Tag Archive for "Autism"

Focusing on autism-positive approaches (to stave off despair)

Your approach affects your data — strongly In my research for my master’s thesis (I received my M.Ed. in December), I did two things: I created the first-ever survey study that asked for autistic people’s responses to education that had been developed for them, and; I looked for autism-positive research that focused on autistic ways of learning. I did very well with my first project, and my thesis is now available online: Interrogating Normal: Autism Social Skills Training at the Margins of a Social Fiction But I didn’t do as well with my second project, because nearly all autism research is decidedly autism-negative and based on what are called deficit narratives and the pathology paradigm. In the pathology-and-deficit approach to autism, autistic-typical behaviors are described as problems in and of themselves — such that the point is not to understand autistic people; rather, it is to change them. This deficit-and-pathology (Read more...)

Autism, empathy, and the mind-blindness of everyday people

Hello! I’ve completed graduate school, and I’m now Karla McLaren, M.Ed! My master’s degree is in education and curriculum design with a concentration in linguistic anthropology, and my focus is on autism, empathy, disability rights, and human rights. Over the next few months, I’m going to be posting pieces of my own research and the excellent research I’ve found. For instance, if you’d like to explore healthier and more empathic ways to engage with the autistic people in your life right now, check out my Matrix of Autistic Sociality page! A note about the identity-first language I use: In my academic work, I intentionally use identity-first language (autistic person) instead of person-first language (person with autism). Person-first language is an attempt to foreground the person first, and to add the disability as an appendage, i.e., “person with learning disabilities.” Though often well meaning, person-first language is a tactic that actually (Read more...)

You don’t have to be blue — you can celebrate the full spectrum!

Celebrate the Full Spectrum! April 2nd is International Autism Awareness Day, but I have to say, if you’re not aware of autism yet, where have you been? The cool kids have already moved on from mere awareness to inclusion, acceptance, and love. We’re celebrating Autism Acceptance Day, Autism Acceptance Month, Autism Acceptance Year, Autism Acceptance Decade (and Autism Acceptance Eon, while we’re at it). Many of my friends in the autism community find mere awareness campaigns to be pretty offensive, because the message about autism tends to be so bleak and panicky, full of fear-mongering and dire pronouncements. This manipulative and dehumanizing talk is a pretty good way to get people to go on walks and light things up blue and give money to giant research organizations, but it can have a very negative effect on the real lives of actual, living autistic people. Luckily, we have better options!

Embodying Empathy — An April Workshop in Berkeley!

A day-long intensive with Nick Walker and Karla McLaren Saturday, April 6th, 2013 in Berkeley Empathy is everywhere in the news, in books, and in our conversations about each other and our world — and empathy is possibly the most important social skill you possess. However, empathy can be very fragile. It is common to get triggered and lose the capacity to empathize in the presence of conflict, difference, anger, fear, anxiety, and defensiveness. You may attack or withdraw, or you may become unable to think or feel your way to a more workable response. The solution: Learn to fully embody your empathy so that it becomes a safe and reliable stance that you can return to in times of trouble.

Einfühlung and Empathy

Hello again! Last week, we looked at the first of my six aspects of empathy, Emotion Contagion. We also talked about the importance of art for people whose Emotion Contagion skills are very strong (hyperempaths), and also for people whose skills are currently less developed. The good news is that the six aspects of empathy are changeable, malleable, and manageable throughout your life span; therefore, you can make changes to your empathic skills — either to increase them, or to calm them down. This week, I want to look more closely at artistic expression and at the way that the word empathy came into the English language. In this excerpt from my upcoming book, The Art of Empathy (October 2013, Sounds True), we’ll look at the surprisingly recent history of the word and its roots in arts and aesthetics (the appreciation of art, beauty pleasure, and taste). Understanding the artistic (Read more...)

Empathy and autism

Empaths, we’ve got a situation. After these most recent mass murders, people are focusing their fears onto mentally ill people and autistic people. This is not only cruel, but it’s counterproductive, since autistic people and people who are mentally ill are far more likely to be victims of crime than to commit crimes. Since the Sandy Hook murders occurred, I’ve been very quiet, reading academic books on murder and violence, selectively accessing media, and watching people in my Facebook feeds reacting, sharing information, raging, grieving, posting, counter-posting, and theorizing wildly about the young man named Adam Lanza who killed his mother and then went to a local school to kill 26 people and then himself. The opinions are still exploding, people are grandstanding, fake messages from Morgan Freeman are circulating, and feverish, ungrounded theorizing about mental illness, autism, survivalism, gun safety, and school safety are being argued about ferociously. All (Read more...)

Six Essential Aspects of Empathy, part 2

Hello, part 2! In part 1 of this post, we looked at the six aspects of empathy that I’ve compiled for my new book The Art of Empathy (October, 2013), and we delved into the first two aspects (Emotion Contagion and Empathic Accuracy). In this post, we’ll delve into aspects 3 through 5. As a reminder, here is my empathic compilation of the six essential aspects of empathy. Emotion Contagion: Before empathy can take place, you need to sense that an emotion is occurring – or that an emotion is expected of you. There is currently great debate about how emotion stimulation and contagion occur, and how we realize that emotions are required from us, but it is agreed that the process of empathy is dependent upon our capacity to feel and share emotions. Empathy is first and foremost an emotional skill. Empathic Accuracy: This is the ability to accurately (Read more...)

