Let’s Talk About Empathy #Autism #Aspergers

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of the word empathy is as follows:

1: the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it
2: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for empathy

From my personal perspective, as an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome, I want to discuss to Simon Baron-Cohen’s “Theory of Mind” and why I disagree with it.

For me, every single emotion is intense. When I was a child and I saw my mother trip and fall I would cry hysterically. If I saw another child being bullied, I may not have expressed my feelings the way a neurotypical child would, but I became extremely upset. In those moments, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. Sometimes I would chastise the bully only to be told by a parent that I wasn’t being nice. Perhaps, I had misunderstood what I had been watching/experiencing? Perhaps my perception was incorrect.

As a teenager, I sought out the lonely kids in school. I went to twelve schools in twelve years for various reasons (none of them having anything to do with my behavior). I was often the new girl but I sought out my “peers” who seemed upset. However, they often were not happy to have my “empathy” or “sympathy” or whatever it was at the time because no one knew me. I couldn’t understand that people don’t necessarily want a stranger to try to comfort them. I thought “If I was in pain I would be so happy that someone would sit beside me and listen.” But apparently, that’s just me.

All I know is that when I see someone in pain, I feel physical pain. When I see someone cry, my chest burns and I feel pressure behind my eyes. When someone is extremely happy, that is very intense for me too. Their voice changes pitch which can make it hard to listen to for me but if I look in their eyes, it’s still too intense.

This is partially why I do not like looking into people’s eyes. There is a whole world within someone’s eyes. I see pain, I see sadness, I see vulnerability and it’s too intense for me. It’s very hard to have a low key conversation when every time I look into their eyes I see this intensity that is unspoken. Sometimes the pain I see hidden in someone’s eyes is enough to bring me to tears or want to scream in pain.

I can understand that I cannot relate to lots of things neurotypical people express. That doesn’t mean I don’t care. It simply means that I don’t understand. In fact, I have a passionate aversion to injustice that I have never seen in a person who was not on the Autism Spectrum. I have heard so many neurotypical people brush off injustice because it didn’t affect them. Isn’t that an issue with empathy?

I’m not saying that people with ASD are more empathetic. No one is better than someone else and everyone is different. Sure, maybe there are people with ASD that truly struggle with empathy just like there are plenty of people who do not have ASD who struggle with empathy.

My theory is that we just process empathy in a different way. Should that surprise anyone? Not likely.

I attribute pain to pain. It doesn’t matter what shade of gray that pain is, I know what pain feels like. I know physical pain. I know emotional pain. I may not know what to say to you if you are crying. In fact, I might feel intensely uncomfortable. But for me, that is because I too feel pain even if I don’t say that in words.

Maybe this isn’t empathy that I am feeling. But if it isn’t, then I don’t know what is.

Posted in ASD, Aspergers, Autism | 16 Comments

Good Morning Boston

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Makeshift Mattress – A Poem

 

Steel springs roll

cardboard slides

with grating teeth

and blinking eyes

 

The alarm clock sings

like cymbals in

the harsh melody of

an unforgiving city

 

Smearing grit and

sweat from my face

wanting to just forget

this place

 

Fingers slamming

on the Snooze

for even the briefest

of escapes

 

Burying my face

counting the hours

that I must stay awake

 

wishing this was all

just a horrible dream

 

As I shift my body

on this teetering

emotional

balance beam

 

Each move unsteady

Each move // I ache

 

Awakened to

the consequences

of my mistaken ignorance

 

Blinded by misguided

& falsified intentions

in a place I dreamed

would feel like home //

 

and not a life sentence.

Posted in Poetry | 28 Comments

Thank-you Orange #OITNB

Dear Ms. Kerman, Ms. Kohan & the OITNB Cast,

Inspired the emotions I felt while watching the Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, I began contemplating (yet again) writing out what my own childhood and teenage years were like. I guess I had honestly blocked most of it out of my mind because it felt like a terrifying tsunami wave of emotion as I began my manuscript. My fingers were trembling from the get go.

I felt anger. I felt joy. I felt sorrow.

