Welcome to the Empathic Autistic Community!

Hello and welcome!

I just received an email from a young newly-identified autistic man* who was looking for resources, and I realized that I need more pages devoted to resources on my site!

*I use identify-first language (for instance, autistic man) for most disabilities, including my own, and it’s an intentional choice. Before you prepare a person-first lecture, see the note at the bottom of this page for an explanation.

I’ve written a lot on this site about autism and empathy (or hyper-empathy, actually), and I explicitly identify autistic people as hyper-empaths in my book, The Art of Empathy. When people authoritatively claim that autistic people are unempathic, know this: Those people don’t understand the first thing about empathy.

I also based my Master’s thesis on an international survey study of social skills programs for autistic people that yielded astounding information that I’m still processing. Because of this, many people write to me and ask if I know anyone who can help, or if I know of any programs or supports for autistic people who want to be more comfortable in a neurotypical-dominated world.

Sadly, there isn’t yet a readily-available book or support system like this. In my research, I studied the available social skills or relationship skills programs for autistic children and adults. The research responses suggest that most of these programs are not truly supportive, because they often treat autistic social skills and preferences as inferior (or nonexistent), and are focused too strongly on neurotypical behavior as the unquestioned norm.

So if you’re an autistic person looking for some support, I want you to be careful.

As a passing neurotypical (NT) person, I can tell you that NT social behaviors are often-hilarious failures. NT understanding of emotions and empathy is also very iffy, which is why I wrote my books. If anyone tells you that NT social functioning is preferred and that autistic functioning is wrong, they’re not paying attention.

If you’re looking to explore the concept of social skills in a way that’s nourishing, something I’ve seen that really helps is to seek out groups of autistic friends who are aware of the neurodiversity model. This autism-positive social support can help you discover your comfortable and natural way of empathizing and being social. When you can explore and celebrate your own social intelligence, you can code-switch into NT social norms instead of seeing them as the only norms.

If anyone tells you that you need to become NT, or if they suggest any therapies, diets, or programs that promise to erase your autism, run.

Some supportive places to start

There are some resources that may be supportive for you.

First is this free PDF booklet called Welcome to the Autistic Community! It’s a helpful primer on autistic needs and neurology created by the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, or ASAN.

Welcome to the Autistic Community! for Adults

Welcome to the Autistic Community! for Adolescents

These short booklets should should be read by everyone in your life if they care about you and want to learn how to support your unique neurology.

The next is Amythest Schaber’s YouTube channel, where you’ll discover information from the neurodiversity approach to autism. This one on Functioning Labels is important to understand as you consider ways to describe yourself in an NT-obsessed world.

Another resource is my page: Research-Based Approaches to Autistic Ways of Learning. Though much of it focuses on learning approaches for children, a lot of it applies to adult learners — especially the sections on eye contact (don’t force it!) and bodily alignment (face-to-face alignment is not necessary at all times).

If you’re interested in my thesis, it’s researchy but mostly accessibly written, and it’s here: Interrogating Normal: Autism Social Skills Training at the Margins of a Social Fiction

There is some especially powerful information in the thesis about the gender fluidity that may be a norm in the autistic community.

I welcome you to the empathic community

Autistic people are just as empathic and sometimes much more empathic than neurotypical people are; it just looks different. Celebrate those differences!

As you work with your differences, this poem might be pertinent. I am neurodivergent but not autistic, and I wrote this short poem as I was learning how to make room for myself in a world that made no room for me:

Fitting in

has always required the agonizing,

ham-handed excision

of major, functional portions of my anatomy.

 

I realize now

that the surgery was elective.

Don’t fit in unless it’s a choice you make freely. You’re unique and valuable exactly as you are.

Take care,
Karla

*A note about identity-first language: In my work and in my life, I use identity-first language (autistic person) instead of person-first language. Person-first language is an attempt to focus on the person, and add the disability as an afterthought, (i.e., person with learning disabilities).

Though it’s often well meaning, person-first language is a tactic that tends to highlight rather than downplay any condition. Linguistically speaking, it actually signals that there is something wrong. For instance, we would not say “man with handsomeness,” “woman with French ancestry,” or “person who is funny.” Person-first language is used only when a condition is temporary, feared, or unwanted.

Identity-first language challenges the idea that disabilities are temporary, or that they are something to hide, fear, or be ashamed of.

Person-first language has also been very controversial in disability rights circles, and is not the accepted terminology for many disabled people themselves, especially for many members of the blind, Deaf, and autistic communities. In these communities, disability-positive and identity-first language is often preferred, i.e. blind person, Deaf person, and autistic person, or simply, autistic.

See these short articles by disabled people themselves for arguments against person-first language:

Person-First Language: Why it Matters by Lydia Brown

The Problem with Person-First Language: What’s Wrong with This Picture? by Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

Why I dislike “person first” language by Jim Sinclair

Personal note: Though I use identity-first language for myself and in my work, if you and I were together and you requested different terminology for your disability, I would certainly use whatever terminology you preferred.  

2 Responses

  1. shaun
    | Reply

    this is amazing. I’m 41. have struggled my whole life trying to fit in and understand myself .
    I recently came across BPD borderline personality disorder. which fits a lot of my symptoms. im a machinist and I do things according to logic and efficiency, and importance to me. my spelling and grammar is horrible, because I have no interest in trying to be proper, people know what im saying whether or not there’s a comma.
    but when it came to math and machining I could do things even though I had no experience,
    so recently I looked up autistic traits, and man that opened up my brain and it went into overdrive.
    i know im an empath and today decided to look up autistic empath, and came across you. started reading and couldn’t get very far without tearing up.
    its not often that i read something and have this feeling. becasuse everyone lies and acts like they know.
    and the fact that i can explain myself people brush me off when i talk about autistic traits.
    math and phycology especially phycology i understand on such an intense level its crazy.
    i can experience other peoples emotions through their perspective even though im not them. things ive never dealt with before ive always been able to understand and calculate a plan for the most part on how to help that person no matter what it was about. im not very book smart because i don’t care much to read about things that don’t interest me. but once i find something that catches my attention i can not stop absorbing all of the information i can……
    so within the past 2 months i have pretty much diagnosed myself when doctors and people throughout my life have just ben oblivious or unwilling to venture down certain areas. i yhink the fact that i don’t hold things in people dismiss me on certain conditions. and up until recently
    i didn’t know what was going on and couldn’t really explain myself, i struggle to answer questions when im not confident on what im saying. i like facts, and unless i have the whole story and or all the facts i tend to keep my mouth shut and live in my head. thank you for your reads online
    when i get health insurance again i will go back to a doctor and get tested now that i have more information. and more confidence in whatim saying.
    again sorry about the grammar.

    • Karla McLaren
      | Reply

      Hello Shaun, and welcome to the empathic autistic community! Soo many people grow up not knowing that they’re autistic, and I’m glad you found a place to get information that’s welcoming.

      All of the links here will be helpful for you, and this one is very good: https://autisticadvocacy.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/WTTAC-Adult-FINAL-2.pdf

      I think you’ll also like Amythest’s videos. She’s fun.

      Take care!

      Take care!

Leave a Reply to Karla McLaren Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *