Dealing with emotions- (reading emotions, understanding how a person is "feeling", having "empathy") are often very difficult skills for people on the autism spectrum to master.
Let's be honest: Dealing with emotions is hard for many people who aren't on the spectrum too!
There are many misunderstandings about emotions and people with Autism:
- First of all, people with Autism can and do have compassion and empathy for others!
As a matter of fact, people on the spectrum can feel as much or as little compassion and empathy for others as any neurotypical. In other words, some people on the spectrum do lack compassion and empathy, and some do not. It all depends on the individual.
What may be different is how the person with autism chooses to show that they "care". Many individuals on the spectrum (but not all) prefer to do something helpful or make something rather than say things like "I love you" or offer hugs and kisses.
The key for parents, spouses and other support people is to find out how your child, spouse or friend shows that they care. Or in some cases, help them develop a way that is comfortable to them. Then be accepting of their unconventional show of affection!
The second misunderstanding about emotions and Autism has to do with facial expressions.
While it is true that some individuals on the spectrum have flat or limited facial expressions, there are many others who either have learned or already possess the natural ability to regulate their facial expression the way our culture expects of people.
In other words:
- Some people with Autism show their emotions effectively through facial expressions and other forms of body language such as posture, and others individuals on the spectrum do not.
How is this possible? For a person to meet criteria for autism, Asperger's or PDD-NOS they must posses a minimum number of "autistic traits" but not all of them.
There are also many individuals on the spectrum who express their emotions in a more extreme or dramatic manner than most neurotypicals.
Why are emotions so difficult for people on the spectrum to understand?
- Because the concept of "emotions" is abstract.