Empathy and Autism: Part 2

by Danette

In my effort to make a point in Empathy and Autism: Part 1 (that people with autism are capable of feeling and showing empathy), I may have given a rather one-sided view of things. It’s taken me a while to circle back on this one, but in the interest of full disclosure, I thought I’d offer a glimpse into the other side of the story — examples of when my sons have tormented those around them empathy has eluded my sons.

* Recently, Cuddlebug stubbed his toe and started crying, loudly. Bearhug started screaming at him to stop crying because it was hurting his ears. I told BH that CB had hurt himself and that was why he was crying, and that if it were him, he’d cry too. His reply — “No, I wouldn’t, I’m brave.” Ugh. I told him CB was brave too, but that even brave people cry sometimes.

* As toddlers, they bit each other constantly for a period of several months. Supposedly, if kids are on the receiving end of bites, they learn that it hurts,and they’ll stop. Not so in their case. They just kept on. I’m talking arms, legs, and backs covered with numerous toddler-mouth-sized circular bruises, sometimes enough to draw blood. Neither of them seemed to make the connection between “when he does this to me, it hurts, so maybe I shouldn’t do it to him anymore.” Even now, sometimes when they get upset, they can attack each other pretty harshly (not biting, but not far from it, either). Getting in the middle is insane not advised.

* No matter how many times or different ways I try to tell him, Little Bitty either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care that it hurts when he constantly rolls on me. He does it all the time — climbs on my lap and rolls around, rolls on top of me repeatedly when I’m trying to sleep. (I put him in his bed but he always finds his way back to ours.) The deep pressure feels good to him, but after a while makes me want to run for the hills find a good hiding place invest in body armor. At least he finally stopped head-butting me all the time – ouch!

So the reality is that, like everyone else, my sons don’t always show empathy for others. It’s something we continue to work on. I believe my original point still stands, but now you have a more well-rounded view. 🙂

About the Author: Danette is the mother of three boys on the autism spectrum: Little Bitty, Bearhug, and Cuddlebug. Little Bitty has a diagnosis of moderate autism; Bearhug and Cuddlebug share a diagnosis of high-functioning autism. This piece originally appeared on her blog, Everyday Adventures, and is reprinted here by permission.