Good grief… what a title!
What is going in the mind of someone who would write that?
That misspelling was deliberate so that I could include a favorite drawing and give a shout out to an all-time favorite blog post by Hyperbole and a Half.
Moreover, it was important to me to inject some humor into this post before I launched into, well, a humorless subject.
This morning I read an article on Slate, More Problems For Bully, about a teenage boy, Tyler Long, who had Aspergers and committed suicide. This post is not about Tyler and it is not about the documentary made about his life, Bully. Rather, it’s about Aspergers and empathy and was inspired by a comment that I read after the article.
Okay, confession time here. I have been involved with Aspergers for over 16 years. I have heard for over 16 years how people with Aspergers lack empathy, but when I read this comment, especially the last sentence, and the declaration that someone with Aspergers would have “an easier time taking their own life” because of their absence of empathy, well that really started me thinking about the words I have heard so often and have, a time or two, spoken myself.
He. Lacks. Empathy.
I started wondering, really wondering…
Or have I just parroted what I have heard? What I have been told to think?
OMG, am I, as Ted so likes to say,
That is, you have to realize, just about the lowest form of human thinking according to Ted.
I need help here, dear readers, I really do.
How does Ted lack empathy?
When he was little (and also labeled Emotionally Disturbed/Conflicted, just like the commenter mentions) he hit kids and because he did, it was said he lacked empathy. School’s thinking was he should know that hitting hurts, and thus should not want to knowingly hurt another child.
He knew hitting hurt. He had so much awareness that hitting hurt that he could articulate it. Read that here.
But he hit kids because THEY CALLED HIM NAMES. He hit them ONLY AFTER they hit him first with their words. They HURT HIM and he DECIDED hurting them back was worth it. In all the incidents that Teddy was involved in, and believe me there were many, he didn’t do the initiating. There was always an antecedent.
His hitting wasn’t an empathy issue. I think, in his six-year-old mind, hitting was about JUSTICE.
That is the wild west of an Aspergers mind.
So still, I remain confused about how Teddy lacked empathy.
When I get confused about something I go back to the basics. Since I am confused about a word, I went to its definition…
the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Give Teddy high marks then for empathy! He sure did share the feelings of another. When another child was mean to him, he shared it. He regifted their meanness right back to them.
Now, if he was expected to answer their meanness, their teasing, with kindness, a turning of the cheek, well is that really empathy? Instead, I believe that is more a discussion about the ability to execute a higher-level response and asking a six-year-old child to ignore the taunting of classmates with self-control, with personal discipline is extraordinary, Aspergers or not.
So really, truth be told, at least in the case of Teddy, it is not so much empathy he lacked, but rather a lack of numbness towards being picked on? And let me go out on a limb here and propose that perhaps the lack of empathy was from the ADULTS who were completely unable to comprehend the situation and rather than support him, punished him, ignored the perpetrators and neglected to model for him appropriate behaviors when cruelty was shown to him.
Help me reader. Am I completely missing what lacking empathy is?