Empathy through the eyes of an Aspergian

3 Mar

My printing fits around my two Playwork jobs. One of these jobs is as a 1:1 support worker/LSA/Respite carer (at some point I fill all these roles) for a young person with Aspergers Syndrome.

I’ve been reading around literature on Aspergers and the latest book I’ve been looking at is John Elder Robison’s ‘Look Me in The Eye; My life with Aspergers’.

Since there’s so very little understanding generally about Aspergers, I’d like to share a paragraph from the chapter titled ‘Empathy’ with you and if you are interested I’d definitely recomend that you get yourself a copy.

By the time I was 12…I began having problems with what the therapists called “inappropriate expressions”.
One time, my mother had invited her friend Betsy over. I wandered in as they sat on the sofa, smoking cigarettes and talking.
Betsy said, “Did you hear about Eleanor Parker’s son? Last Saturday ha got hit by a train and killed. He was playing on the tracks.”
I smiled at her words. She turned to me with a shocked expression on her face. “What! Do you think that’s funny?”
I felt embarrassed and a little humiliated. “No, I guess not,” I said as I slunk away. I didn’t know what to say. I knew they thought it was bad for me to be smiling, but I didn’t know why I was grinning, and I couldn’t help it. I didn’t feel joy or happiness. At the time, as I approached my teenage years, it was hard to figure out exactly what I did feel. And I felt powerless to react differently.
As I left, I could hear Betsy. “What’s the matter with that boy?”
My mother sent me to therapists, all of whom focused on the wrong things. Mostly, they made me feel worse than I already did, dwelling on my so-called evil and sociopathic thoughts. They were all full of shit. They didn’t make me better. They just made me feel worse. None of them figured out why I grinned when I heard Eleanor’s kid had been run over by a train.
But now I know. And I figured it out myself.
I didn’t know Eleanor. And I had never met her kid. So there was no reason for me to feel joy or sorrow on account of anything that might happen to them. Here is what went through my mind that summer day:

Someone got killed.
Damn! I’m glad I didn’t get killed.
I’m glad [my brother] or my parents didn’t get killed.
I’m glad all my freinds are okay.
He must have been a pretty dumb kid, playting on the train tracks.
I would never get run over by a train like that.
I’m glad I’m okay.

At the end, I smiled with relief…Today my feelings would be exactly the same. The only difference is, now I have better control of my facial expressions.

To find out more about Aspergers Syndrome and other Autistic Spectrum conditions check out Aspies for Freedom

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