Have you ever been about to throw up, or about to wet yourself because you were stuck in a traffic jam, or needed to rip your clothes off and jump in a cold shower because you were having a heat flush? When that was happening did you find yourself unconcerned about the needs of those around you? And if so did that mean you were lacking in empathy? Why of course!
You were lacking in empathy. In that moment, your focus was full. Of course once you emptied your bladder or your upper intestine or got out of the shower you became open to others again and your ability to empathize returned. But what if your focus was always full?
What if your every waking moment was spent handling one sensory assault after another or vestibular dysfunction or social challenge? What if every time you looked at someone you were asked to do something that indicated you cared about them? How would you deal with that if your focus was already full trying to keep the edges of furniture from wiggling when you walked? Would you avoid making eye contact? If that were the case you just might be labeled autistic.
According to science though the brain is a great multi-tasker it can only consciously focus on one thing at a time. Thus if you are having difficulty walking, or talking, or seeing with your eyes… if you are feeling ill, or tired, or crawling with bugs … if you are reading, or writing, or computing math … you are likely to be lacking in empathy. Empathy comes – only – when we focus on the person for whom we are to feel it. That is the power of movies. Gaining our focus, enhancing it through darkness, music, close-ups and silencing our cell phones. Even my adopted autistic kids could empathize at the movies, if they didn’t have to pee, or eat, or wear head phones to filter the
loud noises. Then as they healed (I use neurofeedback and specialize in helping autistic kids heal) they became less riddled with social confusion and sensory distress. And as they became less riddled with social confusion and sensory distress they empathized with anyone, who could hold their focus.
Once focusing on others had emerged well… After some practice with the uncomfortable emotions empathy can endow upon the empathizer, my children (and all the children I work with) became kind, helpful, just bought my mom tires for her car kinda kids. They not only began to express their concern and embrace empathy, they did it daily.
So back to the question ‘Do autistic people feel empathy?’ No probably not, when they are busy, which is most of the time. And neither do you.
But of course we can feel it. And so can they.
Global autism expert, Lynette Louise, raised eight children –six adopted, four of whom were on the spectrum of autism– she was able to guide all but one out of autism and into independence. Lynette travels internationally, performing and speaking on the subject of autism and the efficacy of neurofeedback (biofeedback for the brain). She is the author of the inspirational and honest new book MIRACLES ARE MADE: A Real Life Guide to Autism and host of the show A NEW SPIN ON AUTISM: ANSWERS!