Personal story about Autism: substituting intellect for emotional empathy


I'm male, in my 50's, diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome. I have a few views, which I think are uncommon for someone on the spectrum.


On the one hand, I think I'm the luckiest person on the planet, in spite of, not because of, my Aspergers syndrome. I have a good, well paying job that I'm well suited to, developing computer software. People at my work have familiarity with Aspergers syndrome, and many of them know that I have it.


I am married, with a wonderfully supportive, caring and compassionate wife. My parents and brother and sister know I have Aspergers syndrome, despite the fact I was only diagnosed a few years ago. They had no idea when I was growing up.I have financial resources and a support system that few in my position are fortunate enough to have.


Aspergers syndrome is a disability, not just another way of being

Despite this privileged position that all too few of us with Aspergers syndrome are likely to achieve, I feel that Aspergers syndrome is a severe disability. I strongly reject the notion that Aspergers syndrome is just a different way of being. I think it is a severe handicap and disability.


I can't change it. I've come to terms with it. I accept it. I'm making the best of my situation. I think I've developed very good coping strategies to overcome it. I think I am very, very fortunate in my circumstances. Caring people all around me have made this possible. And I am happy with my life. But I don't think anyone should fool themself for a second that this is not a severe disability.


It's not the quirky behavior, or perseveration, or being a perfectionist, or being resistant to change, or rigid thinking patterns, or any of the other Aspergers syndrome traits that is a problem.


intellect as a poor substitute for lack of empathy

It's the lack of empathy. And this DEFINITELY IS NOT what most people think. For me, lack of empathy is not being unkind or uncaring. And it's DEFINITELY not the world's idea of a lack of empathy - being a sociopath. For me, it's trying to be kind and caring without having empathy as a guide, and having to use my intellect as a substitute. And it's a very poor substitute.


The best analogy I can use is that of a leper (lepers do not feel pain, having lost their pain cells due to bacterial infection). Normal people feel pain, so put on a bandage. Lepers have to visually inspect themselves to see whether they have an injury, then put on a bandage. But this is a poor substitute. It won't help with internal injuries, or injuries that aren't visible. But it's better than nothing.


lack of empathy is the true tragedy of aspergers syndrome

In order to do kind, caring things, I believe those of us with Aspergers syndrome have to do so without the benefit of emotional empathy, and "just knowing". Empathy is also a driver, like pain, which motivates. To do kind things, we have to use our intellect in place of empathy, much as lepers have to use vision in place of pain. Both are a poor substitute.


And I believe this, rather than the "quirky, strange behaviors", is the tragedy of Aspergers syndrome.


Yes, a tremendous amount can be accomplished by someone with Aspergers syndrome. But the lack of empathy, and the inability to give others emotional support, can never be changed, until a way is found to change our brain wiring.


surround around ourselves with caring people

I believe the best thing those of us with Aspergers syndrome can do is surround ourselves with caring people that can accept what we have to offer, and then do all we can to contribute the most we can with a minimum of our sometimes "disruptive" behavior. That philosophy has allowed me to achieve what I have, and to contribute what I am able to.


Again, my opinion only. I'm sure you will quickly find that most others on the spectrum disagree with me strongly over this.


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A man on the autism spectrum discusses his difficulties in lacking emotional empathy in a non-autistic world