; no compliments; no initiating conversations or intimacy; his car is a mess so I always drive; on and on and on. He’s a nice guy, but I’m wilting and starving for the basic things one shares with a partner in marriage. It will never happen. He’s incapable and I have to accept that.

    4. Hugs sister. Hugs. You are valuable, worthy of love, respect, adoration and being treated like the amazing woman you are.
      Let me ask you this and then spend some time thinking about it deeply and no need to answer here.

      “WHY do you think enduring this is ok?”

      (I am asking myself the same question)

  5. Thank you for this. Your blogs are always so helpful. Glad there is someone out there who “gets it,” although feeling pretty discouraged and sad about relationships with a couple of Aspie (I guess?) family members.

    1. Hi Margaret. Your discouragement is understandable because we can’t problem solve with “Aspies” the same way we normally do with Neuro-Typicals. But once you learn their language it is easier. Not perfect by any means, but not such a mystery.

  6. I am an asperger person can say that we have a different kind of empathy, for eg. when somebody has a problem I react logically giving clear solution to their problem to help them, that is how I show care “empathy”, whereas a neurotypical gives cuddles, show emotions which is nice but often as I see lacking of real solution, to prevent the problem coming up, NT people like to blame something or someone else. So logical approach has its place too, so in that terms we do lack of emotional emphaty, but we have a strong logical emphaty. On the other hand with animals I am the same empathetical as NTs, I stroke, cuddle, comfort the little fellow emotionally and provide the logical “technical” support too. Also I am vegan, on the journey to be a zero waste person so I have a great emphaty towards animals, environment. If NT people have such a big emphaty why do they walk pass by a homeless person ? Why arent we all vegans, zero waste people, why all the cars yet not electric, and why is the senseless mass production disregarding our living space the Earth? I’m hoping and seeing these movement growing that one day all people will have the same amount of empathy for each other, for animals, nature , our Earth as I am as a n aspie and the fellow autistic, non autistic healthy minded vegan, zero waste people, 🙂

    1. Thank you Monika for taking the time to share your thoughtful response. You are on target when you say that those with the full range of empathy are not necessarily more compassionate or more environmentally aware than those on the Autism Spectrum. Those insights require a lot more than brain organization don’t they? But empathy is more than emotions and more than cognitive analysis too. As I describe in this blog, it’s the whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. On the other hand if those with empathy can find compassions for those with autism. . .and if those with autism can do the same for NTs. . .we might just get past the heartache and learn to work together.

    2. I’m sorry, but NT people look for blame elsewhere? Quite the opposite, based on my experience. My “Aspie” ex could not, would not and will never admit when he is wrong. Every single thing that ever happened, he came up with a reason to blame me. No matter how little of an issue it was, he would continue to “logically” explain why it couldn’t be his wrongdoing, and would not stop until I agreed with him. I have no problem admitting when I am wrong, but this “Aspie” made me think I was delusional. It wasn’t until he moved out that I realized how unintentionally abusive he was and how bad his rigid behaviors negatively affected me both mentally and physically.

      And, let’s put aside how I suffered for a moment and think about the damage his lack of empathy and emotional abuse (however unintended doesn’t matter) has caused our children. They want absolutely nothing to do with him, one of them is frightened to be alone with him, and yet guess who he blames? ME. The saddest part of it all is that he truly believes whatever he has made up in his mind. If he thinks something is logical, no matter how wrong he is, you just don’t understand because you’re not as intelligent as him.

      To be clear, I don’t lack empathy for him. I can see his point of view. It’s not even that all compassion is lost (although a great deal is gone, along with trust) because the relationship he has with our kids truly breaks my heart for all of them.

      1. Karina,

        I can so identify with all you say – especially about the heartbreak concerning the children. Yes, my Aspie won’t ever say he’s wrong and often puts things on to me, as being my fault, BUT, the pain of knowing how much my daughter and son have suffered (and still are, although they try hard to stay in a relationship with him) will haunt me until the end!

        The guilt I feel that I couldn’t shelter them from their experiences and then the guilt that I didn’t take them away from the situation, is something that doesn’t go away. I kept hoping that he would ‘see the light’ and start behaving differently, which I now see as with love, kindness and empathy. I just didn’t know or understand what was happening. If only I’d known at the beginning what I know now, things could have been different. It’s around 5 years since I learnt about AS and next year we will have been together for 50 years, so 5 years seem only a small part of that time!

        Although the children (both in their 40s) still see us both, they refuse to consider AS and so, I can only conclude that, at times, they see him as a harsh and mean person, which he can come over as such. They are bright and intelligent people and I wish they could see that he’s different and has a lifelong disorder, but I don’t seem to be able to find a way to help them understand. They say, “Well if it helps you to think that way, Mum”…. !!!

        It really does help to know others have had the same experiences (helps me to think that it wasn’t all my fault) and to know that if we handle things differently, we can get through on an easier pathway.

        Good luck with your relationship. Keep reading Dr Kathy’s books, which I’ve found a great help and comfort. I guess we all do the best we can with what we know and what we have at the time (my comforting thought!).

      2. WOW! You summed it up in words I may have been looking for. You are not alone my friend. Now we have to hope and pray for Dr. Kathy that she can help steer these different ships into neutral waters!

        Thank you for your honesty.

  7. Wow!! This was awesome, so well explained!! I found myself remembering how it feels with similar “missed”-understandings by my partner. It feels like he misses 99.9% of me, just can’t get into my head, can’t remember what I struggle with, with a brain injury. Not sure he even knows I have a mind, except when I tell him. I’m beginning to see that his language judges or ranks 100%. Since I just read Elaine Aron, PhD’s book “The Undervalued Self,” I am now watching for how I rank myself or am ranked by another, which is sure NOT empathy. In the above stories I heard lots of judgment, and ranking and those are NOT empathy!! As long as I can get connection from nature, TV shows or another human being, I’m OK, but some days I wonder…everyone sees his child-self and smart-self, but have no idea how much it hurts to live with a smart child, who can’t even begin to meet my needs. I struggle like the above writers, too.

    1. Very perceptive Louise. The concepts of judging and ranking are not empathy. They certainly provide a way for an “Aspie” to make a kind of one-sided sense of their world, but it is not a holistic, accepting, or loving way is it? Don’t ever settle for this type of relating. The minister at my church recently tried this method on me, and I rebelled. He didn’t like my opinion on something and then accused me of “being no fun anymore.” He went on to accuse me of “not trusting” him enough to let him decide something for me. I was quite surprised by his childish games. I guess I assumed that his professional position meant that he would operate at a higher moral level. He is not autistic, but I suspect he is in alcoholic relapse. Unless he chooses to find appropriate healthcare, I won’t go back to that church. Sometimes our decisions are tough.

  8. Totally excellent article Kathy – it’s exactly these nuances that are lacking that do our head in as NTs. Yes no one taught me I might one day meet (or marry!) someone with these confusing issues. I’ve had to be like some top class detective to decode exactly what I’m dealing with because of all the contradictions! Thanks to work such as yours we NTs get some much needed understanding and relief.

