A Radical New Autism / Asperger’s Theory

By | February 17, 2010

A Radical New Autism  Aspergers Theory

A groundbreaking study suggests people with autism-spectrum disorders such as Asperger’s do not lack empathy—rather they feel others’ emotions too intensely to cope.

People with Asperger’s syndrome, a high functioning form of autism, are often stereotyped as distant loners or robotic geeks. But what if what looks like coldness to the outside world is in fact a response to being overwhelmed by emotion—an excess of empathy, not a lack of it?

This idea resonates with many people suffering from autism-spectrum disorders and their families. It also jibes with new thinking about the nature of autism called the “intense world” theory. As posited by Henry and Kamila Markram of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, suggests that the fundamental problem in autism-spectrum disorders is not a social deficiency, but rather an hypersensitivity to experience, which includes an overwhelming fear response.

“There are those who say autistic people don’t feel enough,” says Kamila Markram. “We’re saying exactly the opposite: They feel too much.” Virtually all people with ASD report various types of oversensitivity and intense fear. The Markrams argue that social difficulties of those with ASDs stem from trying to cope with a world where someone has turned the volume on all the senses and feelings up past 10. If hearing your parents’ voices while sitting in your crib felt like listening to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music on acid, you, too, might prefer to curl in a corner and rock.

But of course, this sort of withdrawal and self-soothing behavior—repetitive movements, echoing words or actions and failing to make eye contact—interferes with normal social development. Without the experience other kids get through ordinary social interactions, children on the spectrum never learn to understand subtle signals.

Phil Schwarz, a software developer from Massachusetts, is vice president of the Asperger’s Associaton of New England and has a child with the condition.

“I think that it’s a stereotype or a misconception that folks on spectrum lack empathy,” he says. Schwarz notes that autism is not a unitary condition—“if you’ve seen one Aspie, you’ve seen one Aspie,” he says, using the colloquial term. But he adds, “I think most people with ASD feel emotional empathy and care about the welfare of others very deeply.” …

Studies have found that when people are overwhelmed by empathetic feelings, they tend to pull back. When someone else’s pain affects you deeply, it can be hard to reach out rather than turn away. For people with ASD, these empathetic feelings might be so intense that they withdraw in a way that appears cold or uncaring.

“These children are really not unemotional, they do want to interact, it’s just difficult for them,” says Markram, “It’s quite sad because these are quite capable people but the world is just too intense, so they have to withdraw.” …

via A Radical New Autism Theory – Page 1 – The Daily Beast.

4 thoughts on “A Radical New Autism / Asperger’s Theory

  1. Oliver Stieber

    Well this is the way I experience emotions compared to others. (I may or may not have aspergers)
    I don’t have subtle emotions, infact I don’t really have emotions that often. The predominant emotion I do have is an overwhelming sense of fear. I do rairly have other emotions but they are also very strong, I never ‘feel’ the emotions of others but I can tell from there body language what they are experiencing.

    Because I so rarely experience emotions, emotions aren’t bound to the concepts in my memory and thoughts, (except for the really strong ones), my mind, if you were is almost purely logical.

    Now when I have to deal with other people who are emotional, because I have no framework for emotion in that way I don’t know what their are going to do. This make my mind go on over time, I start getting panic attacks or extrem anxiety and because the fear emotion is bound to this I start experiencing a very strong and overwhelming sense of fear.

    Also when people are emotive towards me, in a way that’s actually directed at me. I also have no framework for this, and my mind goes on overtime because there’s this little bit in it that doesn’t fit into the logical nature of my mind and it’s trying to understand it.

    This can make me ill for well over a year at a time whilst my brain is trying to come to terms with what has gone one.

    My use and understanding of language is also effected, for instance most people’s writing has an underlining emotional context, that provides a kind of short cut. Because I don’t have those little emotions and they aren’t bound to the concepts and words I find it very difficult sometimes impossible to read much of what someone else has written, because without an understanding of those short cuts there are too many possible meanings to what has been written.

    My memory is also affected, because memories are stored when a kind of threshold has been meat and emotions form part of that threshold I find if impossible to remember anything that doesn’t have a strong pattern to it (for instance I can’t remember what day Christmas is on)

    Reading what has been written hear, I don’t feel that I am quite like that, there appears to be a subtle difference. But I can tell you exactly how and why I think I do, part of having almost purely logical thought is that you can actually perceive how you thing, I for instance have never experienced free will.

    Because the development of my consciousness has been as it is and my whole personality has always been of someone who knows what it’s like not to have free will. I feel that this ‘sense of emotion’, in myself is not that it’s an overwhelming sense of emotions when relating to others, but a lack of ‘minor emotions’ and only having ‘strong’ emotions quite possibly from birth.

    It’s the emotion within self that’s black and white, which then leads to the empathetic responses also matching the sense of emotion that the person has.

  2. Misty Rose

    I feel the worlds emotions. All of them, all the time. Yes they’re intensified as well. Im not sure whether or not my perception of others body language, facial expressions etc. is correct by what people tell me ,but I honestly think I read them “too well”. I can feel what other people feel from across the room. I can read every movement, every expression, every energy etc. that they may not even realizing they’re expressing… I dont think that its that “we cant read others emotions” at all. I think we can read others better than they can read themselves. Some may not “mean” to express themselves in the way they are, but thats their issue with emotions, not ours.

  3. Misty Rose

    also…Im logical but also very creative. I love music, I love problem solving, I find the world a magical and beautiful place. I know that there is energy in everything and everywhere…cause I can feel it. Yes its scary. When I was younger I used to have panic attacks, especially when Im somewhere Ive never been, Unfamiliar surroundings. I think its because I learned from early on that most people arent like me. They hurt each other both physically and mentally for no reason. Or a justifiable one anyway. I dont understand why unfairness or unjustice is sometimes cosidered “ok”. The only explanations I get are “becasue thats the way it is”. “You cant fight the world”.and people accept that!?!?!I feel that too many people have tken out our human component of emotion. Others dont feel enough if you ask me.I would never be able to fathom the idea of intentionally hurting another human being, nevermind killing someone.im scared because other people lack that and they can and will hurt me.

  4. Cas

    I concur.
    Diagnosed Border-line Autistic pre-school through to 4th grade 35 years ago (Now Considered High Functioning Aspergers Syndrome)….

    I am the epitome of what this article outlines…not to sound Narcissistic.

    I can literally (As if I have ESP) overly *Feel* the emotions & fears & joys & concerns of *others* & it causes me to withdraw.
    I HATE going to a place with a lot of people *There* since I invariable become OVERLOADED with incoming Data that overwhelms me.

    It has Kept me out of True Intimacy with others & caused many problems socially AND Professionally since I go out of my way to be a doormat in my relationships with others just so I do not have to sift through the overwhelming negative emotions conversely.

    @ 50 Years of Age, this article actually summed up what I’ve been having to *Deal* with all my life without the ability to gel it into expression.

    Cheers for the succinct article.!!

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