Asperger's Syndrome Community
Are Asperger children not able to show empathy?
About This Community:

This forum is an un-mediated, patient-to-patient forum for questions and support regarding Asperger Syndrome issues such as: Balance, Behavioral Issues, Causes, Characteristics, Classification, Clumsiness, Communication, Diagnosis, Gait – Walking, Genetics, Medications. Parenting, Prognosis, Restricted and repetitive interests and behavior, School Issues, Screening Sleep Disorders, Social interaction, Speech and language, Treatment

Font Size:
A
A
A
Background:
Blank
Blank
Blank
Blank Blank

Are Asperger children not able to show empathy?

My 13 year old Aspergers daughter seems to want to always talk about herself and things that she likes and when you start talking about someone else she will bring the conversation right back around to her. She will repeat the same thing over and over again and then she will say "you don't want to talk about this anymore, so you?"  She also seems to lack any empathy for people. She will either laugh at something serious or say "oh well" or "whatever". It seems very rude to me and other people and I'm not sure if she's doing this on purpose or she really doesn't understand the true feelings of other people - other than herself.  Sometimes I feel like it's all about her.  She also interrupts every converation and can't seem to wait until I'm done for her to start speaking.  It gets frustrating, especially when the family members start telling you that she's spoiled and if she were their daughter she wouldn't be doing that. Is this an issue other people have with their Asperger daughters and is there anything I can do to help the situation?
Thanks for any help you can give me.
Related Discussions
20 Comments Post a Comment
Blank
347888_tn?1239903054
This is a very common trait of Asperger's, so you can tell your family that if their child had Asperger's, they would be doing that!!!!   At our house we often refer to Asperger's as Narcassitic Syndrome!  Aspies usually connect with animals better than humans, and often feel empathy through their relationship with an animal.  For my daugther, she loves cats, and would never do anything to hurt one and has empathy for them.  I think their intelligence also affects how empathetic they can be.  Intellictually, my daugther totally understands empathy, but it is not something she often "feels" like NTs do.  Although I will add, entering puberty has made her "feel" much more loving emotions than she ever did before.  People need to understand that Autisim means disconnection from what NTs consider to be the "real world".  To someone with Autisim, the "real world" is in their mind, and they only allow into their world what they want.  Hence the melt downs when we "force" them back into our world (to do what we want them to do!).  So, like I said before, empathy can be taught intellectually, but is not something they will naturally feel.  Can we make a color blind person see colors?
Blank
Avatar_f_tn
Thank you so much for your post - it was very interesting and I will certainly repeat what you said to my family.  Especially my oldest daughter, who is an adult - she seems to think her Aspie sister should "just get over it".
Blank
347888_tn?1239903054
I will say that next to the daily meltdowns when my daugther had when was younger, the most difficult part of dealing with an autistic child was the lack of understanding of family members.  My family told me my daugther's behavior was my fault because I didn't discipline her enough, and that they would never allow that, etc., etc.  They had no clue, and I basically had to distance myself from them to protect myself from the hurt they caused me.  You can try to educate your family, and hopefully they will "get" it.  But don't count on it.  Especially since Asperger's is usually a genetic trait, many family members have their own flavor of the disability, which makes it even more difficult for them to understand it (because then they'd have to admit something about themself that they wouldn't want to!)  It is tough, but my Aspie daugther teaches me so much and shows me so many different perspectives on life that I would never have experienced without her.  I wouldn't trade her for anything!!  
Blank
Avatar_m_tn
I have been struggling with the concept of empathy and my lack of it.  I always confused it with sympathy which I have plenty of towards other people.  Your explanation is much appreciated.  Don't believe my inability to feel empathy will ever change, but I do understand what is expected from me in the company of people.  Do you believe this deficit is why people perceive ASD folke as self-centred and unfeeling?

