Hello, I'm reaching out here after doing a lot of reading and talking with a friend that has ASD. I'm a 35 year old guy that has struggled a lot with trying to get into work ever since leaving University in my early 20s, and I have been operating from a diagnosis of generalised anxiety disorder for most of that time from my GP. I have had problems long before that including IBS ever since starting secondary school but until very recently I never suspected that it could be anything other than just me being bad at coping with stuff that everyone deals with. Thanks to nudging from my friend I have done a lot of reading over the last couple of weeks and from everything I saw about other peoples accounts everything I have experienced in life just clicked. I have a lot of examples of things that suddenly made sense and will happily go into them if people want but for now I'd rather ask a question if I may. Both me and my friend have had very similar issues and strategies for coping, and whilst she has had a diagnosis her support ended there and so she is unsure of the answer to this.
I am aware that the thing about lacking emotion or empathy is a complete myth but I was wondering: Is it a thing to be so acutely aware of others emotional states that you are very easily affected just by the perceived mood of others? (in my case I seem to be particularly sensitive to tone of voice). I have found that I am extremely susceptible to negative emotions in particular, when people sound depressed I feel sad and depressed myself, and anger provokes a feeling ranging from discomfort to outright fear depending on how hard the edge in someones voice is, the volume and if they are banging stuff around. The fear isn't out of any expectation of harm or anything as people in my life never pose a physical threat, I just mean people dealing with day to day frustrations and their own problems. I feel a lot and with great depth but REALLY suck at showing it. I guess the essence of what I am asking is can being extremely sensitive to emotional input be a thing in the same way that people can be hypersensitive to sound or light etc?
I have an appointment booked with my GP to discuss everything and ask for a referral in early January, but until I can get the process going I need some kind of answers to things that have bugged me my whole life if that ok.
Post diagnostic support seems to be lacking for adults unfortunately. It also seems to depend on where you live. I've only just been diagnosed so I don't really know the answer either. Others may be able to tell you more.
It's interesting what you say about being sensitive to emotion. It's not something I experience myself. Some of the children I work with mimic negative emotions and get upset themselves if someone is upset. I wonder if this is a similar thing.
Empathy is a bit of a catch-all word, that leads to misunderstandings, unfortunately in some medical circles as well as the general public. I would describe some of my empathic reactions as childlike. Here is an article which - if you haven’t read it already - may help. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/out-the-darkness/201705/is-autism-really-empathy-disorder
At my diagnosis, I mentioned my sound to colour/shape synaesthesia, non of the professionals present had heard of it, so they googled it and found that a higher percentage of autistic people were synaesthetes compared to the general population. My synaesthesia is triggered by timbre, so tone of voice does provoke an emotional response, though rather an incoherent one, I feel upset if anger is expressed, but impaired processing results in a lingering low mood that I am unable to dispel.
Before you your GP appointment I would research empathy thoroughly, so as to correct any her/his misunderstandings. Here’s a few of the example I’ve collected in my research, ranging from the too simple to the academic.
Conation (from the Latin conatus) is any natural tendency, impulse, striving, or directed effort.
Affect is a concept used in psychology to describe the experience of feeling or emotion. In psychology, affect mediates an organism's interaction with stimuli.
Cognition is "the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses".
Cognitive empathy: impairments in cognitive empathy—particularly theory of mind abilities—were associated with ventromedial prefrontal cortex lesions. Cognitive empathy, on the other hand, led to greater activity in cortical systems related to mentalising and theory of mind including the middle frontal sulcus, cuneus, parahippocampal gyrus, and fusiform gyrus.
Emotional empathy: impairments in emotional empathy were caused by IFG lesions (Brodmann area [BA] 44). Although some overlap exists between the neural correlates of cognitive and emotional empathy, these studies also suggest that some of the neural underpinnings of emotional empathy are distinct from cognitive empathy. emotional empathy was associated with increased activity in the fusiform gyrus, parahippocampal gyrus, postcentral gyrus, insula, middle occipital gyrus, and premotor cortex.
Posterior inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and posterior parietal cortex in both cognitive and emotional empathy. Taken from: A Dual Route Model of Empathy: A Neurobiological Prospective.
I think the root problem of autism is diminished senses of self and agency, but I won’t be diagnosing you. I hope that helps, all the best, Graham.
Thanks for the replies, the article linked was particularly useful as it does go some way to putting into much better words what I was trying to nail down - The difficulty knowing how to respond in terms of putting out the appropriate signals but the fact that it does not mean I don't feel. The part about 'deep empathy' was particularly interesting because I really do start to feel distress at other peoples negative moods and have a very strong urge to do what I can to help that is often enormously frustrated by difficulty in getting this across. Its not uncommon if someone is upset in my immediate family for me to hover awkwardly nearby and then feel a need to apologise and explain once the upset is over.
The description of reactions as childlike is useful as well because there are times when it feels exactly like being a child again. If for example someone gives me even a mild telling off (or to be fair if I interpret it as such) or snaps at me but look and sound serious as they do it the feeling is exactly like being a child receiving a telling off that can leave me desperately trying not to cry.
Am in a similar position I booked an appointment for mid December but am becoming so obsessed with it and cant do much else other then reading and watching videos, feeling might be an easier option to go for a private diagnosis instead of this anxiety.
anyways I was reading what you have written I kindof feel the same way when it comes to emotions in particular negative emotions, I feel that I can also feel them like if someone Is depressed or angry but probably I feel more anxious
I also when being told off feel like am being told off by a parent when I was a child or by a teacher telling of a child, I felt like its a personal attack even though it is like a professional development constructive critism.
anyways best wishes its just nice to read something that sounds familiar so am not the only one
Yeah I agree it is nice to have that knowledge that others feel the same way. I agree with the anxiety thing as my reaction to other people being angry is to feel anxious and tense even to sometimes feeling outright scared and flinching if they are angry enough to be banging stuff like cupboard doors etc even though I know I'm in absolutely no danger.
yep that definitely makes sense, scared even if the person is not angry with me. what about the opposite end positive emotions. when someone is happy that's not catchy as much I find, It not that I am not happy for them but I struggle to react or understand my reaction I guess.
Yeah happiness in other people is nice but doesn't seem so infectious, I find it feels more relaxed and restful to me in that situation. Things like laughter depend a lot on the context of the situation and whether I am in the loop, I tend to get a bit uncomfortable and paranoid if for example there are a bunch of strangers laughing a lot and loudly or whispering and giggling.
I am exactly the same in that regard.