    Co parenting without this empathy match is extremely difficult to say the least. Our son is now 8 and has the same things going on as his dad. My husband left when my son’s school started recognising symptoms and everything went pear shaped. He threatened to sue the school, wanted to put his teacher in jail, then blamed me, took me thru a child custody case accusing me of being a child abuser and the reason our son is the way he is, then divorced me. I am now legally unable to pursue any diagnosis – but whatever – I think I probably know what I’m dealing with in my own son better than any professional. Well, in saying that I do question if it’s a personality disorder, without genetics, that has been transmitted to my son environmentally? My husband would be diagnosed NPD well and truely but I’m convinced that has its roots in autism / Aspergers.

    I have noticed tho that since my husband left (3 years ago) and as we now share care, I get to influence my son for half his time. I am able to coach him on social/ empathy aspects he sometimes misses and he is definately growing into a more loving boy who offers a lot sensitivity to me and others. There are times tho when he just can’t understand why it’s important to say or do certain things that I’ve explained people like so they feel valued or loved.

    My ex husband is now 50. He didn’t received any understanding for his differences or early interventions as a child and subsequently is a hard case – very intelligent, very defensive, very arrogant. I sometimes foolishly think I can help him be nicer. I recently texted him to suggest how beneficial it would be if he would only apologise now and then for his inconsiderate words or choices. Of course I didn’t receive a reply.

    1. Hi Lisa. Thank you for your willingness to share your story.Yes, parenting with a defensive partner is awful. The issues you describe fit the NPD perfectly. The controlling and abusive conduct harms not just you but his child. Plus enlisting the help of others in the community to control you is doubly abusive. No evaluation or diagnosis for your child is child abuse. I quite agree that ASD and NPD are not a good match. Fortunately your son is getting the loving parenting he needs to avoid that trap. Hang in there and stay strong.

  9. I don’t believe in an interventionist god but if I did I’d give thanks for you Dr. Kathy. I don’t know what the other websites and experts are trying to accomplish w/their wishy-washy platitudinous advice for despairing people who love their mates and need substantive guidance and reality-based tools to find their footing. Going through those other mental health websites is beyond discouraging til people are able to find you, all busted up and howling. I hope they are watching and learning from your example.
    And FWIW what these critical Aspies don’t realize is how much easier you are on them relative to how challenging it is to take on what you’re advocating for us non-spectrum partners behind the paywall. Just saying, it’s personal development on steroids.

    1. So agree with you Robin! I am so sick of being told how it’s up to me to make up for all my Aspie husband’s deficits.

  10. I’m so grateful for the insight and useful information you offer, Dr. Marshak. This struggle to convey all that empathy is seems similar to my struggle to define “relationship,” “healthy relationship,” and “relationship repair” to my husband. I just can’t get it across. I am left believing that we are like 2 species with different needs.

    1. Hi Diana. The problem with explaining “relationship” is inherent in the word. It’s the same with “love.” These two words are what linguists call nominalizations, or taking an active, process word and turning it into a noun. Better words are “relating” and “loving.” “Aspies” do not understand nominalizations as we do. We automatically see “relationship repair” as an alive and ongoing process. The same with “love,” . . . a never ending process of give and take and growing deeper into each other. As long as “Aspies” see dynamic processes as merely nouns, thy will fail to pick up the pieces of a broken moment or a broken relationship.

  11. Thank you so much for this. I followed the link from your email just when I was feeling extremely low after a zero empathy situation disguised as a kind action (that totally missed the mark).
    This kind of thing not only fails to support the NT but also makes them feel as if they should have been grateful.

    1. Hi Anne. Such an astute observation about feeling grateful when our “Aspies” try to connect. We can accept a gift we don’t want, from a well intended friend. But when the gift that misses the mark comes from our life partner, and the topic is very important to us, we feel used. We feel doubly bad when our ASD partner is annoyed that we are not grateful.

  12. Your previous respondent, and Monika’s response, illustrate the kernel of the problem very well. At the risk of oversimplifying the matter it is that in any engagement with other people Aspergic people want to be an autonomous party who makes the decisions as to how the interaction will work taking the view that if they deploy logic then there will be no impact on others, if indeed they even consider this question.

    Both respondents are evidence of the extreme-male-mind theory, based on observations of behaviors and MRI brain scans, whereby the male brain will propose solutions to problem whereas the female brain, which must deal with issues, i.e. insoluble problems, looks for support by way of others indicating they too understand how the female brain is feeling but respecting the right of that woman to come up with her own solutions.

    NT people are fully cognizant of the fact that there are problems with solutions and there are issues no solution but are to be managed by negotiation, compromise and respecting the boundaries of others as fully autonomous as the Aspie! Part of this process is to leave much unsaid and communicate by non-verbal means, such as tone of voice, body language and display of emotion. Leaving things unsaid facilitates the process and allows all parties to emerge with the feeling that they have all gained whereas saying things verbally or on paper means it cannot be wound back and made invisible if the ideas are discarded and thus stains the outcome. It is like a carpenter assembling a new piece of woodwork: They will measure and check and then lightly attach pieces together, just lightly in case they need to backup and rework. Only at the very end do they apply adhesive, close up and hammer home the nails. The difficulty is that to Aspergic people, like the initial respondent, this appears to be pointless jostling for position and is an impenetrable process. (In my opinion the old folk wisdom fairy tales would address this symbolically where dark impenetrable forests would entangle and ensnare the prince and in the end it was love which freed the person whom he was looking for, not the intellect).

    For Monika and the initial respondent answer me this: When two Aspies are having to work together, say in a team at work, how do they logically resolve the issue of them both wanting to be autonomous and both wanting to be the one who formulates the premises from which the logic flows?

    I would wager that such situations never arise as by their rarity Aspie’s do not have to engage with and interact with other Aspies. Instead they work and engage with NT people insisting on being the autonomous decision make and bullying their way, even if they are in the NT person’s physical space, to get their way. They can take a free-ride, as the economists would say, on the NT’s deploying consideration for the thoughts and feelings of the Aspie, and is willing to compromise for the sake of the Aspie but the Aspie does not, cannot, reciprocate.

  13. To add to the scenario mentioned bear in mind that it describes one where two Aspies are brought together by third parties as equals.

    Aspies being with each other will, when it occurs, tend to be in a family, by virtue of the genetics behind the Aspergic brain manifesting in more than one family member. That is a different scenario.

    The one I am familiar with involves my Aspergic sister-in-law, who has an Aspergic son. This relationship was saw my SIL solve the problem of their competing urges to be autonomous not by applying logic but by applying psychological manipulation and physical force.

    In terms of the former she would, in these circumstances address him not in term of his autonomous given name but as “Son”, i.e. reminding him of his junior status: basically one sided jostling for position.

    When that didn’t work she solved the problem not by logic but by beating him, thrashing him on his bare legs with her rubber flip-flop, child abuse if not a criminal offense, only stopping when he became too big for her to do that, but leaving him with much long term resentment and bitter feelings towards her.

    1. Hi John,
      One of the problems you are pointing out is the terrible confusion that can emerge between an NT and an “Aspie.” The confusion can range from slightly annoyed to outraged and worse on both sides.

      What I do know is that both sides feel terribly misunderstood. And these misunderstandings can deteriorate to abusive levels.

      My goal has always been to recognize this problem and to build an interface between worlds. However, when people feel misunderstood and marginalized, and it goes on for a long time, making positive change is tough.

  14. Indeed Kathy. I tend to use ‘Aspergic’ coined from the adjective ‘autistic’ rather than ‘Aspie’ a coined noun because first and foremost everyone is a person, a conciousness being lived by Life and experiencing it by means of the brain inherited from genetic ancestors but given to think that we are indendent actors by virtue of said brains. Despite that surface impression of being autonomous agents we are not so walk a fine line between the demands of our ‘self’ for autonomy and recognition that our perceived autonomy stops where another person’s perception of theirs starts. The person with an Aspergic brain is very aware and desirous of their own autonomy being respected and resents their boundaries being violated. Even if say they are guests in someone else’s house they can be aggressive to members of the household who they perceive as interfering with them exercising their logic to correct what appear to be dysfunctional behaviours by said members. So they are very much protective of their own independence but see no problem at all with interfering with the independence of other people. Usually the interference is well meant and Aspergic people think of this as being empathetic. However the person whose autinomy is interfered with by a bossy Aspergic person experiences behaviors not motives and the Aspergic person while meaning well never asks the other person what it us that they want and being as attached to being autonomous as the Aspergic person is that other person does not want the Aspergic person taking over their life without asking pernission.. Such an idea should be obvious to the logical Aspergic mind but is not and therein lies the difficulty.

  15. Hello, I am new here. Married 31 years to a man with lots of signs of Asperger’s. I have intuitively revamped how I communicate with him, learning by trial and error over the years. I do not yet have a good handle on what empathy is. Perhaps this has been covered in a previous blog post, but my big question is, does my husband love me? He says he does, and I know him to be truthful (sometimes to a fault.) Without empathy, is that possible?

    1. Excellent question Barbara and no easy answer. If you have seen the kind, loving side of your husband, then he probably loves you. However, most of our members report that it does not feel the same as the reciprocal empathic love that deepens over time, with repeated interaction. If love is a noun to “Aspies” then it doesn’t grow or change. In fact it can wear out. Not so if love is built on empathy.

  16. Hello Kathy, I have been together with my “Aspie” husband for 32 years, and this article really hit the nail on the head for me about empathy, especially when I read about the experience you had at your games evening with friends and wrote…
    “In fact, because he lacks empathy and a theory of mind, he had no awareness of what I know or do not know. He only knows what he knows.”
    I thought straight away, yes that´s it exactly! Although we´ve been together for many years, he seems to have his own idea of how I think and what I know – It´s as if the way I am is viewed entirely through his own perspective.

    I also had a realisation about myself, after reading your article which was, that I do not feel empathic towards my husband. Since discovering he was aspergic I understand now about his sensitivities, moods, focuses etc., which has obviously made a positive difference to our relationship. But actual empathy for him is very difficult, because I would have to put myself in his shoes to understand his actions or words. This is very hard because I can´t think in the same way he does.
    This made me think that NT´s and Aspies are really like a different species, where neither can be empathic towards the other.

    1. Hi Ruth. You make a good point. I do think you can learn the language and thought processes of your “aspergic” loved one. First we must get past our shock, or confusion, or even revulsion at the way they think. Being analyzed by an “Aspie” looks and feels the same as being scanned by a narcissistic, so our natural instincts kick in, and we protect ourselves (fight, flight, freeze). If you use your empathy, you can interact with an “Aspie” successfully. On the other hand, the minute you engage a narcissist, quit and go away as fast as you can.

  17. The thought came to me about how to understand by experience, i.e. the Biblical sense of knowing, the way Aspergic people only see themselves ad being a subjective being and others as being animate objects or another way around have no capacity for empathy.

    It must be something like the experience of having a dream: In our dreams we are the sole center of consciousness but there are all these other actors making an appearance in a kind of chaotic way with no structure yet we, well me anyway, do not see them as being other beings for whom I can identify as also having an independent existence. If it becomes too chaotic then I pull the plug on the dream to leave all that behind.

    I wonder if Aspergic people experience life something like that?

    1. Astute observation John. It is sad to think so but ASD folks do love differently. The reason for the title of my second book, “OUT OF MIND – OUT OF SIGHT” comes from a similar observation.

    2. John,

      I appreciate your speculation from my autistic mind. This is comparable, however, there’s some points I’d like to make.

      #1: Not all people with the autistic mind walk away from conflicts with people, chaos, or people permanently. Truth is, we need time to process everything from thoughts/feelings/words/situation of not just ourself. Not sure about others, but it does overwhelm me to the point I automatically shut down until I can take the time with no distractions to sort everything out. I revisit situations not long after isolating.

      #2. Chaotic environments impacts how I act/react to people around me on a very extensive level. I notice everything, small to big details of people and everything I hear and see all simultaneously up until I remove myself. That is so much to take in, I lack the ability to ignore anything in my surroundings. And just like everyone else, things affect me from someone’s body language telling me more than the words they are saying to the clutter around me.

      #3. As a 39 year old who wasn’t diagnosed as a child, growing up with no help, I knew I was different than my peers then. I was observing/analyzing everyone and everything on deeper levels by far than my peers ever did. I always felt like an outcast, and all I wanted was a better understanding of myself and to be understood. I never felt the peace and happiness I seen in others. It made me withdraw because it hurt tremendously that I couldn’t feel the same. I think not feeling peace or understood around people causes me to isolate more than anything.

      I think I got off topic, or my attempt at giving insight at the least, I can’t remember what I read. Bottom line, we seek understanding, acceptance, and connection as much as anyone else. It’s difficult for us to function and when people avoid or walk out of our lives, it really hurts and creates more fear of rejection. We are afraid to truly open up for that reason.

      I understand it’s difficult, painful at times, and challenging to have an autistic person in people’s lives, but we need to come together. Truly I understand both sides. I admit when I’m wrong, and I appreciate other’s points of view, and sensitive to their feelings and thoughts, but I have taken years to help myself. Advice: try not to take it personal, keep in mind we try, we can improve on some level in some areas to make it easier on others if they take the time to learn how to help us achieve desired goals, and know that we would take a bullet for people who eventually walk away because we can love very deeply. Also, it takes us longer to heal from trauma, and little things to others can be traumatic for us. I always try to keep everyone happy and do my best to protect their feelings regardless of what I feel. I’m always told I’m too sensitive, and that I feel more deeply than them. Take the time to sit down with an autistic person, it might just surprise you, if we are comfortable and trust someone, we open up.

    3. One thought crossed my mind, as my mind never stops, in relation to showing compassion or our ability empathetically, this might help in understanding:

      Trauma often hinders anyone in being there for someone completely. As I mentioned from my autistic standpoint, little things, such as chaos/yelling/etc often traumatizes us. I’m not sure about others with autism, but I rarely get to heal before something else traumatic happens. Thus making it even more difficult to be completely there for someone else as I would be without suffering from trauma, but I always try to. Not trying to play the victim, just providing insight that we take longer to heal, and some traumatic events stay with us for years if not permanently. So as far as an autistic person not showing the compassion, empathy, etc you are looking for might be due to their slower healing process. A huge thank you to everyone who stands by an autistic person, because I know what it’s like to live with it alone and without help or support from anyone. If people understood us better, though I don’t expect it because it’s hard for us to understand ourselves from time to time, maybe we would have more support and do better for ourselves and everyone who gives us a chance.

      I would recommend having someone else for people to expect or look for true empathy as we can’t help it, but stay by our side. Truth is, you might be the only one who does, and to us that means the world. We truly are grateful, just poor at showing it. I know I worry about loved ones all the time, and try my best to do everything I can for them, but mental exhaustion gets in the way of reaching near perfection. I’m willing to take the time to help anyone gain insight and a better understanding of life with autism. Just leave a reply so I know and we can communicate.

  18. I am absolutely blown away after discovering the conversations taking place here. Even though I have been learning about Aspergic qualities and identifiers for about 5 years in trying to understand my undiagnosed partner, the insights shared here are adding a new level of insight for me. Of course first there is an incredible sense of relief for me at finding others who have the shared experience of living with an Aspergic partner. Then next there is the confirmation of the impossibility of having the ideal empathic love partner, that I have been yearning for. My partner has become very good over the years at showing demonstrations of caring for me through kind actions around the house: doing projects, cleaning up, making meals. This has made a huge improvement in our relationship. But the deeper connections are still out of reach for both of us. He always feels unloved because he is doing these things to get appreciation for himself and I always feel frustrated that he doesn’t perceive my love and enjoy it. Your discussion of the complexity of empathy has really opened my mind to how difficult it is to bridge the gap between two separate worlds.

  19. None of this seems to apply in my case. If anything, I am overly empathetic and have been since early childhood. My mother years ago told me of how I would get upset that an elderly person had no one at home to care for her, or that the family of a nearby unemployed man might not have enough to eat. I have always felt overwhelmed by those who are in need. I have left food and even cash at neighbors’ doors when I thought they needed it. I often feel very depressed about the world situation (genocide in Rwanda, war in Syria, etc.) When I see someone looking sad I try to cheer them up. Yet I was also diagnosed with AS several years ago when in my mid-50s. Yet I am told that I am not empathetic. Just the opposite is true.

    1. Yes it is so confusing isn’t it? Many people with ASD are “highly sensitive,” but this is not empathy. Absorbing the emotions of others, or being distressed by the injustices and horrors in the world is not empathy either. Empathy is more neutral than that. It is the ability to read the social situation in the now, and respond appropriately. It is sensing where the other person is coming from, yet not absorbing their emotions. Instead you remain aware of your own thoughts and feelings while at the same time acknowledging the other. Empathy is similar to the greeting Namaste: the soul in me recognizes the soul in you. It is this empathic recognition that NTs call “connecting.” Those with ASD do not connect in this way —- with a knowing look. It is different to connect without empathy and NTs make the mistake of thinking the “Aspie” is not trying, which of course is far from the truth. However, sensitivity is not connecting empathically. Your sensitivity is you alone with your emotions.

  20. This old blog was the one Kathy where you mentioned the Aspie comment about seeing NT people as endlessly jostling for position, and I had commented about how this must seem from the Aspie’s eyes.

    My thought returned to this when thinking about the so-called children’s story “Wizard of Oz” which is nothing of the sort but an allegory which turned my mind to another “Alice in Wonderland”, an upside down world full of crazy characters. Some see this as an allegory too or a work of an author with a vivid imagination. but its author pen-named Lewis Carrol is now thought to have been on the spectrum, and I can’t help but feel the story is about how he experienced the NT dominated world.

    1. Yes John, I can see the autism in “Alice” and “Wizard.” Modern science fiction and urban fantasy are other vehicles for “Aspies.” These authors juxtapose reality and non-reality in such a way that the reader is not sure what is real anymore. It may be that reading these works brings us NTs as close as is possible to the confusing overlap of real and unreal for “Aspies.”

      Here’s something to think about. As much as I love science fiction, I am more intrigued by the science and the thrills, than with the characters. True, Mr. Spock is fascinating, and I named my cats, Neo, Trinity and Seven of Nine —- but these characters only represent aspects of humanity, not the whole person. Spock, Kirk and McCoy are portrayed as friends, but you don’t really get a sense of their friendship. Just like my cats, science fiction characters are “Aspie” like.

  21. Here is one episode from my marriage: it was 18th of February, my birthday. Our second son was 1 month old, the first one was 10 years old. A bone marrow biopsy was scheduled for mid-March to check whether or not I have leukemia. And my husband came home from work without flowers or present. He forgot my birthday (he was always at a loss about birthdays anyway). I cried, he was surprised and fell genuinely guilty. I ordered him to go to store and buy me flowers and he did. But it was very awkward when he gave them to me: he kissed me on the cheek and I felt totally empty, stupid, sad and angry. It all made absolutely no sense.
    That was 25 years ago. We’re still married. Last year, on my 36th wedding anniversary, my husband forgot it and I was happy about it. I spent the day researching internet for answers, starting with narcissist. And I finally learned about Asperger’s. I’m very sure my hubby is one. I understand him now, anger is gone. Problem Im dealing with for this past year is this: how could I be blind for 36 years and blame myself, and try endlessly to find the way to get his approval and attention? Am I an Asperger also? Am I delusional, or narcissist, or borderline codependent, or very insecure? There must be a reason that made me stay although there was so little connection and so much loneliness.

    1. Sadly your experience is quite common. After this many years of being gaslighted and ignored by your “Aspie” spouse you are probably codependent. Out of survival you adapted to his ways and lost your own identity along the way. Part of this codependency is to develop what I call “Aspergated.” You may not have ASD but you have acquired some “Asperger” traits by association. Don’t be hard on yourself, it can take many years before you wake up from this slow, insidious process, but when you do a huge transformation is possible. Start with yourself, not your spouse. Start taking your life back from the process of codependency. Only then will your spouse recognize that he has some work to do.

  22. I really appreciate this site, and have joined the MeetUP. But I do have to say that I find the label “Aspie’s” to be very “othering” and I know my partner would bristle at being labeled as such. I think we have come far enough to know labels like these are not helpful. Thank you for consederation.

    1. Hi Rose. The term “Aspie” was coined by people on the Autism Spectrum, so it is probably not offensive. In fact there used to be a website entitled “Aspies for Freedom.” They were quite a politically motivated group. You might find it interesting to visit pages for Autists where they refer to Neuro-Typicals as “Nypicals”, or even the “Neuro-Typically Impaired.” I also refer you to my blog on Hans Asperger for the complications in using a politically correct word or phrase. But your point is well taken, since a label is not the person.

  23. As an aspie, I am always astounded but the arrogance of the NT PhD. The views of my highly intelligent Asperger’s brethren clearly run at odds with many of these views.

    1. Hi Craig and thank you for your cryptic comment. I am frequently questioned about this feature of autism; that is, the empathy dysfunction. Please don’t mistake “highly intelligent” as evidence of empathy. Empathy is actually part of what I call the “Empathy Triad,” which consists of empathy, context and conversation. Autists struggle to integrate these parts. While they may have the sensitivity to feel the emotions in the room, they are stumped as to which aspects of the context of those emotions to speak about. Further, a conversation is a reciprocal give and take about those emotions (or the context around them); and the conversation is meaningful to both parties (or even all parties).

