Empathy explored

Just finished listening to a podcast by Dr. Rick Hanson https://www.rickhanson.net/being-well-podcast-empathy/ about empathy and it’s relation to intimacy. In the beginning he states that one must have empathy in order to be considered “fully human”. This statement is incorrect when it comes to autistic folks. We are clearly fully human, even if our level of empathy varies widely. Additionally, there is some evidence that autistics may actually have a heightened sense of empathy, to the point that it is painful to express empathy and that some autistic folks feel overwhelmed by empathetic emotions. Thus, showing strong empathy for animals is “safer” than showing empathy with humans. Also, there is strong evidence that autistics have difficulty with visual facial cues such as micro muscular movements and changes in eye expressions. This is labeled as “weak theory of mind”, or an inability to sense what is going on in another person’s mind. Dr. Hanson does not mean to insult autistics. His research on autism might need some updating, given the rise of neurodiversity theory, which counters the concept of only one type of “normal” human brain structure.

One interesting part of the broadcast was that with development of a stronger sense of self can lead to developing more intimacy, which in turn, can help with the development of more empathy. The ability to feel empathy for another person is more likely to occur if one has a strong sense of self. As an autistic, I have always struggled with my sense of self. Only after the events of the past two years have I matured and developed a strong sense of self so now I am better at understanding how others react to me emotionally. I still cannot read what other folks “think” by looking at their faces, unless it’s really intense, such as anger. Well, it’s a work in progress 😆

Autistic behaviour and context

I recently went to my 75th birthday party at my son’s house in Wisconsin. My airfare was paid for by my niece. I also was there to meet my first born son, whom I had searched for 58 years. We connected through Ancestry DNA. The day was the happiest in my life. For the first time I was with all three of my biological children!

My partner wanted to go but didn’t have a passport. She said that I would be more relaxed if she weren’t there. It turns out that she was correct. I wondered why this was the case. After thinking about it I began to understand. Although my social behaviour does not vary much across situations, the way it’s interpreted depends on the context in which it occurs. With my partner it seems that any clumsiness with my behaviour, or any other behaviour such as impulsively interrupting, which I am modifying, is seen as due to my autism, while with others, including my family, there was no mention of my autism at any time, including when I was a bit clumsy socially.

My partners attitude is due, in part, to her role as an instruction coach for me. She has been very helpful and is invested in my becoming the best partner and person possible, which helps her deal with her PTSD. However, no one else is in that role. So, based on the evidence from my visit, my social behaviour doesn’t involve my autism worn “on my sleeve” And is not an obvious issue.

What does this mean? For me, it means that some aspects of my autism are no longer relevant to my functioning, but it depends on who I am interacting with at the time.

Cohort issues

I define the word cohort to mean all the people in the world born in the same year. I was born in 1943. What does this mean? For example, there was no such term as autism in 1943. So, behaviour seen as autistic in nature such as stimming was not understood and, in my case, was suppressed by my parents and at school. I was forced to “pass” as an NT. Another example would be my values about gender differences. I have had to change how I see females. I now view the differences between men and women as minimal. There are a lot of issues that have changed across time and it is my responsibility to keep up with society. Otherwise, I would become one of those old guys that is frozen in Glory Days memories. Not for me! The glory days are the ones in which I am still alive! My point is that it’s up to us to stay engaged with life and to keep growing.

On another note, my relationship with my wife is getting better. She has developed a better understanding of autism. We now focus on acceptable differences rather than “Why do you do this instead of that“. I feel much safer than before. We are exploring sensual but not sexual intimacy, such as massage. I am finding touching to be pleasurable. I still have to consciously remember to express myself physically instead of just talking.

The last update is about my recovery from surgery: I had a phone consult with my neurosurgeon. He informed me that my walking might not get much better. I walk at about 85% of my former ability. I still lurch at times and walk a little like someone with mild Cerebral Palsy. That’s okay because I am still walking!

In about two weeks I will see my son that I have not yet met and his family, including two granddaughters! I am so excited!

More Change and a Miracle

So many changes! I am completing longer hikes. I kayaked the Johnstone Strait. My rehab is coming along well. I am opening up myself to more intimate behaviour with my wife. We are working together and have been eating together on and off. We both still want to live apart as we feel safe in our own space. We are starting to just look at my autistic behaviours as understandable. It is easier to accept our differences that way.

And now for the miracle. A few months ago I used Ancestry DNA to explore my heritage. In the results, they had a link to a section with data on possible genetic relatives. The first person on the list was my niece, the first born daughter of my sister, given up at birth, whom I had been connected to by a lawyer. The list seemed valid. I then looked at the second name. It was a male. I sent him an email and asked him two questions. He replied and after two more emails, we realized that he is my firstborn son! I had been looking for him for fifty eight years! I now have two granddaughters! To be handed this miracle is a blessing for which I am eternally grateful. It is the end of a sad period and the beginning of Joyous Time.

Little things and a big surprise!

One little thing that mirrors my autism involves rolling up my sleeves when washing the dishes. I just cannot seem to remember to do this before my sleeves get wet! Another is the way I anthropomorphism my belongings. I talk to my dishes, the whole trailer and lots of different objects. I only use the same utensils over and over. I have to remember how to dress. I have to remember to not blurt out stuff when I am supposed to be listening. I need to respect that when someone tells me private stuff, I won’t repeat it, or more likely, make a joke of what someone might find tragic. I tend to find things funny that other folks don’t. I would like to get feedback from other autistics about their own “autistic” quirks.

The big surprise is the following: When I was 15 I got a 14 year old girl pregnant. When the baby, a boy, was born I went to the hospital to see the mom and the baby. But, when she checked out of the hospital, she disappeared! I saw them one more time and then they were gone.

Recently I used Ancestry DNA to find out my ethnicity. Through this process, I was able to find my son, who is 58! I will see him in August and I feel so blessed! Not only have I relearned to walk, I now have another son AND two granddaughters!

Autistic Acceptance vs. Autistic “Awareness “

April has been labeled as Autism Awareness month but it is not very helpful just to be aware of autism. What is needed is autism acceptance by the NT world. Acceptance of autism involves understanding that we autistics are neurologically different but EQUAL. Autistic awareness is just another example of ableism at work. Organizations such as Autism Speaks push the notion of awareness as the first step to developing a “cure” for autism. These misguided notions need to be changed. Autistics can’t be cured. There is nothing to cure. In this case awareness is obvious. Acceptance is an act of human love and respect. Spread the word!

More on delusions

I believe that we autistic folks may struggle with a delusion of permanence. It has been documented that autistics struggle with something ending perhaps more than NTs. All people want, at times, for something to not end. All humans go through a stage of feeling invincible. We cannot see ourselves ending or dying. Later, we gain enough wisdom to understand that we all die.

With the above in mind, here are a couple of permanence delusions that I struggle with: I find myself thinking about an old friend and I think about contacting then, without understanding that they were my friend 60 years ago and that I haven’t had contact with them since! I don’t seem to be able to envision that we are not friends. This view holds for all the friends I have had over the years. Then there is my seeming inability to understand change in aspects of social behaviour. It appears that I keep thinking everyone sees the world in the same way as I do. WHOOPSIE! Now that’s a potent delusion.

I believe that these delusions come out of a way that I, as an autistic, cognitively construct my mental world. My view is based on what we would call an egocentric view of the world. The weakened ability to view the world from another’s point of view seems to be an issue. This point of view is strong amongst autistic folks. Any feedback on this issue would be most appreciated.