I understand your older daughter's attitude towards her sister and this a common theme from people towards ASDs.  Can't blame them for not understanding and being judgemental because their thinking is geared differently.  All this Neurotypical bashing at autism sites annoys me.  Perhaps we should try harder to understand NTs are wired so differently they can only perceive a negative until they are made aware.

Blank
347888_tn?1239903054
Yes, I do believe this deficit is why people perceive ASD folks as self-centered and unfeeling.  

What a great observation you make about NTs (actually I think it probably applies to all people) perceiving "different" as negative, until made aware!  People are so quick to judge a behavior, instead of taking the time to understand why the behavior is exhibiting itself.  
Blank
866792_tn?1244219760
I have Asperger's, and I openly admit that I'm a little self centered.  I don't mean to be, but I don't naturally see others feelings, only my own.  When someone thinks differently than I do, it shocks me.

I do feel empathy for others though.  I just don't know how to respond to them.  So I might say "oh well", or "whatever".  Not because that's how I feel, but because I don't know the correct response that would demonstrate empathy.  My natural instinct is to reverse the conversation back to myself because I know how to talk about myself.
Blank
365714_tn?1292202708
MaryannesMom wrote it pretty well.  I used to have on my profile bio that I relate to people more on a cognative level than emotional.  If I feel emapthy more if someone can write it out on the internet vs, listening in person.  I don't know why that is, but I think it's because when we read stuff, it forces the imagination to interpet what is written. It helps if I can visualize the setting, and the person and have a good idea what is going on.  I can use my imagination to understand people where otherwise I may not do as well.  There still is a degree of emotional disconnect.  Some people see it problematic because I may take the role of trouble shooter if someone comes with a problem.  That may be where the black/white thinking comes from.

I hope to come back to this later.
Blank
365714_tn?1292202708
Before I leave I want to add, it seems whenever I try to connect with people on an emotional level, that's when I struggle and it makes hard for me to know just how much to feel without becoming too attatched to a person and their situation.  That isn't healthy either... I'm trying to find that balance....
Blank
Avatar_f_tn
hey koda i am an adult with aspers, i do show empathy BUT i am so blunt sometimes that it comes across as rude, some people mistake that as me being mean, but its just the way i communicate
i also can relate to changing the topic to talk about myself, you child is too young for this, but i do ea and it breaks down self -centeredness and how to deal with it
i have learned to focus on what people are saying, and ask questions because i do not always get it the first time, ya know
maybe you can rent some books in the library and read them to your daughter, there should be an entire section towards social skills for kids
i use a christian manners book with my kids that helps, i am a unitarian but i believe in all the christian principals
there is also a company near my house that sells material to all the therapist and ot teachers, you can order straight from them
i wish someone would have done some of this stuff for me, your child is very lucky
http://www.superduperinc.com/search/search.aspx
Blank
Avatar_m_tn
I really do not see the 'big deal' with showing a lack of empathy.  I have strong rules of whats right and wrong. I will assist a person in trouble(Always defended kids from bullies), sympathise with people having a difficult time etc.  From speaking with a psychiatrist he gave me the impression that people with Aspergers are void of emotions like schizoprhenics.  I have not known any people with schizophrenia.  Mine are either confused or too intense, either way they are inappropriate, but they are certainly there, especially if I watch a movie or TV show.

I would be interested to know from other people here who are Aspergers if they see everyone in their image-same views,feelings, likes, dislikes, as they see the world.  I get extremely confused when people do not act how I would in a certain situation.  A big problem for me is assuming people know my intentions, what I'm like inside(Already know me) and it hurts when they react negatively towards me because they have misinterpreted something I've done/said.
Blank
Avatar_f_tn
people with schizophrenia can and do show emotions, i have 2 good friends who live with this illness, both have finished school and are productive members of society until they are meet with great stress, and their symptoms surface, once the onset of symptoms have dissapeared they are like anyone else in the world
i have to agree with you that people do tend to react negativly towards people living with aspers because the disease in general does not allow us a whole lot of small talk, we are more responsive and to the point, people do not like that!
Blank
Avatar_m_tn
I'm 30, I have asburgers, and age and therapy has given me some insight into how I "work". First, please note you daughter IS a teenager, and you don't need asburgers to be self-centered. Also as a teenager the frontal lobes in the brain (which don't finish matureing till 25) which is "impulse control" are far from fully formed. One of the core things that went a long way in helping me get a long better is learning to shut up.