      In other words it’s not really empathy if it is not expressed, nor if the other person doesn’t feel it. The Autist may know in their heart the feelings they are having. They may even know the feelings of the other. But to speak about both in a way that makes all feel like it’s a win/win — well this is a mystery to those with ASD.

      In fact, many on the Spectrum will bemoan the small talk, or chat chat of NTs, not realizing that this is the stuff of the Empathy Triad.

      Thank you so much for your comment. It has helped me clarify this complex and touchy topic.

  24. How does empathy function in a society constructed around white privilege and white supremacy? How does empathy function when a Black person tells a white person that they are constantly overlooked, spoken over, disregarded, not represented, etc. etc. at the workplace, for example, and the white person fails to listen and understand, and instead gives an example of how Black people are always presenting themselves as victims? What happens to empathy in a society, run largely by straight white neurotypical men, that separates Hispanic refugee children from their parents and puts them in cages? What happens to it in a system run by slavery and colonialism? If *only* neurotypicals are truly capable of empathy as defined in vague and primarily metaphorical terms here, what is anyone supposed to think about such atrocities, perpetrated by people who are by nature supposed to be empathetic?

    1. Thank you Alissa. Your points are further evidence that one can be born with the capacity for empathy and still not always use it. In my book, WHEN EMPATHY FAILS, I define several levels of Empathy Dysfunction (EmD). EmD-4 describes those folks who are perfectly capable of seeing beyond the systemic racism, or the interpersonal problems associated with Autism —- but have not yet waked up to the challenge. Just like any other talent we may be born with, empathy is shaped by the world around us. If we are open minded, white and come of age with a white privileged world view, it may take a major shaking up to recognize systemic racism. Likewise, I watch the difficulties people have recognizing the great sadness an NT may be feeling, when they love someone without empathy such as an Autist. And I have watched the painful struggles of the Autistic who tries to fathom the world of those who use empathy as their guide.

      1. There is no single definition that all researchers have agreed on for empathy–like love and beauty, it’s an abstract concept–so how can we accurately measure it? How can we test it? Ought we to test it? So what troubles me here is your rather bold statement that all autistic people cannot and will never be able to experience empathy. Or how you define it. What studies prove this? You say here that autistic people have “interesting” ideas about what empathy is because they’ve never actually experienced it. This begs the question, are you yourself autistic? Because otherwise, according to your logic, how can you know whether or not an autistic person is capable of it without yourself having an autistic brain? I know and love people on the spectrum, and it never occurred to me to think of them as any less capable of empathy as anyone else.

        1. Once again you make good points Alissa. I am writing my second book on empathy because, as you print out, it is ill defined in the popular literature. I won’t go into depth here since this is a complex topic. However, it is wonderful that you have autistic friends whom you love and who love you.

  25. I HAVE ASPERGER! I can totally understand why NT gets frustrated on us empathy retards, I can’t even imagine how hard it must be for an NT to even live together with an aspie.
    I am one of those aspies that can wake up one day feeling connected to everyone and some days I feel like an alien, just really sad and total in dispair, ending up calling my mom to tell her how I feel and that I am totally numb and how frightended I am, she will as always comfort me and I will tell her that I love her and spend my day meditating by my own to get frontal lobe in work and my emotions on a human level extremley frustrating and I sometimes end up crying during meditation in a 32 year old male just imaging my view on myself sitting there crying for not feeling…. HORRIBLE! . Anyways there is also good days when I’m having a good empathic day 🙂 I get so happy when that
    day comes I’m ending up calling everyone I know and visit everyone to share emotions and just having a good time. I have almost become a believer cause of that. I do also visiting my father who also has asperger and he really gets on my nerves when I’m having a good day. He has a hard time getting my points of view, very little emotional support. If I’m telling him a story of what happend me and who behaved in a bad way against me, he has the capability to take the other person’s perspective making me feeling alone instead of supported….. in need to get he’s emotional support he turns on me making me feel worse! ! I can’t understand how he is thinking, I get so angry that im close to explode. He can’t get my point of view, he is yelling, walking in front of me in slow motion, he can’t sense when a person is feeling bored, saying things that hurts me with very little remorse. . I have to tell myself that he can’t help it and it’s a part of he’s illness but he still get on my nerves and I can’t handle it. Some days I’m built to feel other peoples emotion and I can just imagine how frustrating it must be to have a partner being like that all of the time, never entering the emotions of others. I myself would not being able to handle that kind of missing piece. And I myself struggle with my own piece most of the times but at least I know what feeling I am missing at the moment and that it comes and goes. I do also joke alot, have alot of friends. That might have helped me to gain empathy. BTW be nice to aspies, they are struggling harder than anyone could ever understand and they are at much higher risk of cuicide. Some of us have empathy while others are missing it totally and will never understand it. Most aspies are very earth grounded and truthful. Their minds might be empathic but not their feelings.

    1. Hello John and thank you for sharing your painful, yet enlightening story. Have you ever investigated alexithymia? What you describe sounds like you struggle with one component of empathy. Alexithymia is the inability to know what you are feeling, and/or to express it clearly. And it interferes with reading others too, since you need to have a strong sense of your own emotions to have a reciprocal conversation. It seems to me that if you can intermittently recognize your emotions, why not try increasing the flow? Therapy with someone who understands ASD may help.

  26. Having just read this article and looked at the responses, I see how wide the gap is between understanding each other. One author used the analogy of a zebra marrying an eagle. The eagle insists on returning with meat. The zebra then replies, but I’m a herbivore, I do not eat meat. However the eagle, programmed to find meat, insists on returning with more meat. The zebra is unable to convince the eagle about the need for greenery and so the cycle continues.
    This sums up my experience of living with an ASD husband for 43 years. He cannot ‘see’ my need for certain things- reciprocity, tenderness or empathy. He does the dishes or tidies up if he senses I’m unhappy. Never would he ask what I need and provide it. All of his reactions are to alleviate his own discomfort (at my being unhappy). They are not geared to attend to my needs.
    He has forgotten what any row was about in 5 minutes and so cannot attend to repairing a relationship blip.
    It is like I am being offered meat (again) when all I wanted was a small serving of herbs or greenery.

    1. Hi Barbara,
      Thank you for this wonderful description. It sounds like my situation, although I know my husband’s reactions ARE trying to meet my needs, not just his own discomfort. But it hurts.

      I cannot over-emphasise what a life saver discovering Kathy has been. Reading one of her blogs for the first time was literally a jaw -dropping event for me when my painful, lonely life within a busy family made sense for the first time.

      I now need advise on how to broach the suggestion that (I am certain) he is an undiagnosed, very high functioning Aspie?
      We separated almost a year ago after nearly 40 yrs together, both struggling in very different ways – me feeling utterly lost and invisible.
      We both want to be together, but it feels impossible due to the huge gap in communication – even with standard therapy.

      I fear he would react to the suggestion with more anger & hurt. What do you have to do to get a diagnosis?

