April is World Autism Awareness month, so there’s the need to raise the awareness about the most misunderstood developmental disability, and debunk a few misconceptions. Most allistic people — that’s a term for people without autism — hold a lot of misconceptions about autistic people. For instance, have you ever heard that autistic people have no sense of empathy? That’s unfair to think as such, and absolutely false. New research is finally debunking this stereotypical view for good.
Related media: Autism Spectrum Disorder: 10 Things You Should Know
In The Mind (Not Eyes) Of The Beholder
The most widely held stereotypical view about autistic people is that they show no sense of empathy, or simply having an undeveloped theory of mind. This idea began in the 1980s when British psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen (the cousin of comedian Sacha Baron-Cohen) led a campaign he dubbed “mind-blindness” as the primary symptom of autism. He explained why many autistic people avoid eye contact; and suggested that they didn’t feel the need to make eye contact, lacking the ability to imagine the thoughts and emotions of others.
You might be thinking, many self-advocating autistic people have long had an issue with this misconception about their psychological condition that’s branded them as naturally unsympathetic — lacking a sense of empathy. Aforementioned, that’s unfair; to be consistently told that you’re incapable of caring about the people you care about, and that’s what autistic people have been advocating for years.
Putting It To The Test
At long last, in a 2017 study, researchers found an alternative explanation for their issue of eye contact — one that actually matched their innate experiences. It seems the issue at hand isn’t so much about the fact that autistic people are insensitive to the emotions of others — its more that their brains are oversensitive. For the study, autistic volunteers were given visual stimulation of other people’s faces.
Later, the researchers found an excess of activity in the amygdala — the region of the brain that’s responsible for emotional responses, recognizing faces, and interpreting facial expressions. This kind of overstimulation can pretty much cause some severe anxieties, which could make meeting a total stranger eyes quite frightening. But for that heightened anxiety, well, its basically what autistic people have been talking about this whole time.
For most therapies devised for autistic people, there’s much emphasis on overcoming that aversion to eye contact. But according to Dr Sue Fletcher-Watson of the Development Autism Research Society, autistic people learning to look at other people in the eye might be “like a leftie hand learning to write with their right hand.” Although this could be possible, but it could be uncomfortable, and might not necessary. You could write whatever you want with your left hand — so as it is with autistic people.
The New Paradigm
However, there are some strategic measures that can make allistic people feel comfortable with autistic people: such as looking at their eyebrows instead of looking right into their eyeballs. Sounds weird? Maybe allistic people are supposedly so good at social interactions and can adapt to a much less conventional means of interacting with autistic people.
After all, most social interactive communications are spiraled around allism — that’s the opposite of autism. So if you happen to fit the definition of the norms of the average social rules for interaction, its time you also take into consideration the difference of others who somewhat less fortunate to have had an amygdala like yours.
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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Sat, Jun 22, 2019.