104 thoughts on “Very Grand Emotions: How Autistics and Neurotypicals Experience Emotions Differently

  • March 25, 2019 at 7:06 am

    This is fascinating, and makes me reconsider many things about myself, us, amd minds in general. Thank you.

    Long ago, in joint therapy with my ex, the therapist would ask me what I feel about something, and I’d respond, and she’d say “those are ideas/opinions, not feelings.” I’d think “they sure feel like feelings to me” but at the same time question whether I just don’t know how to express feelings per se. Now, I am reconsidering that.

    I did, at first, read your list of very grand emotions and think “those aren’t emotions.” Then I thought about the sense of fairness, and how deeply biologically ingrained it is, how humans everywhere and possibly many other species will harm their own interests in order to punish cheating, and I thought that might be its own emotion. And I worked my way in from there.

    But now I’m wondering, too, what constitutes an emotion, and what role emotions play in cognition. Perhaps emotions aren’t any one set of things at all. Perhaps emotion is kind of just one way of attending to what happens in the world, and different people might experience various patterns or events as emotion or as idea or factual information, depending on who they are and what they are mist affected by.

    • March 26, 2019 at 6:28 pm

      I sympathize about thinking and analyzing when asked how one feels. When people ask me how I feel I have to think about it. And analyze. And then I get told that’s not feeling. But I don’t know how else to figure out how I feel, because they seem to want language – a word to describe how I feel. But the emotions I’m experiencing don’t have language so I have to translate it to language, and that requires thinking, and ideas, and analysis.

  • March 25, 2019 at 7:43 am

    I read this article this evening as it was posted to an autism allies group on FB. THANK YOU. Thank you for writing this article; for your insight and for spelling it out so clearly.

    Your description of grand emotions, the titles of such and the paragraph breaking it down into the actual words autistics say in empathy and SOLIDARITY finally let me know I am truly autistic…a truly eureka moment…

    and then gave it wings …

  • March 25, 2019 at 9:57 am

    Yes. Very yes. THIS brought tears to my eyes. The greater good❤

  • March 25, 2019 at 10:21 am

    “Information-sharing is a love language of autistics, as Knowledge is a ‘very grand emotion,’ indeed.”

    This is the truest statement I’ve ever read.

    Thank you for writing this. For righting this. I feel seen.

  • March 25, 2019 at 10:37 am

    Congratulations! You do not have a DSM diagnosis! You are simply a left-of-center millennial.

    • March 26, 2019 at 11:00 am

      And you’re qualified to make that call…..how?

      • March 28, 2019 at 7:10 pm

        All human beings are qualified of positing theories and asking the world to explore them.

  • March 25, 2019 at 4:07 pm

    I relate to this so hard…..”And it hit me, that to me, those are two of my deepest-felt emotions. Justice, equality, fairness, mercy, longsuffering, Work, Passion, knowledge, and above all else, Truth. Those are my primary emotions.” Yesssss.

  • March 25, 2019 at 4:09 pm

    I’m neurodivergent and I love this piece! I very much identify with the part about sharing similar experiences you’ve had in solidarity when a person shares theirs, I do that all the time!

  • March 25, 2019 at 4:49 pm

    Your post describes how I feel about these things you eloquently called grand emotions, but I’ve never had the words to describe them. Thank you thank you thank you for writing this. I had tears in my eyes several times as I read through this.

  • March 25, 2019 at 5:48 pm

    I recently told a friend that, in modifying ourselves to fit the norm, we tend to lose ourselves over time. Eventually we forget who we truly are and live our lives by proxy, allowing the puppet to follow the prescriptions of society. Só, when I started reading this, I thought “OK, I’m keeping an open mind, but she seems to be exaggerating to justify our difference, and that is really not necessary.” Then it struck me how truth is more than a mere value to me. Like deceit gives me chills, truth warms me emotionally. But the turning point was solidarity – I absolutely get the feels only in solidarity, and people have asked me why I keep looking for their reaction to something that touches me deeply or all them to affirm a reaction. I’m seeking that solidarity. It is true that NT’s don’t get this and their emotions run pretty shallow from my perspective. Thank you for exposing this so succinctly. Perhaps I can reclaim more of my emotional self armed with this knowledge.