  27. I know you said Aspies aren’t the villains in your writing, but as a 31-year-old with ASD, I really struggle to consider myself anything else. Almost every relationship I’ve tried to have with an NT person has ended in failure because I lack qualities that most NT people consider essential to a fulfilling relationship, and indeed essential to being human at all. Anybody who befriends me expecting a relationship with a person is going to be rightly disappointed, because I’m not really what most people consider “a person”; I’ve just gotten very good at simulating one. The testimonials from NT people who have had to put up with an Aspie parent or spouse only confirm the fact that most NT people don’t want us around, and for very good reason (please spare me the assurance that we are so very much wanted and loved, I figured out that wasn’t true after the 5000th time someone said it and didn’t mean it). I don’t think that I belong with other people. Sorry for making this all about me as an Aspie, you don’t have to approve it if this is too self-centered.

    1. Your comments are valuable, if tragic. No one should have to feel as if they don’t belong, don’t fit in, or are unacceptable. I have written my books because I want to help those in Neuro-Diverse relationships seek another way of relating that is still loving and rewarding. I hope you find the help you need.

        1. Dear Anonymous,

          I am so sorry you’re feeling disheartened about Aspergers’. I have it, too, and so do two of my cousins, and it it’s a painful thing to have to get up everyday and feel like you’re speaking a completely different language than everyone else around you, or fail in relationship after relationship. I’m not here to try and change your mind about what you feel, because you have the right to feel any way you choose, as an autonomous person. But I recently read two articles that have helped me a lot.

          The first is a list of famous people (some are officially diagnosed with Asperger’s and some are speculated to have had it while they lived) have gone through our struggles and inspired others, even if they didn’t always have fulfilling relationships. It seems a lot of them found an important work to do and poured their incredible gifts of concentration, passion, and dedication into making the world a (theoretically ) better place.


          The second is an article about two Yale University professors who believe that autism still exists, (instead of following Darwininan theory and being cancelled out after years of being un-useful) because it is an advantageous survival gene.


          Like I said, I can’t pretend to know your situation. I also feel the need to be normal, but if, biologically, autism is proved to be advantageous for reasons we aren’t aware of yet (maybe to give the world some more geniuses that possibly had it, like Darwin, Einstein, and Jobs) perhaps we don’t need a cure. Maybe it’s true that we just need a way to understand NTs and be understood by them, and live in mutual respect\love.
          Hope this can’t help a little bit. If it doesn’t I wish you the best.

  28. Dear Kathy.

    This was a very interesting (albeit it sobering) read. I think the first thing most of us Aspies want to do is defend our position, say we’re misunderstood, not un-empathetic, and give you many examples of how and why we ARE. I was tempted to do that. But lately, after engaging a therapist to help me validate and understand my feelings (I have a high level of Alexithymia) I’ve understood that a lot of what you say is true.

    I am a highly sensitive person. I struggle with Sensory Processing Disorder, I self identify as Dyspraxic, and I have not been aided socially by being homeschooled for 12 years. I cry when animals are in pain\suffering. I cry at sad movies. I am genuinely moved by human acts of kindness even while I criticize and doubt the goodness of the species as a whole. I had a crush on a boy who killed himself, and though we weren’t close or even friends, per se, I have been overwhelmingly affected by it, since. But I am still unable to genuinely understand my own emotions (often, as in the case of a lot of people who have Alexithymia, I experience them as troubling physical sensations, and apart from anger, can’t easily isolate them and describe them. My therapist is a trooper.). Often, I am so bombarded with strong feelings\discomfort\sensory overload, I feel unable to sympathize with others, even when they need me to. I get frustrated with them and believe my needs are greater, since they physically\emotionally feel like they’re killing me. But I wonder, AM I unable? If I exert myself more, if I try to become more self aware, more aware of NTs, will I succeed in being the empathetic person they want\need me to be?

    I know you believe that Aspies\Autistics are born without empathy, but do you believe they can attain it or something close to it with self awareness and hard work? Do you believe that empathetic levels differ among female Aspies and male Aspies, since the majority of people who resonate with this article seem to have husbands\sons on the spectrum and not wives\daughters? (Understandably, because men are more prone to Autism\Aspergers’ and are usually the gender most tested\interviewed because of that.) And finally, do you believe it’s more beneficial for Aspies to try and seek love with other Aspies, where possible? (This may be my analytical brain talking, but logically it seems a person would be happier with a person who has the same brain chemistry. Just wondering. 😉 )

    As much as this article was uncomfortable to read, it opened my eyes to the realisation that I almost never think about what I might put my parents\siblings\friends through when I push for autonomy and express my needs\wants, but fail to remember theirs are just as important. As a woman who aims to stand in solidarity with everyone, I have obviously been hypocritical in the past, and hope to do better in the future. Thank you for sharing your insights. I hope that by mutual understanding\respect\love NTs and Aspies can learn to live\love one another in more compassionate ways, too.

    1. Dear Grace. Thank you for your insightful comments. I wish I had answers for all of your questions, but like you I am still exploring this uncharted territory of neurodiversity. One thing I do know is that we humans have more in common than we realize. Focusing on our differences often leads to unwarranted conclusions and hardship. As Freud said, all adults want two things — Love and Work. As you note, being aware and being kind are huge in bringing us together. It may not always be empathy as I describe it (Empathy, Context and Conversation), but NTs can learn to appreciate the loving efforts of Spectrum folks. And Autists can come to appreciate that there is a subtle energy flow that NTs describe as “connecting.” I could go on but I will definitely think about your words because it is an important reminder that all of us are part of one human family — and we forget that at our peril.

  29. Can people with asperger’s develop empathy at all? It’s insulting that autistic people can never reach deep connection.

    1. Jeremy, Autists can love and be loved. But it is a different kind of love. This is not a polite euphemism. However, in order to find love, you must embody love —- be loving — love yourself. Complicated but not impossible.

  30. It’s unfortunate that someone has attempted to correlate a contrived social agenda, cover for a political wedge to try to install socialism in this country, with an actual neurological condition. Although it is hard to describe empathy, I can give two examples from an interview with Temple Grandin which may indirectly illuminate the subject. When asked why she never got married, she replied, “I never saw a model of marriage that made sense to me.” And she also mentioned that she never understood why people see beauty in sunsets. Yet she was able to logically deduce, from their perspective, what she thought might be a better shaped pathway to lead catte to their slaughter.

    1. Thank you for this excellent example of Dr. Grandin’s compassion, not to mention her laser like logic. However, this is not empathy. Empathy really is quite different than compassion, or kindness. It is more than cognitive analysis. As I have described many times, it is far more than words. Empathy is the connective tissue of a relationship, without which the relationship often suffers. This connective tissue interacts within the context of relating, much like the connective tissue in the body. By the way, if the body’s connective tissue is ravaged by an illness such as Myesthenia Gravis, the person dies. Why is that? Why is the connective tissue of the body just as important as each individual organ or muscle that it surrounds? It is no different than empathy. Without the body’s connective tissue, the heart can’t function properly. The same is true for empathy.

  31. I added the part about Dr. Grandin’s compassion in using logic and her knowledge of animal behavior to deduce that a curved path would be less stressful for the cattle on the way to the slaughterhouse as an aside. I think my earlier main examples illustrated indirectly what you are talking about–that she saw no point in marriage, which made no sense to her is probably a reflection of her lack of ability to connect with people in that way, and that she saw no beauty in a sunset as most people do also showed a difference in what elicits an emotional response from most people, which is not empathy, but I think lack of perception of beauty or the emotion it brings is tied into it.

