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The Double Empathy Problem

Autistic people often describe what is known as the 'Double Empathy Problem'.

 

The double empathy problem explains that being autistic is not the wrong way of being, it is simply different.

 

Because of differences in how our brains function, autistic people may struggle to understand non autistic people, and non autistic people struggle to understand autistic people.

 


In non autistic society, autism can be seen as a negative thing/ something to change or fix. But we learn a lot about autism in spaces like Spectrum Gaming, where autism is openly discussed, and autistic people are the majority while neurotypical people are actually the minority. We have learned that autistic people are not people who need to change, but that autistic people have their own culture based around autistic patterns of thoughts and interests. There can be a ‘culture clash’ when you are in spaces that are made for non autistic people, but in autistic only spaces where the double empathy problem and lack of adjustments are not a barrier, we can see what autism really is and the things that autistic people have in common.


 

Autistic people may:

  • Stim - Stimming, or self-stimulating behaviour, is a wide variety of activities that can be physical, visual, tactile, taste, chewing etc. It serves a wide variety of purposes - regulation, emotional expression, sensory boosting/balancing, dopamine boosting, creating a focal point to shut out other stimuli, stress buster, stimulating the vagus nerve or just plain enjoyment. Every human being stims, it is just autistics may do so in larger or more unexpected ways which are considered strange.


  • Autistic people often prefer to not say hello, goodbye, doing small talk and instead going straight into talking about interests/ passions. Social niceties are a normal part of non autistic conversations, but typical small talk for you could be distressing for an autistic person. 

  • When someone says 'how are you' or initiates small talk, you know something is coming next but don't know what. It bring a sense of dread when you don’t know someone’s intention. It doesn’t feel nice, but it also makes it really difficult to respond to what may seem like a simple, nice question to you. We prefer it when people go straight to talking about what they would like to.


  • Autistic people often struggle with the idea of 'hierarchy' and people being in charge - we are more likely to value others as equal, even people in positions of authority as we thrive with autonomy. Respect is earned by your actions, not by your ‘title’ or position. 


  • We are often very blunt/ open and honest as we believe honesty is the best way to move forward. Non autistic people tend to be more fluffy and avoid direct criticism. Non autistic people tend to consider their relationship with someone before judging an idea, whereas autistic people tend to judge each idea as it is, no matter the relationship they have with the person. This can cause tension/ upset when non autistic people think you don't like them (because of how their brains process idea judgement), when you are simply looking at the idea itself.


  • It is quite acceptable in autistic culture to “infodump” on a topic whenever it happens to come up - this is where you share a HUGE amount of information on a topic, and it is common when you are talking about something you are really interested in.


  • Autistic people often ‘play’ in different ways to non autistic people. Playing alone while being together or doing shared activities that don’t require continual conversation are normal parts of autistic play. Existing in the same space can offer a strong feeling of connection, without having to talk. 


  • Sharing similar experiences as a way of displaying empathy is normal for us. We tend to swap SAME stories, sharing a time when we felt similarly in our own life, not as a competition, but to reflect how well we are listening to each other.


  • We may give gifts in different ways. We share things that are valuable or interesting as a sign of affection, OR giving someone a thing you know they are interested in - memes count!

  • "I found this cool rock/button/leaf/etc and thought you would like it"


  • We can feel emotions incredibly intensely. This means that becoming overwhelmed by emotions can be quite normal for some people on a daily basis. Often in a non autistic space if this happens, people can see you as ‘unpredictable’ or irrational, whereas most autistic people understand this overwhelm, and know you will be calm/ relaxed again when you are given time and space.


  • “In Spectrum Gaming we ran a Roblox event, where a young person became overwhelmed after 15 minutes of play and he left the group. Another young person said ‘Don’t worry, he will be back soon, he just needs some chill time for now’. This young person also sometimes gets overwhelmed at school. Unfortunately as not many young people understand autism, this has resulted in him falling out with a lot of friends."

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