However that aside, people with asburgers have the problem in the fact that the part or sides of their brain that deal with "emotion / connection" aren't doing their job (for whatever reason) so the "intelectual / logical" side has to work overtime to make up for whats missing. In short your brain programs converstion like a computer, a computer knows a lot about what it knows, but is totaly unresonsive to what it doesn't. Converstaion isn't about connections, or friends, or social actitivity, its about exchanging information. While you can explain to someone with asburgers why the emotional aspects of convsation is nesscary for heathly maturity, there will allways be a part of them that'll be going ?hunh?.

"Oh well" "whatever" "i don't care" "uh-hunh" isn't a brush off as much as it is a very short way of saying "the amount of time it would take to find information in my database about what you are telling me isn't worth the effort to contiune this converstaion, OR there's a computer glich in my system, I don't know how to properly engage in this converstaion.

People that don't find effective treatment for asburgers either withdraw from life, or learn to "fake it" really well. (I did a lot of the former but I could do the latter if i put in a lot of effort). For someone with asburgers conversation is all about RULES, and paying attention at all times to what those rules are (become to distracted at what your intrested in and you'll forget).

For helping an asburgers person "fake it" my best advice is to buy lots of "rule books" Interpersonal comuincation collage text book, Men are from mars, women are from venus, How to win friends and influnace people. I learned a LOT books like this.

Lately ive managed to get treatment, something called Neurofeedback (see my post above about a "fix") this has woken up my "emotional, social" processing center, and while it does make itself useful, to my regret the time in my life for when learning this stuff would have been optimal is long long past. anyway, I wish you luck with your daugher, hopefuly she doesn't turn into a sadistical little brute like i was growing up, seeing parental manipulation as some sort of vast game for domiance. :P
Blank
Avatar_m_tn
sorry guess that last comment wasn't really kosher, btw I'm a male,
Blank
365714_tn?1292202708
I like your comment. I think you explained it very well.  I tend to describe it with myself as the a break in cognitive thinking and emotional thinking. That's just a different way of explaining the same thing.  I may understand someone on a cognitive level, but not fully on an emotional level.  

Also it's kind of hard judging what a person is wanting by sharing something.  By default my mind processes things like if there's a problem there must be a solution. Can I think of a solution? Do I have a refrence point like something I read, heard, have seen, or experienced?  If I have a refrence point then I may use that to help me give advice.
But it may or may not tailor to the unique situation described. That may not be what someone wants.  Now I am starting to learn to use other words to hopefully relate.  For instance if someone is talking about a pain they feel in their body, there isn't anything I can do.  I'm best off telling them, "yeah that really must hurt." or try to throw in some humor if it comes to mind.

I've also used grunts, "whatever" "okay" and related words as a way to express that I can't think of something to say or can't bring the right thing to mind.

As a general rule, It feels very natural to be upset/hurt, etc being the one receiving the trigger.  But when it is someone else getting the "trigger" and expressing what effect it has on them, it's a bit harder to feel exactly as the person is feeling and know what to say and how to behave.

One thing that helps me is developing characters and imagining their reactions to each other and their environment. I also observe from real life and various places. It gives me a general guideline and a refrence point to work from when relating to people. If I don't have that mental fiction-reality cross-checking going back and forth going on in my mind, then I may get even more moody and self centered.  But at the same time I can't expect things to work out as I have them in my head...  That can set me up for unrealistic expectations which is another issue deserving its own topic.

Unrealistic expectations can also get in the way of empathy...


