Sunday, December 16, 2012

Asperger Syndrome doesn't mean Sociopathy

As a person with Asperger Sydrome, I face certain challenges--- just like you do if you have bipolar or diabetes or ADHD or cerebral palsy or five kids. Today my challenge was the talking heads on my favorite news channel reporting that the school shooter was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and spreading misinformation about what that means.

They were saying that people with Asperger Syndrome were weird, odd and no one wanted to be around them, that they have no friends, ever. And they said that people with Asperger Syndrome were like sociopaths in that they lacked empathy--- they could hurt or kill others because they weren't capable of caring how other people feel.  WRONG!!!

Empathy means to feel what another person feels. If your sister's baby is stillborn and she feels grief, you feel grief too. When people say a sociopath lacks empathy, they picture someone who could look at his sister, crying over her dead child, and feel nothing. Or laugh.

Empathy also involves the ability to pick up certain non-verbal cues to tell you what another person is feeling. People with Asperger's have a harder time noticing these cues, and don't necessarily trust their own ability to interpret them when they do notice.

Other people look at aspies like me and say 'how could they behave like that when it's obvious that I'm angry/sad/happy?' Well, it's not obvious to us.

And when we aspies do notice the emotions of others, we don't know how to react in the way other people expect. So when we act in ways that show empathy, more judgmental people look at us and say we didn't really care because they don't like the precise form in which we expressed the sympathy. I think that shows a lack of empathy on the part of those judgmental people.

So: people with Asperger Syndrome DO care about others. We feel bad when our friends are sad. We cry at the ending of sad movies. We only lack INFORMED empathy--- we may not detect how others are feeling. And we may not express our empathy in a way that other people can detect--- which is their problem, not ours. People must not be so socially rigid that they cannot perceive an expression of empathy and fellow-feeling unless it is done in exactly the right way (in their opinion).

Here is the reality: all of us are different. All of us need to learn to accept the differences of other people. My friend Pete often offers to come to my house and fix stuff for me. He never does. I've learned to accept that about Pete--- I no longer expect him to keep such promises, but just take them as expressions of kindness from him.

My friend Magda has a temper. When she directs it at me, I go away. I wish she would seek mental health help to see if it is more than just temper, but she won't. So I just accept that this is the way she is.

People need to accept the differences of those with Asperger Syndrome. You need to accept that your aspie friend doesn't make eye contact well. You need to accept that your aspie friend has problems with social interaction--- it may be up to you to initiate doing things together every single time, or the aspie may be calling you or dropping by your house too often and you will have to set some limits--- kindly.

When you need a hug, you will have to tell your aspie friend that in words, and your aspie friend may not be a hugger. Your aspie friend may not be able to tell you when he needs a hug, so if you are able to detect their non-verbal cues.

In addition, aspies are different from one another. I myself don't like mathematics but other aspies are brilliant at it. Some aspies have large circles of friends, while I don't have much in the way of real-world friends (which is why I love the internet). Some aspies also have anger issues or maybe even a rage disorder, I'm often calm when normal people would be freaking out.

In case you missed the verbal and non-verbal cues, now is a good time to show off your own ability to show empathy and say something nice to someone with Asperger Syndrome or autism, or to reassure the parents of same. It's tough enough without media 'experts' getting everything wrong.

Writing assignment, especially for aspies: Write down words about your feelings and experience relating to others misunderstanding Asperger Syndrome. Write them as a poem ( or a short story or novel or novel series, but those will take longer.) Share the poem with others by some means or other (submitting it to poetry zines counts as sharing.)


Huntress said...

Good post. IMO, when tragedy strikes, people look for something ANYTHING to blame. It is human nature.


nissa_loves_cats said...

Thanks, Huntress.

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