Archive for the 'autism' Category

Social awkwardness

April 8, 2012

I’m interested in the increased diagnosis of autism, especially when there’s talk about how some of it has to do with “social awkwardness.”  Without getting into the difficulties of people and their families who struggle with more severe manifestations of being on the autism spectrum, I just wanted to make the point that if enough people are deemed socially awkward, maybe our standards for social interaction will change and we will figure out ways to interact that more people can navigate — might be salutary for all of us.  There are plenty of socially acceptable behavioral practices that I personally think could well be scrapped.  If increased autism diagnoses or increased numbers of socially awkward people get us there, that would be an interesting outcome — might even shed some light on why we’re getting the increases:  maybe mainstream society is due for a correction, kind of like the stock market goes through periodically.

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The components of “empathy”

December 28, 2011

I have the impression that I am not au courant with what people mean when they use the word “empathy,” so I may be examining here something that should be given a different label, but it is, at the very least, the point of departure for my thinking.

I think about this subject as an adult in part because I have finally figured out that one of the reasons I often find myself in difficult relationships is that I was taught to regard people without empathy as no different from people with empathy — both sets were to be treated the same and as normal, even if in fact the dynamics of the relationships with each set bore no resemblance to each other.  So, I have had unrealistic expectations of long-standing about people.

On top of this, the people without empathy and who also had other issues behaved in ways that I found damaging to me, and this subset of people without empathy has loomed larger in my life than the subset of people without empathy who would be aghast to discover they had inadvertently caused damage or harm.  So, I have probably developed an aversion to dealing with people who have difficulty with empathy, and I know I have a developed coping mechanisms to deal with one subset of them that may actually not be appropriate for dealing with other subsets of them, only I’m too tired of incurring the damage that seems to come with interacting enough to find out to which group a person belongs, especially since for me the type who persist in damage even when given feedback have predominated in my life (this type I think is often labeled “narcissistic” or something similar).  I tend to cut and run when it looks to me as if the pattern is repeating with a new person.

But I am wondering whether for people who have trouble with empathy but really would like to behave more like people who have it, it is worth my while to try to figure out what happens when the relationship seems to founder over a lack of empathy, and how that might be helped.

The NYTimes articles on the couple with Asperger’s trying to negotiate a romantic relationship and one on Mitt Romney’s awkward conversational gambits have led me to try to tease apart a number of the strands that seem to be involved.

If Person A steps into the shoes of Person B, all that really has to mean, I suppose, is that they have picked up some information, not what emotional aura they may have cloaked it with.  It is quite possible that most of us empathizers immediately jump to a common emotional cloak for the same information: Person B is distraught, therefore I feel a certain way about them, out of which arises my desire to comfort them, which I can then can go about doing with one of the behaviors I am familiar with that accomplishes that goal.  If Person A (the “I” here) does this almost instantaneously, the whole thing may get labeled an empathetic response.

But the information that the distress exists is actually separate from the other pieces (and of course reading the distress in the first place is a whole other kettle of fish).  A person could have trouble with attaching emotional aura and thence consequent response to their perception of the other person’s distress (including helpful behavioral strategies for reaching a goal of resolution).  They could need a point by point road map for what for others is almost an intuitive linear route from perception to behavior.  I’ve known people who have required me to explain exactly how their body weight squishing my arm at an angle against the couch hurts before they can figure out to reconfigure what they’re doing (with the dogs, I think “Move” was the operative command, with more intuitive people, “Ouch” would suffice).

So, I guess I’m wondering with people who are said to “lack empathy,” which of these components are compromised.  And then there’s what to do about it.  Because it can be hard for me to step into their shoes to figure out their view of me — how do I figure out what their reaction to me should be and then explain that to them in little increments?  I’ve had people ask me to do that very thing, but those people have, at least in the past, all been people who would not use that information to behave any differently in the future or even then — for them, it turned out to be just a way to learn what behaviors to fake in the future, and so I eventually refused (not just to continue supplying information, but to continue interacting with them).  But if I had the impression that explaining more, even if it’s just from my point of view, would actually help the relationship proceed in a way helpful to both them and me, I would probably try it again and continue it for longer.  Although at this point in my life it would take a huge leap of faith in the face of many attempts at this that turned out to be futile — being able to parse the other person’s good will unequivocally would probably be a big help to me.

Animals without ego

December 26, 2011

I really am not sure what people have in mind when they say people with Asperger’s are able to stand in the shoes (?) of an animal, but since it apparently gets contrasted with standing in the shoes of another person, I am going to wonder aloud whether what they are talking about is the lack of “ego” present in an animal, as contrasted with the “ego” of a human being.  Ego structures make it more difficult to climb up to the higher level of the (human or otherwise) animal’s consciousness, and if people with Asperger’s stumble over other people’s ego structures, it would make a lot of sense to me that they find it vastly more comfortable to interact with an animal without one.  What they might then be observing is simply that they can find some part of the animal to relate to that is more hidden from them in a person.  This would not necessarily be about an increased capacity to relate to animals, it could be rather about the openness of animals that makes it easy for all of us to relate to their capacity for being cleaner or clearer conduits of higher energies.  I really don’t know if this is what is going on, but if someone is asking me for a competing explanation, this would be my thinking, at least as far as it has gotten.

Empathy with animals

December 26, 2011

I am trying to figure out how to harmonize the claim in one part of the NYTimes front page article about “people with Asperger’s” that “People with autism, Dr. Grandin suggested, can more easily put themselves in the shoes of an animal than in those of another person because of their sensory-oriented and visual thought process,” with the last part of the piece, in which the protagonists are requiring a cat to chase a laser beam and wondering about whether it is smart enough to recognize its reflection in a mirror.  I don’t see the behavior as consistent with “put[ting] themselves in the shoes of an animal,” let alone having an increased facility for doing so.  Dr. Grandin’s fascination with cow slaughtering I have never understood, either, for that matter.  These kinds of apparent inconsistencies leave me with the impression that we have no idea what we are trying to map, and we exchange one set of biases and inaccurate model for another.  Maybe eventually we will have a more objective understanding of what the symptoms we can observe arise out of, of the rest of the iceberg beneath the water, so to speak.

Masts

July 24, 2011

I don’t know much about masts, and I don’t know much about people with autism, but I was reading about a mast called Mohammed, and the description of his behaviors sounded to me so much like the descriptions of the behaviors of people with autism that I started wondering how the two populations might be related.  (Masts, as I understand this term from the East, are people consumed by their spiritual journey in a way that makes their relationship with consensus reality strained.)  Maybe it’s something social science researchers would be well-positioned to investigate, if they haven’t done so already.  I am thinking that the bits and pieces of understanding of one phenomenon might shed some light on what we understand about the other.