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Part 4: Empathy & Philosophy – Different Perspectives

If you’ve followed this series to date, thank you for your readership. I appreciate the time you’ve invested to take this perceptive journey with me and hope that it has been as thought-provoking for you as it has been for me. If you haven’t first read the rest of the series, you’ll need to at least read parts 1 and 2 in order for this segment of the series to make sense. For your convenience, you can click the following links to read them:

Part 1: The Nature of Empathy – A Case Study
Part 2: Empathy Case Study – Feedback
Part 3: Empathy & Philosophy – The Neurotypical Response

A Demonstration of Taking Things Literally:

This case study and the subsequent replies have been a lot more accurate an example of the differences in what it means when it is stated that people on the spectrum take things literally. This is much different than just thinking that an idiom like “killing two birds with one stone” is a measure of praise for animal cruelty or “letting someone off the hook” is about physically releasing someone from a giant fishhook apparatus.

The reality of what it means to “think of things literally” is much more complicated and would be more accurately stated as “being oriented for empiricism.” In response to this vignette, the aspies did not reference at all how Elise “seemed.”

No one remarked on how her attitude, word choice, or timing were reflections of narcissism, arrogance, tone deafness, nor any other quality. What’s more substantial, though, is that while most of the aspies did align more with Elise, no one mentioned Linda’s character or conjectured that she was a bad person. They simply referenced that, in this instance, given the facts, Linda was being unfair to Elise.


So, what does this say about the aspie brain; and specifically, what does this demonstrate about how people with Asperger’s empathize?

The answer, as with anything dealing with the human element, is complicated. I’m going to speak on behalf of aspies, but I’m generalizing. Of course, this is more about the rule with aspies, and just as when characterizing neurotypicals, there will be exceptions to every rule.

Before Elise would even speak on the legislation, she invested a lot of time in study and research, even consulting the direct source. This was a reflection of her values, in that she needed to be as informed as was possible before she came to a conclusion. She didn’t bring up the subject in a vacuum, either. She referenced it in context, as her mother was already seeing the subject discussed on television.

It’s not that aspies can’t understand the tone of Linda’s interactions, nor that they can’t empathize with Linda and her preference to not have the discussion. It’s that they don’t find emotional responses to be as important as the facts. Yes, causing Linda to question her firmly-held political alignment might have caused her to bristle; however, it was worth the social discomfort if bringing it to light could have given Linda the gift of truth… that which is most sacred to the Aspergian thought process.

Good Intentions, Bad Approach

While the majority of neurotypicals who responded to my article were liberal, they did not respond positively to Elise, who was aligned with the liberal side of the debate at the core of this case study. Instead, they remarked about how Linda needed to be spoken to softly, without aggression. She needed to be plied, first, reminded that she was loved and respected.

Others said that it was a mistake for Elise to tell her mother that she was being manipulated because it was offensive.  When I pressed for information about how exactly that was offensive, most didn’t respond.  One person said, “Because it implies she is not smart.”

Some People Never Learn

One thing that many neurotypical liberals said about Elise and her inability or failure to empathize was that Elise should have acknowledged that some people never learn and cannot be educated. These were mostly people who were liberal talking about how people with conservative views are unwilling and unable to change, even in the face of facts. Essentially, they felt that Elise should have just stopped trying to persuade her mother with facts.  One good friend of mine, a neurotypical educator, told me that he has been reminded before that the world is not his classroom.

Your Thoughts?

After getting this far into the series, what are your thoughts on the differences in Aspergian and neurotypical interpersonal relatedness? Have you had any new insights or thoughts? Has there been anything you’ve wished would have been covered or explored that hasn’t yet been?

Part 4: Empathy & Philosophy – Different Perspectives

Terra Vance

Terra Vance is an industrial and organizational psychology consultant and the proprietor of Acumen Consulting, LLC. She specializes in diversity, inclusion, multiculturalism, and poverty dynamics. She founded The Aspergian, a website to showcase actually-autistic voices and autistic talent. To contact Terra via email, click here.

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APA Reference
Vance, T. (2018). Part 4: Empathy & Philosophy – Different Perspectives. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 25, 2019, from


Last updated: 6 Nov 2018
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