Query on the Social Cognition Aspect of Asperger's Syndrome

Hi All,

Cognitive empathy is KNOWING how the other person feels and what they might be thinking. Emotional empathy is FEELING physically along with the other person, as though their emotions were contagious. Aspies are said to have more than normal levels of emotional empathy and less than normal levels of cognitive empathy. But if we can FEEL other people's feelings, doesn't this mean that we also KNOW how they are feeling? That's true for me, at least. What others are thinking is often a mystery to me. So maybe thoughts and emotions should not be clubbed under "cognitive empathy"?

Theory of mind is the ability to infer the full range of mental states (beliefs, desires, intenions, imagination, emotions, etc.) that causes action, or the ability to reflect on the contents of one's own and others' minds. Aspies are said to be lacking in this ability, or suffering from mindblindness. We are believed to think that if we feel/ perceive something, probably others do too and if we don't feel/ perceive something, probably others don't either. Eg. When playing hide and seek, thinking that if I can't see them, they can't see me. It has been speculated that mindblindness could simply be attributed to the differences between autistic and non-autistic thought processes, i.e. aspies could be less mind-blind with others like themselves.

I think the term "theory of mind" is problematic. I think it is too broad and encompass too many separate ideas. Aspies are said to have a reduced ability to read other people's social cues such as facial expressions or body language. I personally am highly perceptive about this. So either I was misdiagnosed as an aspie or at least some aspies are great at perceiving other people's body language/expressions, which may reflect on their emotions and intentions. But I still often do not know how to respond to them even if I understand what they're feeling. Are there other aspies here who can't relate to the idea that we can't perceive body language/expressions? What I fail to pick up on to be precise, are the ways other people think or process their emotions and the beliefs that they may hold.

Is it just me or does anyone else feel that there are contradictions and inaccuracies in these ideas about us currently held by the mainstream scientific community on us? Please correct me if I'm wrong. Your thoughts are much appreciated. Thank you all.

Much love,


  • As with most aspects of autism there is not one accepted ‘Theory of Mind’ concept. It has been reported by some researchers that HFA and AS individuals believe themselves to have a higher level of emotional and behavioural perspicacity, than those who observe them - parents, teachers etc., who report them as having a lower ability. ASD people in the higher IQ bracket also compensate for a theory of mind deficit by memorising social and behavioural rules.

    Some researchers posit that individuals with ASD have a limited awareness of self and others, whilst others posit the impairments are limited not global. I suspect both are true and it depends on the individual. I think that these problems are likely accounted for by a difficulty in self-conceptualisation of agency.

  • It has been reported by some researchers that HFA and AS individuals believe themselves to have a higher level of emotional and behavioural perspicacity

    Could you share any resources on this if you have any?

    I think what NTs mean by self-awareness is an awareness of their social image. Most people only know that as their "selves". Since we are not too concerned about constantly seeing ourselves through other people's eyes and adjusting ourselves accordingly-- something they do quite naturally without even thinking, they say we are not self-aware. Quite frankly, I feel that THEY are the ones who aren't self-aware. They don't know themselves other than as a collection of several social masks. I am certain that I know myself intimately. That takes a level of honesty and courage unknown to most NTs. Having said that, perhaps you are right that some Aspies are more self-aware than others.

    Thank you for your very helpful response. Love your choice of words, by the way.

    I found this video last night. I think it is a good answer to my question, if you'd like to check it out.


  • Towards the end of the paper linked to below, in the section entitled, ‘Interpersonal Dimension Approach.’ There is a pdf download available.


    I prefer the approach of the cognitive neuroscience discipline as it is less likely to make value judgements based on a perceived exemplar. Atypical mirror neuron activity and amygdala maturation are at least scientifically verifiable. See here and here respectively. Other neuroscience research here is interesting. 

    I enjoyed the video, thanks for the link. It’s always refreshing to hear someone with personal experience of autism talk knowledgeably about it.

    Given the heterogeneous character of ASC it is difficult to compare experiences exactly, but I’m sure there are similarities. I am aware that I have an atypical diminution in my senses of self and agency that result in occasional stasis, I would like to know how to address this and my proprioceptive hallucinations. Psychiatry seems to only offer pharmaceutical remedies. Behavioural psychologists are adept at conjuring polysyllabic terms to describe the bleeding obvious. There is nothing remotely analytical about psychoanalysis.  

     I don’t share the antipathy to NTs that I sometimes see expressed on the forum. In an ideal world, I won’t judge them if they don’t judge me.

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