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Let's talk about autism and empathy

Hi all! I'm trying something new...

Above is a link to a new YouTube video I posted about autism and empathy. Below is the text version of the video, which is more like your typical blog post.

If you like the video version, please subscribe to my channel, as I hope to post one video a week (if I can manage it!) moving forward.

If you prefer the text version, you can read that below!

P.s. I'm always open to feedback. So, feel free to comment below and let me know what you think!

With all that said...

Let's talk about autism and empathy...

So, the Empathy Quotient or "EQ" is a measure used by practitioners during an autism evaluation, which looks at a person's ability to identify other people's emotions and then respond to them with an "appropriate" reciprocal emotion. 

But this measure is only half of the empathy equation when it comes to autism. And, unfortunately, many practitioners are not aware of this, which often leads to misdiagnoses. 

The practitioner who evaluated me @_EmbraceAutism explained the reason for this really well in my assessment paperwork.

Here is how she put it...

"The EQ is highly misunderstood and quite misleading. Contrary to what the name of the test might imply, it does not measure emotional empathy. Instead, it predominantly measures cognitive empathy."

Now, let me quickly explain the difference between cognitive empathy and emotional empathy.

Cognitive empathy involves a person imagining what another person might be experiencing, while emotional empathy involves a person sharing the emotional experience of another as though they are going through it themselves.

Now, this lack of emotional empathy testing in the autism evaluation process has since been addressed by the Toronto Empathy Questionnaire, which measures emotional empathy. 

This questionnaire was actually included in my assessment, and what I found most fascinating in learning about autism and cognitive vs. emotional empathy, is that it is possible for an autistic person to have low cognitive empathy but high emotional empathy. Which is the case for me.

Now, there is another element to all of this, which is that up to half of autistic people also have something called alexithymia, which is a person having difficulty understanding and articulating their own emotions. And, it has been found that alexithymia lowers emotional empathy.

So, does this mean that up to half of autistic people are not empathetic?

Not at all.

Research has found that emotional empathy is actually still very much there in autistic individuals... but alexithymia can make it more difficult for an autistic person to pick up on social queues related to emotions. And so they are therefore unable to react to them.

BUT, once it is brought to their attention, for example, someone saying "hey, I'm really having a rough day today, something happened at work, and it's really bothering me"... they are often able to show deep and genuine empathy for the other person.

So that explains the reason for the misconception that autistic people often don't have empathy... and how autistic people actually experience empathy.

Hope you found this post helpful!

~ Nicole

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