Accepting autistics and the problem of double empathy

Accepting autistics

Last month was Autism Awareness Month, and I almost got away without blogging on my autism for the whole month, just posting on the evening of the last day. I saw so much of it, seeing people with autism as a problem to be dealt with, or the focus on children with autism to be less than ideal. Children with autism grow up to be adults with autism. Doing what makes the parents feel better may be in the long term against the best interests of that person when they grow up.


Autism awareness on its own does not go far enough. We need a three tiered approach:

  1. Autism awareness,
  2. Autism acceptance,
  3. Autism appreciation.

But before we can get there we run into the problem of double empathy.

Double empathy

Double empathy is sometimes known as culture shock. When you visit another country and find things are done differently. When a Westerner visits an Arab country or North Africa they run into the problem of personal space, the North Africans stand too close for Westerners to be comfortable. It isn’t just the culture, empathy is different. Each culture teaches people to empathise in different ways, it is not wrong to stand as close as a North African would, but it makes Europeans or Americans feel uncomfortable. This culture shock is the problem of double empathy. The two groups empathise in different ways and that makes it difficult for the other group to read.

Double empathy exists between people with autism and those without, and to a lesser extent between two people with autism, as it is a spec run of conditions and people with autism are not necessarily the same in regards to empathy either.

At least the false idea put forwards that people with autism do not have empathy is more or less dead in the water and psychologists are moving away from the idea that  just because we do not empathise in the same way as the majority of people that we do not empathise at all. It is projection in any case, people finding it difficult to empathise with autistic people project their inability to empathise in this situation onto the autistic person.

Of course this is a double edged sword. If other people find it difficult to empathise with us, we have the same difficulty with them. The difference being that with people with autism only making up about 1 in 90 of the population we have more experience at empathising with neuro typical people than they with us. I would guess that people with autism are better at empathising with neuro typical people than they with us. But it varies, autism is a spectrum of conditions, we are very different from each other.

The thing is we need to be mutually accepting of each other and mutually appreciative of each other, people gifted with autism and those unlucky to be without. We all have things we are good at, let us concentrate on what we can do. Double empathy need not be a problem.

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