Autism and Empathy: Reflections from Adults on the Spectrum

Blog Post

April 2021

Many in the autism community routinely confront misunderstandings and false assumptions about autism and empathy. As part of AANE’s April 2021 Newsletter on the topic of autism and empathy, we invited adults with Asperger/autism profiles to respond to this subject, and we are thrilled to share below the creative work from members of AANE’s recent Creative Writers’ Group and the AANE Artist Collaborative.

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AANE’s Creative Writers’ Group

A response to the writing prompt, “Six Words on Empathy.”

 

I feel you, it overwhelms me
I’m empathic, but can’t express it
I feel empathy, too much sometimes
Your feelings, are screaming inside me
–by Rebecca Menard

 

Empathy is not good social skills
Con-artists have social skills without empathy
Do you know any autistic con-artists?
Do you find Freud, Bettelheim empathic?
–a mini essay by Viesia Novosielski

 

Don’t be stoic. It’s not heroic.
I’m hypersensitive to other people’s feelings.
Why I cry: you do too.
My brain’s different, not my heart
–by Jevon Okundaye

 

Empathy is a force beyond definition
–by Emma Weltner

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AANE Artist Collaborative

Information about the artwork including the artist’s statement (if provided) appears under each image below. Visit the the AANE Artist Collaborative page for more information about the group. Inquiries about the artists or artwork featured here should be directed to artistcollaborative@aane.org.

 

“Kitten Empathy”
Michelle Baughman
Wet on Wet, Oil on Canvas; 11 x 14 in.
© 2021 Michelle Baughman

Artist’s Note: This picture depicts my two cats, Storm showing empathy to Mercury. I think it is interesting how dog owners seem to think that cats are very aloof creatures not considered capable of showing empathy. But cat owners know that felines are indeed quite empathetic towards humans as well as towards other cats. It seems an interesting parallel to how neurotypical people unenlightened about autism seem to think that we autistics are aloof loners who lack empathy. Yet the truth of the matter is that we are actually very empathetic and sensitive…we just do not show it in the way that NTs expect to see it, so they are not capable of recognizing it. And when we are among our own autistic peeps with whom we feel safe and comfortable we can be quite gregarious, the antithesis of loners! Any time people of one “culture” judge another culture by their own standards there is bound to be misunderstandings. It is time we retire these old erroneous misconceptions about autism. To say that autistic people lack empathy is a distinct lack of empathy!

 

 

Video Still #1

Video Still #2

LINK TO VIDEO: https://youtu.be/qV38pWxUmB4

“Understanding and Making Sense of the World”
Danielle Gallietti
Performance Video
© Danielle Gallietti

Artist’s Note: An exploration of understanding and empathizing with my surroundings and environment through kinesthetic sensory experience and Empathy. At times a “failed” contact improvisation dance.

 

 

Video Still

LINK TO VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dl2VS5MrjaQ&t=8s

“120 Years of Gravity”
Danielle Gallietti
Performance/Installation
Missoula, MT The Historic Brunswick Gallery
© Danielle Gallietti

Artist’s Note: In this work I collected all the fallen apples from the 120 year old historic antique heirloom apple orchard and placed them on the floor of the gallery. I start out on the floor and through adaptive choreography, I explore translate and empathize what it must be like to endure 120 years of gravity.

 

Silver
by Karen Lean

Who is the mirror?
Your face twists a little
I don’t let on that I notice
What does that twist mean, anyway?

Is that my anxiety or yours?
I don’t quite detect
The pain in my jaw
An undelectable tension
Between us
My belly twists a little

Your mirrors don’t detect me
My face twists a little
I secretly try on your mask
from the inside
— It feels foreign
I feel foreign

I turn off my mirror
It burns energy I don’t have
My silver eyes reach
Not for yours
But for your heart.

© Karen Lean

 

 

“Saints”
Anne Martin
New Media – Digital Paint
© 2021 Anne Martin

Artist’s Note: It might represent bringing the hard-fought and hard-won light of wisdom into the darkness of terminal despair: having compassion on the suffering self barely hanging on to sanity beneath the mask presented to a world which has little compassion.

 

 

“Blue Remedy”
Anastasia O’Melveny
Watercolor, 9 x 12 in.
© 2019 Anastasia O’Melveny

Artist’s Note: I read somewhere that human being’s brains were wired in such a way that they needed to see sky and water to be mentally healthy, so I painted this Seascape to cheer everybody up.

 

 

“Grief- Empathy”
Philip Wachsler
Photograph (Spanish Civil War Memorial in Barcelona)
© Philip Wachsler — All Rights Reserved.

 

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All of the work presented on this page has been reproduced with permission from the author or artist. Any other reproduction without the expressed permission of the author or artist indicated is strictly prohibited.

 

See other content on the topic of empathy:

Neurotypicals and Empathy

How I Came to Understand My Son’s Empathy

A Better Definition of Empathy