    • March 26, 2019 at 3:09 pm

      Daryl, I totally relate to your comment that we “live our lives by proxy, allowing the puppet to follow the prescriptions of society” I guess I’m not neurotypical, I have ADD and am extremely introverted by nature, but I have created a pretty well functioning avatar to help me move around in the world and, really, to help other people feel comfortable around me. For many of us, it’s a necessary evil, I work with the public so I have to be able to make small talk with strangers and reign myself in when talking about something I’m very interested in (which is a lot of stuff lol). I think the key is to make sure you have plenty of places and people where you can let down your guard and be the real you.

      • March 28, 2019 at 10:46 pm

        Andrea, this is sage advice. We call that facade “masking,” and it is a necessary evil. It really means that we have to downplay our grandest emotions and biggest thoughts, those things which truly inspire us and give us joy, and those things which make us exceptional or which make us dramatically vulnerable. Too far above or below the norm is seen as a threat to the peaceful confines of the status quo. I really don’t have many “normal” ranges, and it’s hard to live in that zone and micromanage myself, while also trying to adjust my language to sound relatable enough. Solidarity.

      • June 3, 2019 at 10:46 pm

        ” … created a pretty well functioning avatar to help me move around in the world and, really, to help other people feel comfortable around me. ”

        OMG! I have been struggling to define, understand and explain this literally my entire life and I’m 50 years old! I’ve been wanting a way to separate who I really am from who people think I am in order to protect myself for so long.

        I’ve been trying to isolate myself for the last 10 years to escape the physical and mental exploitation and abuse I experienced as a result of not having this boundary.

        I don’t know too much about “creating an avatar” but that word Avatar sounds like a concept that I can accept for myself and not feel this tremendous guilt and shame at only telling people some things about me and feeling like a big fraud and a liar!

        How does one create an Avatar? Are there generic identity templates to choose from? How about scripts for things like the “small talk” you don’t care for? Do you have any supportive people that understand how your Avatar is your external public identity and that it protects you?

        I’ll stop now but for real, I have three-hundred eleventy-five more questions for you.

        I don’t know if it’s cool to put my email on here or not so I’m not going to do it just to err on the side of safety but any advice would be welcome thank you so much for everything you said!

    • March 26, 2019 at 7:34 pm

      I resonate so much with the article and with Daryl’s comments. I’m a 65 year old Aspie who has spent much of her life (until about 10 years ago) trying to force herself to be whatever the NTs wanted me to be. I succeed (sort of) for a while, and then get crazier, being forced to deny myself, and implode. I now live alone and interact with the universe a bit more openly; work full time in a job I’ve gradually modified into demanding the best of my Aspie-specific characteristics. But I suddenly realize that it is not enough to spend a life identifying with Spock, Sherlock, Gregory House, and so forth/so on. There is a real void in my life in not having a real Aspie friend.

      • March 28, 2019 at 7:02 pm

        House was my nickname for a lot of years. Email me, and I’ll plug you in to the community. Having other autistic friends is invaluable.

  • March 25, 2019 at 6:07 pm

    Wow, wow, wow!! YES!!!

    Everything you wrote is EXACTLY what I’ve been pondering and feeling, in shapes and colors and sensations—I had yet to put words to any of it, even in my own thoughts. But as I read, I FELT it all take the shape you so beautifully described. My soul felt such embrace and rest and recognition—I cannot describe it.

    I’m on the spectrum and I had the same experience watching RBG. 😉

    Thank for sending your thoughts into the world—you are already changing it!

  • March 25, 2019 at 7:01 pm

    I’m Autistic and I find the same problems you have described while talking about the poor research on the article. The words I use never seems to matter, the assumption is that I have an ulterior motive, or must accept or reject all parts of a complicated process or idea.

  • March 25, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    Dear Terra, thank you for explaining what ’feelings’ look like for many of is in this world. I have never before felt so clearly how my emotional reactions differ from most of my friends’. It’s been a constant theme in therapy throughout my life – how to strip the logic and facts to uncover the ‘hidden emotion’. What are my feelings? Do I actually have them? It’s often led to frustration. This piece is ground breaking for me as you’ve outlined that this logic and way of thinking is directly linked to our emotions and feelings, and we’re alright! Thank you. I would love to be a part of this.

