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Autism and Empathy

April is Autism Acceptance Month! Let's work together to better understand the perspectives of our autistic friends & family by busting myths about autism.

Myth: Autistic people have reduced or absent empathy.

Fact: Like all people, autistic individuals have a desire for genuine connection. In the words of Hari Srinivasan, a minimally-speaking autistic Haas Scholar at UC Berkeley, “Neurotypical people may assume that we autistics are incapable of empathy, when in fact, we just happen to express it differently. Reactions by way of our facial expressions and body language may not match what society is used to and expects.” Autistic individuals may experience differences in:

  • Interoception, or the ability to identify internal body sensations that can help us understand our emotions

  • Communication of feelings and internal sensations

  • Expression and interpretation of nonverbal communication, including facial expressions, tone of voice, and eye contact.

“The Double Empathy Problem,” a theory posed by autistic researcher Damian Milton, helps explain our misunderstanding of autism and empathy. Milton shares that communication breakdowns occur due to differences in lived experiences, not due to one individual’s cognitive system. In other words, when an autistic individual struggles with social communication, it is not that the individual’s communication style is inherently disordered, but rather that the individual is communicating in a world in which the neurotypical majority does not share their perspective.

To learn more about Autism and Empathy, check out this article: Autism and empathy: What are the real links?

To learn more about Hari Srinivasan’s work, check out his website: Uniquely Hari: About Me

Stay tuned: next week, we're talking about autism & eye contact.

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