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Empathy

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Woman with Down Syndrome Consoles Crying Girl

"Woman with Down Syndrome Consoles Crying Girl" by autistic artist Miss Luna Rose

Empathy is from a Greek word meaning "to offer" and is commonly defined as "as one's ability to recognize, perceive and directly feel the emotion of another." Some other descriptions and definitions of empathy are noted below:

  • R. R. Greenson: To empathize means to share, to experience the feelings of another person. [1]
  • Heinz Kohut: Empathy is the capacity to think and feel oneself into the inner life of another person.[2]
  • D. M. Berger: The capacity to know emotionally what another is experiencing from within the frame of reference of that other person, the capacity to sample the feelings of another or to put oneself in another’s shoes.[3]

Autism and Empathy

“I have an empathy deficiency.  If most adults are “doing empathy” at the calculus level, I’m still in Algebra II and solving for X in ways that would make your head spin.” - Cynthia Kim[4]
Exactly how autistic people experience empathy has been the subject of some debate.

Types of Empathy

“There are those who say autistic people don’t feel enough. We’re saying exactly the opposite: They feel too much.” - Kamila Markram[5]
One study breaks empathy into four parts: perspective taking (understanding others' point of view), fantasy (identification with fictional characters), empathic concern (sympathy and compassion for others), and personal distress (how upset they become when seeing others in distress).

Autistic people were found to have more difficulty with the cognitive part of empathy. However, they had just as much empathic concern as neurotypicals did, and scored significantly higher on personal distress. This suggests that autistic people are just as kind, and become especially upset when seeing others in pain.[6]

This falls in line with other studies[5] and many autistic writer's comments about their responses to others' emotional pain, which suggests they feel deep concern and distress when someone else is upset.[4]

References

  1. Greenson, R. R. (1960). "Empathy and its vicissitudes". International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 41, pp. 418; 418-424
  2. Kohut, H. (1984). How does analysis cure?. (p. 82). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  3. Berger, D. M. (1987). Clinical empathy. Northvale: Jason Aronson, Inc.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Cynthia Kim: The Empathy Conundrum
  5. 5.0 5.1 The Daily Beast: A Radical New Autism Theory
  6. My Aspergers: Startling Facts About Aspergers Empathy
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