Autism and Empathy
My oldest child, who is now 9 years old, has autism. Autism has gained recognition in the last few years, thanks to extensive research, awareness campaigns, and movies like "Temple Grandin".
The stereotypes of autism are beginning to fade. People ask me a lot less what my son's "special gift" is….you know, like Rain Man (a movie from the '80's about an autistic man with savant math and recall skills).
My son really has no specific "special gift", but those who know him see that he kind of is a special gift, all in himself.
He was non-verbal until he was 3, and when he did start talking, it was all non-sense and echoes from movies, conversations, or songs. For instance, he once went up to a friend and asked in all seriousness, "Do you know the muffin man!?!?". I still laugh thinking about how intense he was when he asked.
My son was recently honoured in his school with a Terrific Kids Award-for Empathy.
It seems an ironic award for a child who's disability is marked with the impairment of social interaction and understanding. I could see him winning the award for faith (aka-being stubborn, which an autistic child is known for). People with autism have a need for sameness, that is, to want their days to be predictable to help them make sense of the world. So, if someone has "random" emotions it can mess with an autistic persons day.
But empathy is different than sympathy. Empathy is simply the ability to recognize that emotions are being experienced by someone else. You need empathy to be able to have sympathy or compassion. My son having empathy is not only remarkable because of his autism, but it is an important milestone to him having true sympathy and compassion, which are important life skills.
What do I find truly interesting about him winning this award? It is our societies need for empathy. So, my son with special needs has it, but the general population doesn't? We all seem sympathetic, and compassionate, right? When we sympathize with someone, we might have compassion for that person, but not actually understand and feel what they are feeling.
That's where empathy comes in. We are often out with our son, and people stare at him because he is too loud, or grabbing his crotch (happy) or having a serious meltdown (upset). These same people who are staring us down with the evil eye probably just donated $1 at Toys R Us to help support autism research…..they should maybe save their dollar, and show some empathy to someone who has autism.
Empathy, and my son having it means a lot to this world. If he, who is supposed to be socially unaware of others can have and show empathy, I think we can learn a lot from that. He literally comes home and cries because he saw someone crying at school-he doesn't/can't do anything to help them because he doesn't quite understand sympathy, but he does feel what they feel enough to fall apart when he gets home because he is actually feeling sad with them.
I am challenged daily by my son. Not only because of his sometimes difficult behaviours, but because I see things in him that I want...To be honest to a fault, to truly empathize, and to be so passionate and driven that it hurts.
I think we all could use these things.
10/31/2013 10:07:19 pm
10/31/2013 11:49:19 pm
10/31/2013 11:11:10 pm
Thank you, Amy...very eloquent. xx
10/31/2013 11:50:54 pm
Thank you for reading this! The more we know, the more empathetic we can be, I think.
11/1/2013 02:14:31 am
So well written and expressed Amy-Lyn!! Very proud of you!
11/1/2013 03:01:56 am
Thank-you Muther. :) xo
11/1/2013 02:33:38 am
Fantastic read and insight!!! You guys are truly amazing parents to all three of your kids!!!
11/1/2013 03:03:28 am
Thanks Sandy, I'm glad you read it! I don't know that we are amazing parents, but we do love our kids a lot, if that counts! :)
11/1/2013 02:34:42 am
Wow Amy-Lyn that was a great read and amazing insight. My son is going thru the dx right now and the psychologist has pretty much said that he is falling in the spectrum. It frustrates him to not understand others feeling and emotions sometimes but when he gets it it is amazing to see. Truly heartbreaking or breathtaking! Kids are huge blessings!
11/1/2013 03:13:28 am
I hope everything goes well during diagnosis.
11/17/2015 08:10:31 am
Education for everyone the peoples who teach their children education in effective way they become more civilized and get better status in future. Everyone have to teach their children well education for their better future.
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Hi, I'm Amy-Lyn!
I am the lady behind this here blog! I live in the sticks with my animals, my super handsome husband, and my
3 amazing kids!
Here you'll find things from recipes (gluten-free, paleo, and strait up junk food!), DIY ideas, thoughts on raising a son with autism, and whatever else pops into my brain! : )
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