Yes yes yes!
People with autism most definitely share the same feelings as people who don’t have autism. Autism does not make people emotionless nor does it cause a lack of empathy. In fact, emotions can be even more intense in autism – including empathy.
For some people with autism, the challenge lies in naming, understanding and expressing emotions.
A ‘feeling’ may be felt but being able to name what it is can be tough. That’s true for every human being. Sometimes we feel a mix of emotions and we cannot quite describe what we feel.
Individuals who live with autism may only be able to express basic emotions such as happy, mad, sad. But, we know that emotions are far more diverse than that. We may feel infuriated, elated, desperate or gloomy.
This has nothing to do with a level of intelligence – in fact, very intelligent individuals who speak articulately might struggle to communicate what they feel or explain why someone else feels the way they do. Again, this is true for some who don’t have autism too!
You may find that some people with autism don’t do a great job of ‘reading’ other peoples’ body language (facial expressions, eye gaze, tone of voice, posture and so on).
Our social interactions happen so darn fast and some of our non- verbal language is barely perceptible. Imagine that you are speaking with someone and he or she keeps looking at their watch. You can probably grasp the message that they are either busy or preoccupied about the time.
We don’t have to do a whole lot of thinking to come to this conclusion. It happens almost intuitively and with out effort. No one had to teach you that this. But, that is not true for some people with autism.
Another very important thing that we need to know is that people with autism may have difficulty understanding what their own body sensations tell them about what they feel. For example, how does your body feel when you are hungry? Angry? Nervous?
Many people intuitively just know this.
But, what if your brain and body didn’t work very well together and the signals that your body sends to your brain telling it that you are angry, or you are uncomfortable because you have to pee – is messed up. This would leave you feeling too much, or too little until it is too late!
The bottom line is – people with autism feel what those who don’t have feel. They experience joy, anxiety, fear, excitement, grief and disappointment. It can impact their ability to name their feelings, understand why they feel the way they do and it certainly impacts their perception of others’ feelings.
It is up to us who ‘get’ the emotional world to be compassionate and make understandable what is ambiguous to those living with autism.
Next week, we will look at ways to help people with autism name and understand their emotions and those of others.
P.S. If you didn’t get a chance to weigh in on what you need help with, hit reply now and tell me. Watch your inbox next week for how to join August’s online class