    1. Thanks for the clarification Trevor. Sometimes words get in the way of meaning don’t they? You are absolutely correct that Dr. Grandin does not have empathy, though she is brilliant and compassionate in many ways. Her scientific observations of cattle led to her discovery that they graze bunched up together as they circle the pasture. She considered other factors such as keeping them from seeing or hearing the killing of another cow ahead of them in order to keep at bay their anxiety about their pending death. Then she designed a cattle shoot that spiraled and narrowed as the herd moved toward the slaughter. Why was she concerned that the cows not be distressed just before the kill? Because those stress chemicals affect the meat that we eat. She thought it might be more beneficial for human consumption if we ate less stress chemicals. But this is hardly empathy in action. It may have been a poor choice of words for you to suggest that Grandin saw the slaughtering of cows from the cows’ perspective. I am not sure you meant to say that cows have an opinion about how they are killed. If they did, I assume they would try to convince humans not to kill them. All animals have an innate need to survive and avoid death as much as they can. Rather than empathy for the cows, or even the humans who eat them, Grandin’s clever design came from her mathematical/logical/analytical consciousness, not empathy. Remember, empathy is a reciprocal interaction that builds rapport and trust — that enhances the bond between and among people. It is not a one way street.

      1. Well, I used the word “compassion” in my second comment because you you referred to her compassion, and I assumed it it must be in reference to her animal work. I think it was also more difficult for the slaughterhouse to handle the animals when they became excited and anxious and that was one consideration for her redesign. When I said she looked at it from the cattle’s perspective, I was going by how she described the process where she walked through the standard chutes and imagined how the sharp turns would distress the cattle, put herself in the cows place when she plotted out the curved design.
        It’s funny, I thought I had heard or read a few years ago that Temple had died. This happens frequently to me, where I think I’ve heard someone famous died but they haven’t.

        “Remember, empathy is a reciprocal interaction that builds rapport and trust — that enhances the bond between and among people. It is not a one way street.!!!!!”

  32. A message to everyone, including the author, from someone who has autism and no help (with that) in my 39 years of existence (I will have soon in light of my mom’s honesty of refusing the system to the diagnosis of autism when I was little):

    My help from myself came from observing and analyzing everyone and everything (which I began by age 2) with the recent combination of self help journals (shadow work, a year of zen, etc that I decided to do on my own) and prior years of psychology courses (which was rather difficult to retain, but possible). This might help you and your autistic loved ones:

    Find self help journals as I have mentioned, obtain yours and theirs at the same time, and because autistic people need to feel it’s their idea usually, have someone they trust to gift them to all people they are intended for. Autistic people are more willing to consider something of that nature if they don’t feel like they are being accused of having problems, and if there is problems between you, that’s why it needs to be a third party. Saying something like I really enjoyed this and thought you might as well. Self help journaling could really help a relationship with anyone, just be sure to complete yours too, and let the journals stay private to each person. It could provide insight to yourself as well as insight to an autistics self too. I know they did just that for me. The Year of Zen is a lot more enriching, shadow work is usually the wake up call for people and truly facilitate as much change as possible. Good luck to all, we are all people and deserve a happy and fulfilling life. On a personal note, my previous comment included this as well, I’m willing to help anyone gain as much understanding, insight, and suggestions in helping a fellow autistic and their loved ones in the common goal of coming together and connecting on as deep of a level humanly possible. We can achieve this together, please don’t give up on autistic people. Thank you ❤️

  33. Hello again. I got to thinking about an example that led to a breakthrough in figuring out the type of environment I needed to achieve the best mental results that might help someone else understand the autistic mind a little more. Different concepts work for some people regardless of being an autistic person or NT.

    The job site I went to with my ex husband years ago was getting a foundation set and placing a double wide there. This was a relaxed setting aside from his normal work, the reason I agreed to tag along and help where I could. I stayed to myself at first, picking up screws, trash, etc that wasn’t near anyone (I was undiagnosed but knew).

    The house owner offered me a beer seeing how tense and slightly panicky I was. We were getting ready to set the house and I almost had my second beer finished which relaxed me enough to do a quick calculation I didn’t realize I could do. Quite frankly, I wasn’t sure how I did it as I wasn’t good with math related subjects once algebra hit. But I was about 22 years old, and yes graduated on time with so much effort.

    They formulated the plan (about 12 men) to safely and accurately set the house. I overheard some, but very little. I observed everything when they were ready to use the equipment, what each man was doing, and noticed a flaw in their plan that would cause damage to the house. Only 2 men had a couple of beers, but they all missed something. They were going to apply more lift to a corner of the house that the corner opposite and other end needed because of different ground levels. I factored that in without recalling looking at that detail. Ground level differences were slight, but with this, it was crucial to factor in. I said stop just in time before damage was caused and explained what was going to happen. I hear someone behind me looking over everything say “she’s right, we are going to damage the house.” Everyone, after humiliation I suppose, asked how could you calculate that so quickly. They knew I was not really paying attention until the last minute as I was cleaning up the area.

    This example included something that relaxed me (I use other ways these days), and staying back from chaos, as that facilitated clear, precise, and quick thought.

    If we have the environment to facilitate clear and precise thought, it will probably happen quickly with little effort (or ability to recall exactly how we came to that conclusion) for various things. I’ve noticed usually it happens the best within our topics of interest and passion.

    I would never claim to be more intelligent than anyone, on or off the spectrum, I would never think that. We all learn best at different paces, and we all miss things from time to time. However, if we recognize what works best for us, we can do most anything, that goes for everyone. Just an example with the point of find out what environment works best for you and loved ones, the mind is a facinating thing in us all. Your mind can be your best friend or your worst enemy, but I think we all need help with gaining the tools to reach our full potential. We can learn to understand and be patient with each other, both ways, and reach more greatness than we thought possible.

    1. Thank you Kim for being so open about your inner thoughts. I am sure readers find your comments helpful and refreshing.

  34. I don’t think empathy has anything to do with not offending, as suggested here. That is a ‘woke’ concept that many intelligent NT’s would reject. Speaking your mind is a good strategy for arriving at truth. Trying not to offend is cowardice.

  35. Hi Dr Marshack,

    “[Empathy] is the ability to read the social situation in the now, and respond appropriately. It is sensing where the other person is coming from, yet not absorbing their emotions. Instead you remain aware of your own thoughts and feelings while at the same time acknowledging the other.”

    If this is true, does it not suggest that psychopaths can have high empathy? The ability to read/sense, respond and acknowledge can potentially be entirely self-serving.

    Also, if there were a remote, isolated tribe of people, where only one member is not autistic, can there be no empathy there, by definition? Or, because the autistic people are the majority, is it only the other person who can not have empathy?

    1. Good question Rick. Probably the key ingredient you are missing is the word “acknowledging.” Acknowledging the other person means in NT parlance, to affirm or validate or care.

      But yes, psychopaths do have some empathy skills but without the whole package it is the same as zero degrees of empathy (see Simon Baron-Cohen).

      You will get more clarity by reading my latest book where I offer the new Empathy Dysfunction Scale (EmD). I define psychopaths as EmD-1, in that they can read others very well and are quite convincing that they care — but they don’t.

