Comments on: Autism and Systemizing: Why Structure Rocks (And It’s Not What You Think) Changing the Cultural Conversation Wed, 08 May 2013 00:02:34 +0000 hourly 1 By: Elizabeth McClung Elizabeth McClung Fri, 09 Nov 2012 12:58:28 +0000 You can choose Simon Baron-Cohen and his ilk, and accept that you have a ‘hyper masculinized mind’ or the ‘extreme male brain’. And you can accept that thus you have no ‘empathy’ because he states it so. And accepting it and reading Zero Degrees of Empathy you can understand that those who have no empathy, are ‘evildoers’ because they have had ‘empathy erosion’.

Or you can just accept that this is all an intellectual exercise for him and he really doesn’t care who gets hurt. And then turn to german studies or Markham who have found that females with autism spectrum disorder tend to have ‘too much’ empathy. Someone once told me that often what is percieved as madness (or disfunction) was the inability to have the filter that others do regarding the intense mass of data, feelings and sensations flooding in.

Modeling, systematic trial and error, re-adjustment. I knew what I knew, and still know, since I remember it all but it took 30 years to be able to explain it to someone else. When I tried to communicate with my now spouse, I would ask her to read a book, one a week for 12 weeks: Because I had understood and felt something reading ‘The Little Prince’, I assumed she would. Then I turned on a film which gave me the largest feeling of an emotion and left the room. I believed she would understand the emotions of the films, and thus, over the weeks, understand what I was saying to her and ABOUT her. Yet I never actually spoke.

Turns out that system sucks. But I was HIGHly empathetic, and assumed everyone had that. In the same way at a store I held my hand out with the change, based on my calculating the price of the books, the tax and the likely bill they would pull out. This, however disturbed both co-workers and people buying books, because I didn’t know how to say anything when they demanded, “How did you KNOW the change?” All I could say was, “You were likely to pull out…a twenty; a ten and singles; exact change.”

Later, with the help of a ‘norm’ translator, I was able to make regular contact.

Also, empathy is a term for a type of German painting movement, where the painter ‘empathizes’ with the character – The world itself isn’t used until the 40′s, and now we are determined in gender and ‘evil’ by it?

By: Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg Thu, 08 Nov 2012 18:35:22 +0000 Slaine, that would be fine. Just provide attribution with the link. Thanks!

By: Slaine O'Halloran Slaine O'Halloran Thu, 08 Nov 2012 15:14:36 +0000 Hi Rachel,

I was wondering if you would mind if I linked to this post on the Blackwood Foundation’s social network, bespoken? I think some of our members would find it very interesting.

By: Belfast Belfast Fri, 02 Nov 2012 01:55:01 +0000 I have to use external structures in order to be systematic-these things don’t organize themselves.

I’ve been told that I’m “so organized”-and I think “Ha! As if.” It requires constant effort & attention for me (for instance) to make it to my appts. each week on time.

I suppose outsiders don’t see all the behind-the-scenes work, they just perceive the results. My life is “all over the place”, there’s all sorts of stuff beyond my ability to keep track of-but the people praising my apparent organizational prowess aren’t privy to that data, I guess.

Also, I’ve been called “so logical” and I laugh at that one, too-because I will remind the person of numerous occasions when I’ve been quite the opposite, where I’ve been told that I’m “so emotional” (unable to access intellectual mode).

Well, I’m both: “rational” and “feeling” (and with great intensity in both domains).

Perhaps each tendency/priority is elicited by different stimuli-yet that doesn’t consign me as an individual (one w/ASD, at that) to being absolutely/exclusively one extreme or the other.

By: Faithful NeuroDiversity Faithful NeuroDiversity Tue, 30 Oct 2012 14:52:07 +0000 Thank you for writing about ‘why’! I love reading your work and have gotten half-way through your anthology :) This explanation describing ‘WHY’ is unique and much more helpful…

By: AnnaBWell AnnaBWell Mon, 29 Oct 2012 18:42:22 +0000 Rachel, I am so much like you (in the necessity to use systems of organizing just to get through the day.) And, it seems to me, that I am beyond empathic when I compare and observe how other people seem to express their relationships in/to/with the world.

Just a thought: I wonder if there is a different “expectation of the expression” of empathy that researchers have and that they are not aware of in themselves. Of course, this is also called bias. No researcher wants to be accused of bias. But there it is. And further, that in females there is more bias toward females in their “expectation of the expression” of empathy.

I love reading your blog again, Rachel!

By: Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg Mon, 29 Oct 2012 15:10:29 +0000 Absolutely, Kim. I think there are plenty of autistic people who are simply great systemizers. My argument is against the stereotype that we all are and that it is the defining characteristic of autism. It can’t be a defining characteristic if some of us simply aren’t wired that way. There are some autistic minds that are wired for systemizing, just as there are some non-autistic minds that are wired for systemizing. The danger is in the overgeneralization.

Whether Baron-Cohen set out to describe autism in a non-stigmatizing way, it would be impossible to set up systemizing as the polar opposite of empathizing and not have it be anything other than a stigmatizing identifier.

By: Ben S Ben S Mon, 29 Oct 2012 12:14:25 +0000 “systemizing is placed in opposition to empathizing”

and this is not the only example i can think of where things are considered diametrically opposite, which often has me asking, ‘okay WHY are you assuming you can only have one without the other?’ is it an example of black/white thinking in a human being, or something else? i’ve had innumerable experiences though my life where i was feeling supposedly opposite things at the same time, etc. but then, i’m autistic, so not naturally a complex kind of person……(insert sarcasm here)

By: Kim Wombles Kim Wombles Mon, 29 Oct 2012 11:48:12 +0000 I think there are natural systemizers. I’m one. I thrive on order, love structure, and go into sensory overload when my home or office is out of order.

The question should be whether systemizing is a bad thing, or a deficit. Overall, no. If the systemizing is so severe as to rise to a compulsion that gets in the way of living one’s life the way one wants, then yes.

At least Baron-Cohen’s early theorizing on systemizing/empathizing is an attempt to explain differences in a non-stigmatizing but overly simplistic way-it’s obvious, though, that this is where he started down the zero-empathising route that led him down a horribly flawed and dangerous path.

Autism is a spectrum–vast and wide and deep–it’s time to recognize that and appreciate the inherent diversity within the spectrum–that not all DSM criteria will apply, that everyone’s neurology is different and that one’s personal experiences may not extrapolate out to all autistics experiences.