Autism is rife with myths and misconceptions, one of which is that people on the spectrum lack empathy. But that theory has been turned on its head. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne have suggested that what looks like a lack of emotion may in fact be an excess of emotion.
To those dealing on the front lines of the neurological disorder, the idea makes total sense. It's only surprising that no one came to the conclusion sooner. As part of the “intense world,” those with autism most likely face an overload of stimuli and the result of that hypersensitivity often looks like shutting down.
“There are those who say autistic people don’t feel enough,” says Kamila Markram. “We’re saying exactly the opposite: They feel too much.” In the end, people with an ASD tend to withdraw or indulge in what the Daily Beast article refers to as "self-soothing behaviour—repetitive movements, echoing words or actions and failing to make eye contact." In which case antisocial behaviour becomes confused with a lack of empathy or caring.
They have trouble with theory of mind, meaning it is harder for them to imagine that another person's perspective differs from their own.
I can relate. When I lose a game, my autistic son automatically assumes I must be sad and tries to comfort me, because he associates losing with his own feelings of frustration and sadness.
When you are this affected by emotions, it may be so overwhelming that instead of reaching out, the instinct is instead to withdraw. And that withdrawal may be perceived as 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.”
You'd be forgiven for thinking this headline was just another Jerry Springer doozie, but not so. An infertile mom was arrested for forcing her 14-year-old adopted daughter to conceive by artificial insemination (AI). According to the article in the Guardian, the girl was a virgin when she first miscarried then later delivered a baby at 16. Her adoptive mother was apparently so desperate for another child that she forced her daughter to inseminate herself with internet-bought sperm.
The mother, described by the serving high court judge as "wicked and selfish," had been charged with child cruelty and is now serving a five-year prison sentence.
Having already adopted three children from abroad, the mother had a medical condition and had undergone elective sterilization. When she tried to arrange for a forth adoption, she was denied. It was only after the birth that people clued in that something seriously awry was going on. Mother tried to stop the daughter (now a mother in her own right) from breast-feeding or bonding with the baby. Child protection was called in when the mother tried to remove the baby from the ward.
Sadly the supposedly "highly articulate" mother cannot be identified as a means to protect the teenager. She'd kept various agencies at bay for years, keeping her family isolated and homeschooled.
She forced her daughter into a "degrading, humiliating and, on occasions, painful" AI process over two years in which she subjected her to acidic douches. The daughter complied out of love, fear, and obligation, as she was also an adoptee. The pair fabricated a story about a one night stand, and it seemed to take.
The case has brought attention to legal loopholes surrounding international sperm-bank networks.
Advertising is a hard gig. Constantly having to drum up quirky and creative ways to market the same old products must be tough. Car commercials are some of the worst, don't you think? But this one by Hyundai's agency Innocean is the ultimate tasteless enterprise.
In fact, it is advertising sinking to new lows. The scene actually involves a man staging a suicide in his garage: it's all taped-up windows and fumes feeding into the car. Then there's the rub: the actor doesn't die because Hyundai's emissions are so clean. Get it, get it?
No points for sensitivity or ingenuity. Innocean execs were so busy being clever, they obviously never spared a thought for those who might have lost people in this very scenario. For Holly Brockwell the ad proved too much to bear. It dredged up memories that had no place being invoked by a stupid car commercial.
"I understand better than most people the need to do something newsworthy, something talkable, even something outrageous to get those all-important viewing figures," wrote Brockwell. "What I don’t understand is why a group of strangers have just brought me to tears in order to sell me a car. Why I had to be reminded of the awful moment I knew I’d never see my dad again, and the moments since that he hasn’t been there. That birthday party. Results day. Graduation."
But her poignant and absolutely devastating blog post succeeded in having the ad pulled. Please, people in creative seats, remember there are real people with real feelings behind those television screens. It's not a game.