A few months back, I followed a link on Facebook to the post The Data Myth, and I became extremely overwhelmed when reading the following:
We need to be on guard against the Data Myth and the stereotypes it perpetuates. Children with autism may sometimes react differently, but that doesn’t mean they lack human emotions. We need to think about, write about, and treat children with autism with the understanding that they experience a full range of emotions but have trouble processing and communicating them. We need to understand that they are interested in people and want to interact, but that they have sensory or communication issues that make it difficult. We need to challenge the medical community to rise above these stereotypes. And we need to see our kids as already whole and complete children, not as faulty.
The post reminded me of some thoughts I wrote last year. So I thought I’d share and update with more recent thoughts.
The Blue Peter Cambodia Appeal
When I was about 10 years old, the children’s TV show Blue Peter had an appeal to raise money for children in Cambodia. They showed awful footage that made me feel very lucky to have food and a home. It devastated me to see such under-nourished children with flies circling their faces and no energy to flick them away. This footage I still remember to this day, and if I focus on it, I still cry.
My mom, in her wisdom, decided to use my very visual imagination to get me to part with some of my many toys. She came into my bedroom with black bin bags and said something like, “You have far too many toys in this room. Everything needs to be sorted and tidied up. There are a lot of starving children in this world. You’ve seen it on Blue Peter. Get rid of some of these toys, and I will take them to the charity shop, and you will help to save a little child’s life.”
I gave away everything.
I couldn’t bear the thought of these little kids having no food. The visuals from Blue Peter were far too much for me.
I only kept two toys: my Tiny Tears Doll and my Teddy Boo-Boo. I still have both of them.
Now, I have a theory about this lack of empathy thing.
I know that, over the years, I have had to shut down to my feelings because they are so intense. I can get so overwhelmed by emotion that I can barely function. I know that when I love a person, they become as important as myself. My children are more important than I am, and I would die for them.
Because I have visual reruns of things that either hurt me or confuse me, I end up rehearsing and chatting and analysing. It can be quite tiring to have so many conversations going around in my head. I have managed to stay in touch with my feelings and to show empathy by being careful what I feed my brain with, and by taking care not to overload myself. I know now what will replay in my constant thought loops and what things to avoid. I can also praise up the less noisy loops and help myself to do the things that are hard to do.
I think that what appears to be a lack of empathy is just a shutdown mechanism of self-protection because the emotion is so intense. This intensity of feeling will overload the system and cause sensory difficulties and, eventually, complete shutdown.
I know that when I gave my toys away, it was because I cared deeply for children I would never meet, and I was willing to go without my toys so they could live. I don’t believe that I lack empathy and I don’t believe other Aspies do either.
About the Author: Lisa is a woman with Asperger’s and the mother of two children, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. This piece first appeared on her blog, Alienhippy’s Blog, and is reprinted here by permission.