People with autism are said to be “unable to empathize” – a classic example of a lack of empathy in an autism spectrum disorder. Some neurologists have hypothesized that the neural tissue or circuitry that forms empathy in the brain is damaged. Because the phrase “lack of empathy” implies a lack of emotional capacity, we tend to think of autism and Asperger’s disorder as similar to psychopaths or sociopaths who lack emotion.
I once saw a psychiatrist on a TV program talking to one who thought he had Asperger’s syndrome. The psychiatrist told him that he wasn’t autistic because he had empathy because was able to express his feelings and communicate his emotions well. It’s almost the same mistake as mistaking autism for a lack of emotional capacity; the emotional system that allows ordinary people to feel the pleasure and pain of relationships is absent or lacking in people with autism.
However, based on my experience and observations, I can assure you that the emotional capacity of people with autism is much more acute and substantial than that of the average person. When they feel happy, they are happier than average; when they feel sad, they are more frustrated and painful than average. Even in relationships between people, people with autism tend to be less aggressive, warm-hearted and express their anger through self-harm; thus, they have a much more innocent emotional capacity.
To be precise, it’s not that they don’t have empathy, they have much more pure emotional capacity, but they are weaker at developing the ability to share their emotions with others. Empathy is also a communication skill. Because they are weak in this area, they are weak in developing empathy, which means they are weak in their ability to read other people’s emotions. For empathy to happen, we must first read the other person’s emotions, but this is difficult because they lack so-called empathic awareness, and even if they deeply empathize with someone’s emotions, they are very immature in how to express them as a signal that says, “I empathize with you.”
We see children who hide when angry rather than express their discomfort or stand around, unable to say they’re unhappy in a sad situation. We sometimes call them “brainless” because they can’t express their emotions appropriately or communicate their feelings sensitively. But how frustrating is it for them, and what do they think about the people around them who don’t understand their feelings?
The term ‘no empathy’ almost insults people with autism. We should not say that way but understand that people with autism have a rich set of emotions and feelings. Still, they lack the capacity to read other people’s emotions, and even if they empathize with others, they have the challenge of expressing how they feel. We need to try to understand a little more about the children who are stigmatized for being unable to read others’ emotions, not being able to recognize situations, not being able to interact with others, and therefore not being able to make friends and support them to make it.