Blank
Avatar_m_tn
*smile* nice and organized, nice and logical, just like me. Reading your post however reminding me of somthing i forgot to mention, one of the agravations of converstaion. while it is possible for me to come up with the "right" answer, I equaly have to run though the same mental processes each time, and that takes time. unforutnitnly in american culture, just standing there in sinlence trying to think of an answer isn't exactly excpetable, people start to wonder if you were listening, or if your stupid.

Best example is when someone asks me "how are you?" i hate this question with a passion, mostly cuase its so loaded with possible answers. deep inside i know the "correct" answer is, somthing short, simple, and possibly untrue. Yet still every time, I have to look at myself and determin how I am really doing basing it on the moment, the past, and my anticipation of the future, all the while the person who asked the question is waiting for the automatic answer. Tension builds, finally its more uncomforable trying to come up with an honest answer then it is to keep the person standing there expeantly, so I come up with the fast lie "im fine" and feel guilty.

How can a person feel empathic towards someone who asks what seems to be personal questions when they really don't want an honest answer in the first place?
Blank
470168_tn?1237474845
Hi,
As an NT with an autistic child, I have been reading the posts with interest.
My own son quicky picks up 'useful' phases for these types of situation.  Eg. if you ask him how he is and he doesn't respond and you ask 'are you okay', he will say 'I think so'.  So, as you have said, I believe he is simply using a phrase which he had found works for him in that situation.  He has lots of phrases likes this, because at 8 he hasn't learnt more appropriate ways of initiating conversations, joining in etc.  Some of his favourites are 'by the way' 'excuse me' 'I want to tell you something' etc.
From an NT point of view, your comment about asking questions and not really wanting a true answer is correct.
I can only liken it to when you see monkeys sitting and grooming eachother.  This 'social chit chat' we go through is really a way of assessing if the other person is friendly and we are safe!  Giving deeper information and details is only really limited to friends and family.  With strangers it is a way of peeling back the layers and getting a deeper understanding and feeling of a person.  If it is someone you hardly ever see (or maybe someone in a formal work environment), then you always stay on the surface with these social niceities.  
And regarding the self centredness of conversation.  I can see that my own child finds it very hard to listen to someone and process what they are saying whilst at the same time trying to show appropriate facial expressiona and gestures and also be thinking about what they want to say on the topic as well.  So I kind of see it like switching channels.  My son finds he has to concentrate on himself or the other person so he has to be in one of either two channels.  For NTs we appear more able to keep several channels open at the same time ie. be aware of the other person talking and aware of what we want to say or even be thinking about a totally different topic, and we might also be aware of other people in the environment and the environment itself.  My son could never do all of that at the same time.  So in some ways he cannot multi-task.  But having said that.  That does not mean he does not have empathy because he definately does.  But he may need something to fully explain the situation to him and then he needs time to process that.  But if given that opportunity he can definately come to the same conclusion as most other people would.
Blank
Avatar_n_tn
My stepson is 8, he has just been diagnosed, although I suspected it for years.  He is extremely intelligent and loving, but he has severe social problems. One of the key issues I suspect that he has is that he has no concept of empathy.  We just adopted a 3 year old adult german shepherd.  He loves her dearly.  But he treats her like a toy.  He is constantly manipulating her in ways I’m sure she does not enjoy. A few days ago, he put on a pair of socks and was sliding across the floor in them so he could shock the dog.  I explained to him that dogs learn by association, and that if he shocked the dog with his touch, the dog would always expect that outcome and not want him to touch her.  But he persisted in wanting to do that. He was fixated on it, so I had to make him stop.  And then today, I found out he was hitting her in the face with her leash.  So his father did it to him, which he did not like.  But he still didn’t get it.  Luckily, this big dog puts up with his ****.  But how do I reach him?
Blank
Avatar_n_tn
have several years experience dealing with an adult female who is now in her middle 20 that has AS.
I am in no way trying bash people with AS just giving my accounts of dealing with someone with AS
At times she is difficult to deal with.  She is very self centered only worries about what is affecting her. Every once is a great while they even get violent when they don’t get their way. She seems to have no empathy for other people and has no concern at all if what she is doing hurts other people’s feelings.  The lack of empathy some  people have with AS almost reminds me of someone who is a sociopath.
She gets stuck in routines and  can at times gets very upset if something pulls her out of the routines. Sometimes she can talk for hours at a time on one subject and truly believes she is right about everything and everyone else is dumb and always wrong about everything.  Sometimes she will remember things that never happened and say you said or did something that never happened nothing really bad, but still false information
Blank
Avatar_f_tn
" ... I would be interested to know from other people here who are Aspergers if they see everyone in their image-same views,feelings, likes, dislikes, as they see the world.  I get extremely confused when people do not act how I would in a certain situation.  ..."  Rigi, yes, exactly.  That is exactly how it always is for me. Therefore my constant confusion and anxiety.

