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Autism and the Empathy Myth

November 23, 2011

People on the autism spectrum, including those with Aspergers like myself, do not lack empathy – or at least not the form of empathy that comes to mind when one hears the word. What we lack is cognitive empathy, or the ability to completely discern/understand what someone else is thinking/feeling via nonverbal cues. What we don’t inherently lack is affective empathy, meaning the ability to have sympathy and care for others. By perpetuating the “people with autism lack empathy” byline, you are reinforcing the harmful myth that those of us on the spectrum are cold, uncaring sociopaths. To be sure, there are people with autism who lack sympathy for others, just as there are neurotypical people who lack sympathy. But it is certainly not a trait of the disorder.

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