Can people feel empathy with Asperger Syndrome and Autism

Editor David Oliver

Other ASD’ers have answered this. My guess is you’ll find we all feel empathy. However, just like you and the Neuro-Majority, we all feel empathy differently. As far as I know, the only group who doesn’t experience empathy are sociopaths, roughly 2–8% of the human race. The rest of us, NT’s and ADS’s, are naturally empathetic.

However, I experience & express empathy in a radically different way than you. I will see a fellow human making a choice that will cause them long-term harm and want to help them. I’ll say something like “Why would you smoke? Do you want to die of lung cancer?” I’ll be told that I’m being insensitive. Isn’t it far, far less insensitive to ignore a fellow human being who is committing slow-motion suicide?

I’m learning, ever so slowly, that most of the constructive criticism I give is unwanted and therefore “rude.” I find the logic baffling. Rude? My intent is to help. I’ll hire a freelance artist to complete a project for my company. I’m paying them a fair wage. Like most freelancers, there is some kind of gaping hole in their skill set. So, I tell them…

…and usually, they freak out. They have a typical NT Pride-splosion all over my new suit. “WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE??? MAN, YOU ARE SO F’ING RUDE!!! I’M BRILLIANT AS I AM AND I DON’T NEED TO CHANGE NOTHIN’ ABOUT ME, MAN!!! GIVE ME MY CHECK!!!” That’s about 9 times out of 10. Obviously, I’m exaggerating for both effect and amusement. And the final retort is usually a variation of “DON’T YOU HAVE ANY FEELINGS? MAN, YOU ARE F’ING COLD!!!”

“Yes, I have feelings. Tremendous feelings. And I want you to be employable. And when you fail to layer-manage your files, not follow file naming protocol, not organize your documents in the right folders you put a mark on your head that says you can’t integrate into another person’s art department. I’ve worked for DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Paramount, Universal, LucasArts, BioWare and Electronic Arts before I started my own company. I know exactly what it will take for you to be taken seriously as a commercial artist. Your work alone is not enough.”


It’s exhausting. From my point of view, I’m watching someone drown, I’m trying to throw them a life preserver and they’re angry that I’m judging their dog paddle.

I find that NT Empathy is often shaped around Group Think and ASD Empathy is shaped around Protocols & Rules. Both groups are empathetic. Both fail to understand the other group. Both look at the other group as if they’re nuts.

I believe ASD Empathy is superior, because it is goal-oriented. “Yes, you look fat in that dress. I love you. I would like you to go to a gym, get healthy and live longer.”

I find NT Empathy to be self-serving and cowardly. “Yes, grandma says some racist stuff, but we don’t comment on it, we just ignore that. Let’s not be rude.”

Here’s the ultimate proof we’re both empathetic. If someone was in immediate danger, both ASD’ers and NT’s would save the person. Someone slips on a train track, I’m going to jump down and help that person to safety. So would any NT. Its the sociopath who would look at the person on the train track and say to themselves “That’s their problem, not mine.” And then watch with detached amusement as they suffer. ASD’ers have nothing in common with Sociopaths.

But, on a day to day basis, we’re trying desperately to help all you NTs live longer, be healthier, make better choices and all build a better society…and you’d rather we shut up and lie about how your ass looks in too-tight yoga pants.

I’ve lost many a friend for being told I’m rude, cold and insensitive. Every time it has hurt. Every time, that person has continued the behavior I commented on to their own detriment.

The worst example is my own father. From the age of 8 I told him to quit smoking. It was the 1970’s and smoking was still socially acceptable, but I knew the science. “You’ll die if you keep doing that, Dad. You need to quit.” And he’d say “Man, are you precocious! Don’t you know its rude to tell an adult what to do?” “But, Dad, it isn’t logical to smoke cigarettes. You’ve told me I’m not allowed to smoke, ever. You’ve told me its a foul habit. I don’t understand the hypocrisy.” “Son, I love you but its just wrong to tell an adult they’re a hypocrite. You’re going to really struggle if you can’t learn to be more polite.”

I never stopped harping on him. I bought him books. I made him watch videos. I loved him with all my heart. He was my hero. He was a good and decent man, smart, funny, loving, wonderful…

…and he died at 72 from a smoking related illness.

I miss him every damn day. My son is ten. He doesn’t remember my father. They would have loved each other so very much. If he would have just put down the damn cigarettes.

My sister, who is an NT, never once commented on his smoking. “It’s just rude. That’s his business.” If you ask me, I think I loved him more. I knew someday he’d die from smoking and I didn’t want that to happen. Isn’t that the very definition of empathy?


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