Another word on empathy. I can definitely feel empathy -- to a crippling level, in fact. This is why I do not watch TV or movies. The total empathy with every single character is disabling to me, and it seems to last my lifetime. I think I carry around with me all the time, all the woes of thousands of fictional characters. I won't remember a plot, only the parts where someone was in pain. For example, every time I hear the theme from Last of the Mohicans, I am thrown into the suffering of the man burned at the stake and then shot. That is all I can remember from the film and the horror of it will never leave me.  For some reason (and thank goodness), thiis only happens from visual and audial images and not printed words. Easter is excrutiating for me because I can't escape accidental exposure to gruesome descriptions of the suffering on the cross. When I was a chid, I actually passed out, fainted dead away and cracked my head on the pew, every Easter Sunday. (So going to church was yet something else I ruined for everybody ...)

To get back to the point, if I allowed myself to go "into" Empathy Mode with every human I encounter every day, I would melt into a puddle of despair and not recover. I have to stay at the intellectual level no matter what is happening around me, and I will surely help everyone out and do a good job at it, but I won't evidence the emotion that is expected.

Blank
Avatar_f_tn
I agree with what the others have said. I will add that now I retroactively feel very sorry for my own mother and all the others who had to be around me when I was a child, and I don't blame anybody for being annoyed. I would find me annoying, also.

The thing with talking about oneself until everybody else is insane with irritation: With me, that is because I think you are interested if you ask about me, and I figure you will announce it when you are no longer interested. The problem is that I do not "get it" when you run away and shut the door in my face, even though I have given myself all kinds of mental notes, "Stop talking when somebody runs away and shuts the door in your face, that means they have had more than enough." I cannot explain exactly why I cannot stop talking until I am at the end of the story, nor why I start the story over again. I think it has something to do with reading from pictures in my mind -- I can't stop the "movie" and just switch over to some other subject. I can only do one subject at a time, and often I find myself stuck in a "loop."

Something else I know about myself and cannot seem to change, is that I am really not interested in other people -- in the sense that it does not matter to me what music they like, what their hobbies are, how their kids are doing in school. Any of that would only matter to me if they needed my help with any of that -- for example, are they telling me about their kid and math class because they need me to tutor him? I would be glad to tutor, I am always anxious to help, and I was super at algebra back in my day. That's why I interrupt them and interject that I will help their kid. If they don't need my help, then I simply cannot fathom why they are telling me about their kid and his teacher and his grades.
Blank
Post a Comment
To
Blank
Weight Tracker
Weight Tracker
Start Tracking Now
Asperger's Syndrome Community Resources
RSS Expert Activity
469720_tn?1388149949
Blank
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm-treatable... Blank
Oct 04 by Lee Kirksey, MDBlank
242532_tn?1269553979
Blank
The 3 Essentials to Ending Emotiona...
Sep 18 by Roger Gould, M.D.Blank
242532_tn?1269553979
Blank
Control Emotional Eating with this ...
Sep 04 by Roger Gould, M.D.Blank