On The Ontological Status Of Autism And Double Empathy


The double empathy/cross-neurological hypotheses of Milton and Beardon can be summarised as follows:
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(1) non-autistic people appear to have as much difficulty in understanding autistic minds as vice versa;
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(2) autistic people often develop a greater understanding of society than non-autistic people develop of autism; and
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(3) autistic people have a similar ability to empathise with other autistic people as non-autistic people have with their peers.
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Milton does not suggest that non-autistic people are less capable of developing an understanding of autism than vice versa; as he points out, it is simply that autistic people have no choice but to try to develop an understanding of society if they are to ‘survive and potentially thrive’ whereas no such imperative applies in the opposite direction (Milton 2012).
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  • Good morning, Deepthought.

    I haven't read the article yet, but I have to say I'm in broad agreement with the points as you've cited them above.  It's interesting that many people over the years - and particularly so since my diagnosis and my openness with everyone about it - have spoken to me about my seemingly deep understanding and insights, both about my own condition and place in the world and about that of others, including NTs.  I know that opinion is divided on the 'empathy' issue.  Recombinantsocks once said that an autistic person discussing empathy is like a blind art critic.  I think I can see his point.  It's like a heterosexual discussing how it must be to be homosexual.  I don't think, though, it necessarily means that we can't show empathy.  People say to me that I can't be autistic because I work in care.  That's nonsense!  I usually point out that there's a world of difference between caring for someone and caring about them.  Having said that, I do sincerely believe that life as a neurodiverse individual has exposed me to more traumas and difficulties than would be the case for an NT, so I've therefore developed a response to them that might seem 'cold' and 'detached' to anyone else.  Much as I loved my mother, and much as I miss her, I've never really shed any tears at her passing, and I stood up at her funeral and delivered a eulogy as easily as if I'd been doing an ordinary bit of public speaking.  I've written a book about our time together and have just read it back for the first time, and feel detached in a way that for many people might seem, again, cold.  Yet I feel very deeply about it - and about many other things.  I can feel crushed at seeing a dead rat at the side of the road, or a flower thoughtlessly trampled underfoot by someone in passing.

    I think, too, it's this 'understanding', if you like, that's made me a writer.  I've spent my entire life on the outside looking in - like someone out in a dark street looking through a window at a crowded bar.  I see things, perhaps, that others take for granted - and thus don't notice.  At work, I sometimes pick up on things - a sound, a pattern, a trait - that others miss.  Maybe it's about a heightened sensitivity of perception.  Maybe it's simply how I'm programmed.  I may not understand huge amounts about human behaviour.  I can't, for instance, ever pick out a character's motives in fiction or film, and I'm always a target for confidence tricksters and leg-pullers.  But I have a certain understanding, I think... 

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