Empathy for Autistic People: Autism and the Double Empathy Problem
Who says MY way, the "Autistic Way" of communicating, is wrong? Why is the "non-autistic way" the RIGHT way?
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In Damian's paper, the double empathy problem was defined as:
A disjuncture in reciprocity between two differently disposed social actors which becomes more marked the wider the disjuncture in dispositional perceptions of the lifeworld - perceived as a breach in the 'natural attitude' of what constitutes 'social reality' for 'neuro-typical' people and yet an everyday and often traumatic experience for 'autistic people.'
What does that mean in more simple language?
Our society has an unfortunate habit of pigeonholing Autistic and other NeuroDivergent people when we don't "fall in line" with the pre-determined neuro-typically driven social norms - because we're wired differently from our neurotypical counterparts.
We socialize differently because we experience our world (and communication) differently than non-autistics do, but this is often pathologized, and we are seen as the problem when confusion occurs.
The myth Autistics are cold, unempathetic, and emotionless comes partly from this Double Empathy Problem. It's not that Autistic people don't feel empathy (I experience OVERWHELMING empathy that can cause me to shut down) but that non-autistic people present and interpret our empathy differently.
Autistic people can fall all along the empathy spectrum, from overwhelming empathy to very little empathy - just like non-autistic people can.
Additionally, it can be harder to empathize with experiences you don't have (and needs you do not understand) regardless of one's NeuroType. This is where the Double Empathy Problem (and the confusion between cross-neurotype communication can cause trouble).
With Autistic people especially (because our communication differences can fall far outside of what's considered "normative" or average), this has led to our ways of communicating and experiencing the world being pathologized (instead of respected, supported, and appreciated).
I find it much easier to communicate with other Autistic People (who know they are Autistic) than with non-autistic people.
When communicating with other Autistic People (who are self-aware), there is a different level of compassion and understanding for my directness and the scattered nature of my thoughts. There is patience and kindness when I take something literally, miss a joke, get a word wrong, or need clarification about something (or struggle to find the words at all).
Other Autistics are willing to stretch to meet me where I am. I'm also eager to meet them where they are.
We're used to stretching ourselves to be understood by people unwilling to extend themselves to meet us where we are (it is also easier to communicate with other Autistic people).
In interactions with other Autistic People, I don't have to stretch myself as far as if I were accommodating a non-autistic person.
Funny, they say, "Autistic People are the ones with a deficit." Still, we're the ones accommodating non-autistics by adapting our communications so that non-autistics can understand us better - isn't it supposed to be the other way around?
Communication comes in two parts - outgoing message and incoming message (regardless of how the message is sent).
When two people communicate, the sender and receiver are BOTH equally responsible for ensuring a common understanding (and no misunderstandings have occurred).
This is similar to how when two people consent to behaviors that can create children, both parties involved in making the baby have a responsibility to that child (legally in many places).
Two people come together, swap thoughts and ideas (or fluid), and are BOTH responsible for what comes out at the end.
Unfortunately, this isn't always true with cross-neurotype communication.
All human communication depends on the sender and the receiver coming to a common understanding. Still, because non-autistics often communicate very differently from Autistic People (and aren't used to flexing their communication to accommodate others), Autistic people are often blamed for the misunderstandings resulting from these communication and processing differences.
This disparity is seen in the deficit-based descriptions of Autistic thought and communication through our global medical systems.
Speaking to a non-autistic person can be like talking to someone from another country with different customs, traditions, dialects, and ideas of what's "acceptable." I often find myself "on eggshells" when talking to non-autistic people because my bluntness, tone, posture, or body movements may unease me if I'm not careful.
Sometimes, struggle to predict what I will say or do that may set them off (because my ways of being often cause offense without intending to do so). I must stay ready and on guard, even when conversations are going well, as I know they can turn anytime.
When I am misunderstood, I will be expected to stretch myself to fill the void in the person I'm speaking to's understanding, and they won't afford me the same grace (that I'm required to extend to them).
Because I'm Autistic, it MUST be my fault. *eye roll
But who says MY way, the "Autistic Way" of communicating, is wrong?
Why is the "non-autistic way" the RIGHT way? - because there are more non-autistic people in the world than there are Autistic People?
It is thought by some that Autistic People lack (or have a deficit) in our theory of mind - which I disagree with.
TOM helps us in our understanding of other people, how they experience the world, and how our actions and thoughts will be perceived by others.
I'm reasonably good at understanding other Autistic People (and how they will perceive my actions and thoughts); however, I DO struggle to know how non-autistic people will interpret and perceive me (as they struggle to understand how an Autistic Person will interpret their actions).
Non-autistic people are just as bad at (if not worse at) understanding Autistic People as we can be at understanding them, with one exception - Autistic People are often EXPECTED to learn to understand and speak the non-autistic language. At the same time, non-autistics don't have the same pressure to comprehend how Autistics communicate.
Or, as Dr. Milton has said:
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