Embodying Empathy — An April Workshop In Berkeley!

A new workshop with Nick Walker and Karla McLaren Saturday, April 6th, 2013 in Berkeley Empathy is everywhere in the news, in books, and in our conversations about each other and our world — and empathy is possibly the most important social skill you possess. However, empathy can be very fragile. It is common to get triggered and lose the capacity to empathize in the presence of conflict, difference, anger, fear, anxiety, and defensiveness. You may attack or withdraw, or you may become unable to think or feel your way to a more workable response. The solution: Learn to fully embody your empathy so that it becomes a safe and reliable stance that you can return to in times of trouble. Empathy as an embodied practice In Embodying Empathy, somatic psychologist and aikido sensei Nick Walker and empath Karla McLaren will help you access your empathy tangibly so that you can (Read more...)

Autism Acceptance Month: Empathy in Action

Dear Fellow Empaths, April is here with its promise of Spring, but this has also become a time that can cause a great deal of pain for many autistic people and parents of autistic children. Why? Because tomorrow (April 2nd) is Autism Awareness Day, and in many cases, the awareness focus is on alarmist rhetoric about epidemics and despair — and on finding a cure at any cost (and framing autism as a tragedy) instead of focusing on the intrinsic value of autistic human beings. I’ve been thinking a great deal about autistic people since I worked with a group of autistic youth in 2006, and I find that the ways their lives are framed, the disease model they are branded with, and the constant depictions of them as unempathic and mind-blind has led to an astonishing and literally life-endangering level of dehumanization (last month’s murder of George Hodgins and (Read more...)

Empaths on the Autism Spectrum, part 2

Continued from part 1 After spending just two weeks as an academic liaison for twenty-two people on the Autism Spectrum (and getting a sense for their inner lives), I started to observe my own behavior more closely. I’m very sensitive to sounds, colors, movement, and social cues — I love patterns, numbers, and being alone, and I have intense (often excruciating) empathy. I wondered: Am I on the Spectrum? I went home from work one night and took this Autism Quotient test, and got a score of 15: Your score: 15 0 – 10 = low 11 – 22 = average (most women score about 15 and most men score about 17) 23 – 31 = above average 32 – 50 is very high (most people with Asperger Syndrome or high-functioning autism score about 35) 50 is maximum Hmmm. Okay, so I wasn’t on the Spectrum, but I also wasn’t (Read more...)

Empaths on the Autism Spectrum, part 1

Can I do this job? In early 2006, I got a job working as an academic liaison for a group of 22 college-aged students on the Autism Spectrum. My job was to help the students with all of their academic needs: scheduling, counseling, learning accommodations, tutoring, social services, transportation … I was hired to create a total support system under and around the students so that they could successfully attend college. Before the job started, however, I had some serious research to do. I’ve worked with and tutored physically disabled and learning disabled people for most of my life, but I had almost no experience with  autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. I knew a little bit (Rainman, sigh), but not enough to be able to truly help. So I got every book on autism and Asperger’s Syndrome at the public library and every book at the community college library, and I (Read more...)

More on Autism and Mirror Neurons … oh, and Hah!

Back on April 2nd, I posted on World Autism Awareness Day and wrote about my sense that my friends on the Autism Spectrum didn’t have a problem with their mirror neurons (oops! see the comments section for an update). Instead, I felt that they had a problem with sensory overload. And I’m not the only one! Neuroscientist Ilan Dinstein and colleagues performed an fMRI brainscan study on 13 Autistic adults and 10 “neurotypical” adults and found that there was no deficit in the mirror neuron systems of the Autistic adults. You can see a video about the study here. Dr. Marco Iacobini, a neuroscientist at UCLA who supports the mirror neuron deficit theory, thinks that a study with a total of 24 people isn’t large enough to draw conclusions from, but Dr. Dinstein disagrees: Dinstein stands by his team’s conclusions. The number of participants he examined is typical for brain (Read more...)

Happy World Autism Awareness Day!

The United Nations has declared today World Autism Awareness Day. Excellent! I had the opportunity to work with a group of young adults on the Autism Spectrum, and in order to get ready, I read everything I could get my hands on. Autism has been described as a form of “mind-blindness” by British psychopathology professor and researcher Simon Baron-Cohen … as a lack of function in the mirror neurons that help us empathize with each other. I thought, huh, will I be meeting people who are on the other end of the spectrum from me? As it turns out, Autism isn’t that simple, and I didn’t find complete mind-blindness in my autistic friends. Rather, what I saw was a group of people who were dealing with incredible sensory stimulation, both from the outside world, and from their own brains. This often created a great deal of emotional turmoil, as you (Read more...)