Writing my story felt extremely intense. It didn’t matter that I have never arrested nor have I ever been to prison. That had nothing to do with any of this. There were so many memories buried that I unearthed. Some made me weep, some made me laugh, and some made me really re-evaluate where I have come from and where I want to go in life. As I wrote my story, I felt like I was looking at myself through a totally different lens. I found myself judging my own actions in a different light. I started recognizing patterns of behavior that I had never fully owned or accepted about my past.

It felt like looking into a broken mirror.

It wasn’t a pretty picture. At times, while writing the chapters I would cringe as I considered how someone else might view a mistake I made at eighteen. I would feel this flood of panic and want to delete it and then realized that I couldn’t just erase history. We all make mistakes and now seemed a good time as any to take ownership and responsibility instead of pointing fingers. I reminded myself that a decade has now passed and that girl that I once was has changed for the better.

I reminded myself that I am human.

The times that I was stuck living in a motel, the times that I trusted people I never should have trusted, and the times that I had such little sense of self value that I hid in someone’s shadow out of fear are over. But I as I finished my manuscript I realized that my diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome at twenty-three seemed like a pivotal moment in my past, present, and future.

It was like someone turned the lights on.

Big thanks to Piper Kerman, the author of the book Orange is the New Black, Jenji Kohan, and the show’s amazing cast for showing the world the art of vulnerability and inspiring the world. I had been waiting for years for the inspiration to write my story and now I have. It’s finally done.

I agree with those that say that the past is in the past.

I agree with the sentiment of letting go. But I also think that sometimes we have to look back to remember just how far we’ve come, to remember where we are now and where we are going. As I wrote the final sentence in the final chapter, I had a rather startling realization. I had finished writing about my life until now…but where would tomorrow lead?

I have such big dreams for the future.

I have such intense passion to help the Autism communities voices’ be heard. I feel such a deep sense of gratitude for those who have gone out of their way to share their story for the world to read and the greatest part is that I have so many more chapters left to write.

This is just the beginning. I can’t wait to see Season 3!

Sincerely,

Gretchen Leary

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Deep in Thought

I’ve been doing a lot of prose writing outside of my blog so I apologize for the lack of posts in the past week.

Also…lots of planning for the talk/event coming up in August, job interviews and self reflection.

I have a lot to share/update and plan to do so tomorrow.

Thanks everyone!

-GL

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Just a Thought…

I think there are many people in this world that could do without reading at all…so what makes the rest of us readers so excited?

Well, I can only speak for myself here. For me, it is the idea/concept that the books that I read are a crafted work of art. Someone wrote those words. Someone felt these emotions before writing them down. When I look at a book that way, it feels like an honor to simply read it.

As I have been working on several manuscripts in the past few months I am realizing just how much time goes into creating a manuscript. Writing, erasing, editing, re-writing, time to think and breaks to brainstorm, outlining, re-writing, digging deep within to even find words, it makes some of my poetry feel like small projects when I compare them to the time and effort that goes into these manuscripts.

Poetry is amazing. I love writing it and I love reading it. If you think about it, it’s kind of like taking 70,000 word novels and turning them into a 100 word poem…

To me they are both amazing. I have gained a lot of renewed respect lately at the talent required to do this micro and macro level writing and I feel honored to feel a part of that group that just couldn’t do without a journal and a pen. (or laptop!)

So to all fellow poets, bloggers, novelists, writers of any kind… thank-you for taking the time to write for the world. I don’t know what I’d do without a good book on a rainy day!

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#InMyOpinionFlashBlog2014 #Autism #Aspergers

This is part of a Flash Blog initated by Erin Clemens

When it comes to advocacy, I do at times struggle with wanting to lift others up while trying to make sure that I am clear that I can not actually speaking for anyone but myself.

This, I feel like comes out most when people draw a line in the sand between “advocates” and “self-advocates”. I feel like there should be no distinction and that the latter term makes individuals on the Autism Spectrum look selfish. I consider myself an advocate and I suppose a self-advocate.

But my point is simple – Everyone has a voice, whether it’s verbal, non-verbal (e.g.- sign language, PECS etc) and I just want to be a part of others feeling heard just like myself. I would never say that I can speak for others but I can try my best to help others listen to everyone.

Anyways, that is just my opinion. What’s yours?

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