Autism, empathy, and violence: One of these things doesn’t belong here

Some news coverage in the last 24 hours has mentioned autism in the context of the tragedy in Connecticut, particularly referencing Aspergers or “high-functioning” autism. Talking heads have brought up the “empathy” factor when discussing autism, and I’d like to set some of the record on that straight. Empathic ability comes in two forms. One is the social ability to recognize the emotion someone is feeling by following social cues, subtle vocal fluctuations, and other nonverbal communications. Psychopaths, for example, might be quite good at reading people, at applying this cognitive empathy and then possibly exploiting it. Autistic people, on the other hand, generally tend not to be that great at this kind of recognition in non-autistic people. After all, the hallmark of autism is difficulty navigating this territory and registering the meaning of a nonverbal language that is unfamiliar to them. Worth noting, non-autistic people also seem to struggle…

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How One Mother with Asperger Syndrome Grieves Sandy Hook Elementary Victims

Today, December 14, 2012, I got a text about four minutes before I walked into my son’s school to play the piano for a winter program. The text said that 18 (then up to 20) children had been killed at an elementary school, not unlike my son’s. Children the age of the children I would be making music with in a few minutes. I was in shock. The texts I was receiving came from my dear brother, who has small children of his own. Since I was not online or near any media sources, he wrote to me what I was seeing on breaking news, and we texted together, as parents, about how horrible, how unthinkable, this heinous act was. His children were with him; mine was in school, and I had to resist an overwhelming impulse to sign him out and leave. Then I had to go into the…

Over-Educated, Under-Employed: The Plight of the Adult Aspergian

Kate A year from now, I turn thirty. A year from now, many people my age are married, with a kid or two on the way. At the very least, they are living on their own, and supporting themselves. Living with your parents is okay in your twenties, but your thirties? That’s just too long for me. I want to be out on my own, doing my own thing, and much as I adore my mother I think I’ve had enough. Yet I have the sinking feeling that I will still be here, still be living at home and cobbling together part time jobs, and damn, but I’m sick of it.                I’ve been looking for work for five years now. Five years! I finished my master’s thesis in the fall of 2007 and started interviewing for positions that fall. I’ve since gone on dozens of interviews at human services…

Autism and the New DSM-5 Criteria: Who Will Be Left Behind?

Emily Willingham www.emilywillinghamphd.com When news broke that the autism spectrum categories of Asperger’s disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) would get subsumed into the wider maw of a general “autism disorder,” people worried. They worried about autistic people who are quite verbal or who have typical cognitive skills. What would happen to individuals whose autism doesn’t manifest in those terms as profound? The biggest concern was a new category for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-5, social communication disorder. Would people like my son, diagnosed with Asperger’s and whose autism includes echolalia, anxiety, motor deficits, repetitive behaviors, learning differences, and other features well beyond the social, get rolled into what looks like a flimsy, catchall not-safety net of “social communication disorders”? And what other kind of communication is there if not social? Based on early reports, the concerns were legit. One alarming presentation at a…

Behavior Policing’s Effect on Autistic Children

Michael Scott Monje Jr www.mmonjejr.com Growing up, I might not have had an autism diagnosis, but that does not mean that my parents were oblivious to the differences between my behavior and typical behavior. Sure, when I was very young, they made their mistakes. For instance, my mother thought that the fact that I would sit for hours, focused on my own thoughts, made me an “easy” child. In some ways it did, because that meant that she could leave me unattended and run downstairs to change the laundry without worrying that I’d wander off. To a nineteen year old with a toddler, I’m sure that that had to seem like a blessing at times. Similarly, when I was two or three and I started to get obsessed with organizing and arranging things, that made my parents’ lives easier. After all, a child that can be kept busy sorting a…

Healing

Kate   When I was a fifteen years old, my psychiatrist told me that in ten years’ time, there would be a machine that would scan my brain and tell the doctors exactly what medicine to give me to make me normal, to make me whole. That was thirteen years ago, and though I have not yet heard of any such machine, I’ve realized that I never needed it. What I needed was acceptance. What I needed was love. These are the things that made me realize that I had, in fact, been whole all along. Sometimes, I feel as if my life were a long, cold winter, and that spring took a very long time coming. Like many autistic adults, I did not have an easy time of it growing up. Even in adulthood, I struggled with loneliness, employment, and a host of other issues. Though I was almost…

Passing

Kate It happens, not every day, but often. You’re at a social gathering, feeling good, feeling alive, and this conversation leads to that leads to “Oh yeah, I’m autistic. I have Asperger’s syndrome.” And the almost-inevitable response. “Really?  You don’t look/seem/come off as autistic.” I can never quite decide if this is supposed to be a compliment or not.  To take it as a compliment would mean accepting the premise that to be autistic is something bad, which it’s not,  that my social skills are good enough to ‘pass’ for neuro-typical in public and that is a good thing, since people have so many ‘bad’ stereotypes of what autism is and might misjudge me. Which is weird, because I’m pretty sure that anyone who makes a statement that I don’t look autistic doesn’t know me well, and doesn’t know autism well. Here’s the thing.  I can ‘pass’ for neuro-typical in…

Scarred

Kate We are scarred, we adults on the spectrum. We are scarred, both inside and out. Our lives are twisted paths littered with diagnoses. We have fought for years to get to where we are now, and still it isn’t good enough. We are scarred. We went to schools where there was no help. Sometimes we were shunted into special education rooms, or to the behavior-problems division. There we were taught that we were ‘stupid,’ ‘retarded,’ that we would never amount to anything. We were accused of cheating when we read so well but couldn’t write an essay, drew complex diagrams yet failed math. We were denied entry into higher-level classes because we didn’t appear to be smart or participating in class, and our minds thirsted in vain for more knowledge. We went to therapies, all sorts of therapies. Look at this ink blot, what do you see? I see…

I Can Do RAD All By Myself

Amanda Forest Vivian adeepercountry.blogspot.com I was born in 1988 to a rich white family on the East Coast of the United States of America. For those keeping track, I was diagnosed with PDD-NOS when I was nine and Asperger’s when I was fourteen — but all that really tells you about me is that I was born in 1988 to a rich white family on the East Coast of the United States of America. By the time I was 18, I had been undiagnosed many times by people both qualified and unqualified to do so; and after a brief flirtation with Autistic culture I soon succumbed to the implications of the types of praise and encouragement young disabled people often receive. When we succeed we’re told that we’re not really disabled or that we’re different from other disabled people. The idea of being a real average disabled person becomes unacceptable.…

Passing: How to Play Normal

Larkin Taylor-Parker iamthethunder.tumblr.com I look like someone you might trust to hold the spare key if we were neighbors. We could eat at the same restaurant or cross paths in the grocery store. We might forage the same yard sales. I look like I could be someone you know. You might not believe me if I told you I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at age six. Unnoticed, I often overhear your discussions on what to do with us. I have heard your opinion on DSM changes. I saw your puzzle piece tattoo. I listened as you equated my label with violence, called people like me “unemployable” claimed it is irresponsible of us to have children, suggested we would be happier in institutions. I heard your retard joke. You never guessed an autistic might be listening. I look “normal.” That does not make me part of the over-diagnosis epidemic if…