The mechanisms of empathy

by neuro diver

Following my most recent venture into the world of blogging , I have spent countless hours pouring over the plethora of autism related blogs available , some by parents sharing their stories , some by activists striving to give a voice to all those considered different , but the most interesting and insightful had been the discovery of the blogs belonging to individuals who are themselves autistic, in which they wonderfully articulate their own experiences , from sensory regulation to perceptual processing , illuminating and rendering concrete the underlying configuration differences between the neurotypical and autistic brains.

Given the propensity for filtering another’s experience through one’s own model of understanding , it is easy for some to erroneously project  their own conclusions as to the mental state at the root of certain behaviors they encounter in others.

When my son starts yelling and running in circles as he hears the generator in the underground parking , I am compelled to filter his experience through the information I have acquired from the lists of autism symptoms I have come across which state that autism occasions some sensory regulation issues , often manifesting as over sensitive hearing . Consequently , the scope of his experience is lost on me beyond these few tidbits of objective information accumulated by non autistic people categorizing phenomena . I assume , based on my own logic,  that as soon as the sound is gone, he will recover from the momentary anxiety and hurry him into the car to get him away.

Last night, as I read through an autistic girl’s harrowing account of her experience with fire alarms , how unhinging it had been to have her world turned upside down by a violent  monster of a noise which attacked her senses, how she could do nothing but cower in a corner with her hands over her ears, or  how in dealing with hyper sensitivity to pain she lost control over her own body as it tried to regulate itself through hand flapping so strong the wrists almost broke , my perspective on autism updated itself to include this new information , so that now when my son reacts to sounds or behaves in a certain manner, when he starts yelling , running in circles ,or flapping his hands , I have a truer approximation of understanding of his subjective state , one which allows a more authentic glimpse into his mental condition through a better informed interpretation of his behavior .

Another post I read is a beautifully crafted piece exploring synesthesia ( crossing of senses) in the author’s ability to visualize mathematical functions and music ,  giving rise to an inherently intuitive and enviable understanding of math , all the while unable to pursue an education in either because of her inability to process visual cues such as those found on sheet music or math exams at the level which most education establishments demand . She states that should there have been an alternative for her in taking exams – being dictated the problems on a bigger surface like a whiteboard, for example, to space out the stimulus, she would have been able to , but as it is, there are not enough provisions taken to support those with differing operating systems .

The voices of these individuals is a treasure to behold, a gift imparted by them which is of the utmost importance in the road towards acceptance . Those are the voices I will hear when I interact with my son , the voices that will inform my decisions with regards to his future, his education, his happiness . It is through them that I shall be able to connect with my son on a deeper level , one which transcends my own views and perspectives . The voices that will hopefully guide the changes that will make the world all the more hospitable for him.