  36. Dr. Kathy can you address the difference if any with sociopaths and/or psychopaths and the presence if any of empathy?

    Sympathy: feeling sorry for someone
    Empathy: feeling WITH someone

  37. Aspies have all sorts of excuses for their attempts to replace or understand human empathy. Its really sad for those of us who know what it actually is.

    I’ll tell them what it isn’t – physical violence, stalking, hacking, coercive control, obnoxious refusal to relate, utter selfishness, emotional abuse, parental alienation, utilising, deceiving, hiding behind false logic and false reason etc. I could go on.

    Sorry to say what many aspies do is, irl, abuse. That doesn’t mean NTs don’t abuse too, in fact they will when nobody calls them out – see feminism and parental alienation, zionism and genocide, capitalism and austerity etc. Again, I could go on.

    There is no excuse for this punching down. Pretending its not happening doesn’t cut it.

    It really is that simple.

  38. Dear Dr Kathy.
    I was hoping empathy was a skill. A skill that many children learn in their perfect window of opportunity when they are little.
    Some of us struggle to learn it then. They are overwhelmed by their own emotions for example as they struggle with learning self-regulation as a child. Or they struggle seeing a situation from another persons point of view. It takes time.
    If it was a skill, then, like learning to drive a car or riding a bike or learning a language, practice would help them to become more fluent in those underlying skills. And maybe it is like dyslexia, that there will be a continuous difficulty, but even dyslexic people can learn to read when they have the right support. Maybe it is more like being colour blind. Even colour blind people can work out ways to make life easier for them – although it is a struggle.
    I read the title of your article and was hopeful that I could find some direction to a way in which even people with Aspergers could get better at understanding others. I was deeply disappointed. Moreover I felt judged, almost discarded as faulty.
    I am still trying to understand what neurotypical really is, from my point of view we all have strengths and weaknesses.
    You hinted that compassion is a part of empathy.
    This article shows very little compassion for the situation of autistic people. There is not much empathy in your writing at all. And you had all the time in the world to edit it and consider every possible reader, especially the ones you mention in the title.
    Fact is, we all are human, we all make mistakes and no one is perfect. I find that quite humbling really. And I will keep striving to become better at that skill called empathy, regardless of my natural talents and regardless of the opinions of Doctors who claim that you either have it or not.

    1. Very well framed. Of course those on the Autism Spectrum can learn to be kind and compassionate, etc. But empathy is one of those things that is neurological. Because of Alexithymia and other neurological disorders, Autists lack the necessary “wiring” to be empathic. But they can pause, reflect, write things down and eventually come to a better understanding of the person and situation they find themselves facing.

      The myth that all human behaviors are learned has been disproven over and over again, but we still like to think all it takes is practice. Empathy can be improved if you have the neurological makeup for it. Your example of color blindness is a good one. The Autist, like the color blind person can work around their Empathy Dysfunction, but never really acquire the colors of the Empathy Triad.

      Likewise it is true that we humans come in all shapes and sizes and deserve respect. The fact that Autists lack Empathy should not disqualify them from relationships or jobs or life in a certain community. Neither is it wrong to discuss this disability and help Autists with accommodations, such as my 7 Step Interface Protocol. Just as we have ramps for wheel chair bound folks, and closed caption for the deaf, it is important to build work arounds for the Autistic population.

      I dont think it a work around to deny the Empathy Dysfunction. To tell the deaf person that you are proud of them for attending the meeting (with all able bodied hearing folks) but you ignore their need for an ASL interpreter, or a closed captioned Zoom screen —- this is the same as supporting the rights of the NeuroDiverse without offering them the tools to adapt.

      I hope you continue to read more of my blogs and books and listen to my podcast. You deserve to be heard.

      1. Thank you Kathie,

        I think the struggle here is with blaming the word “Empathy” for everything. As you said, empathy is made up of several building blocks. As a whole, it’s hard to see the detail that requires attention or consideration.
        Brene Brown has tackled a similar problem with the word trust. Coming at someone saying “I can’t trust you” will inevitably hurt. However when framing the conversation around their elements like boundaries (communicating and respecting), reliability, accountability, vault (or knowing what information to share and what/when not), Integrity(acting from a set of values rather than following just what’s fun, fast and easy), non-judgement, generosity.
        It’s much easier to say, you know, I have trouble understanding what’s important to you. I don’t know where your boundaries are. Though the opposite complaint is more likely – like he never considers my needs.
        Transferring this idea from Trust to Empathy when someone says “you don’t have empathy” that hurts and is not building much of a respectful or even helpful relationship.
        But I guess that’s not your goal. Is that the part here that I’m missing?

        But anyways, if you wanted to change that article to something more respectful feeling and considerate towards Aspie perceptions: Please don’t keep the cat in the bag. Acknowledge the strengths (like being sensitive to other peoples needs once those are understood) as much clarifying the challenges. You use a lot of big words that are not in everybodie’s vocabulary – It would be helpful to have them explained in a way that is more clearly associated with the word (To reduce the guesswork).

        And for all the readers who are struggling with the lacking empathy, there are a couple of things that in my experience matter hugely.

        1. Growth mindset! (Check out Carol Dwecks book.) When people feel safe, they have an easier time to explore where it would be nice to change. Unfortunately many Aspie kids in the past grew up feeling manipulated a lot.
        As a caregiver to kids it’s easy to see why – it just works, whereas understanding takes a lot of energy and time. As a result, the slightest hint of “not being good enough” can send them easily into self protection mode. That can be expressed in many ways. Sometimes it’s angry outbursts, at other times it’s procrastination on things that are mainly on other peoples agendas, or even on your own agenda but potentially painful. (including emotionally painful). Acknowledging that we all have a huge potential to grow and accepting that no one is perfect is important. Avoid the subtle hint of “I’m perfect and you’re not”. Aspies tend to be hypersensitive to that.

        2. Aspies have emotions and they do feel them towards others and situations as well. What they struggle with is understanding the full context of a situation in the moment. Which of the multitude of things are important and which not? They need three things – 1. help understanding you and your perspective, 2. without any layers of emotions which are distracting and 3. time to mull over things and make sense of it all. (*with emotions, of course you can describe them in words, just don’t add that layer in the tone of your voice or so – it’s turning into just another channel of constant information to sort through)
        How to do that? Write it down or have a short conversation just giving the infos, no response needed yet. Like “When you did this, I felt that. These are the things that are important to me. (Why? – if relevant). Have a think. I love you.”

        3. Aspies can struggle to organize themselves. So some of that “not cleaning up the house” can be because it’s hugely difficult. There are so many decisions to be made which take the same kind of mental bandwith that our version of empathy takes. It’s exhausting! But having someone else do it for us requires a huuuuuge amount of trust. What if some important but underappreciated detail gets lost! And communicating those subtle boundaries dips into the same mental energy. There is only so much left of it. Solitude in nature can help recharge, as does the solitude of a creative project in a shed. Pushing them and judging them (even if you try to conceal that) do the opposite.

        I hope that sheds some light and understanding.
        Good luck

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If you have a loved one on the Spectrum, please check our private MeetUp group. We have members from around the world meeting online in intimate video conferences guided by Dr. Kathy Marshack.
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