  • March 25, 2019 at 8:54 pm

    I really like this.
    I’m neurotypical. (At least, I think I am, mostly?)

    I’ve had a lot of autistic friends recently, and the characterization of “lacking empathy” has always seen wildly off-base to me. It always seemed perfectly clear to me that the autistic people in my life care very much for the people they’re close to, and that they feel very deeply, even if most people are unable to specifically identify what it is that they’re feeling.

    I had similar thoughts as an above commenter about what really constitutes an emotion. Is it anything that we have a sufficient physiological reaction to? Can *any* concept be an emotion if you feel it strongly enough? I think that makes sense to me.

    • March 28, 2019 at 3:20 am

      Yes but empathy is not just a feeling; it’s also the expression of that feeling which is recognisable as a sign of compassion.

  • March 25, 2019 at 11:11 pm

    As I was reading and relating, I was preplanning the quoted text for my social media sharing of this blog post. I felt the beginning of “squiggly around the edges” as I reached above and beyond a reasonable amount of quoted text and much blog still remained. I shifted thought, to who I felt I wanted to invite so closely in, for possible post tagging, but that became excessive as well. I’ve decided to share this with no other embellishment, save the word “THIS.” Even if I’m the only one in my circle to read this, it is well worth sharing for it’s unbelievable simplicity, obvious veracity, and eloquent summation. Kudos and many thanks from a neurodivergent peace warrior.

  • March 26, 2019 at 1:44 am

    We learn so much about ourselves from our children and this article has some great insight into the stigma of autism and how those who aren’t neurotypicals experience the world.
    It really hit home for me, understanding my son and I hope it is shared widely to offer insight to many many others.
    I am also keen to learn about research in this area.

  • March 26, 2019 at 1:49 am

    Terry, I want you to know tonight my adult daughter announced “this is the first article I’ve ever read that I explains exactly how I think and feel my emotions.” With her young daughter recently diagnosed with ADHD, and her young son definitely showing symptoms of being on the spectrum as well, she’s been educating herself. And told me she believes she too may be autistic.

    Fairness and justice have always been huge core values for her but now, after reading your article, I can see they may be much more than that for her. This was clearly an “A-Ha” moment for her.

    Thank you for writing about additional ways some people feel in different and BIG ways. And now we can open up new dialogue with a better understanding of how she feels. It also helps remind me to apply that openness to trying to understand others, like my grandchildren, who experience the world different than I do.

    • March 28, 2019 at 7:36 pm

      This had me in tears the first time I read it, and it has me in tears now. I am so honored that you shared this moment with me. Thank you. I didn’t start to really explore or realize that I was autistic until it was clear that my toddler is.

  • March 26, 2019 at 3:31 am

    I could never have put this into words. I am bawling right now. I have never felt more understood in my life. This article is incredible. I was diagnosed autistic in 2015, and, because I appear “high-functioning”, there are people who still don’t believe me, and it almost gets to the point where I doubt myself despite everything I know, and this article just…reaffirmed everything for me once again. Thank you so much for writing this.

  • March 26, 2019 at 8:24 am

    Beautifully put, thank you for expressing what you feel so well. This feels so true to me. I have a similar relationship with my husband: he understands the important things, the ‘grand emotions’ and I have so many similar conversations with ASD friends. We speak the same language. Hopefully the growing awareness and these wonderful conversations can help neurotypical people understand enough to be able to communicate with us better. Many thanks for writing this.

  • March 26, 2019 at 10:08 am

    This article made me think quite a bit, and probably will for some time. I am definitely not neurotypical, but I have a very good internal emulator for most of it, and can perceive it with some accuracy in others. Certainly I have found it very difficult to navigate situations in which I was not allowed to correct errors, either factual or logical, even if their ultimate import to reaching a conclusion or decision was likely minor, or I in fact favored the opposite conclusion etc.(something like your Truth or Reason above).

    For me there are just different types of fragility (my own included) that come about everyone being somewhat confused and uncertain mammals. Identifying those is something like an interface constraint, and I find it much easier to do if I am sympathetic to precisely those feeling of uncertainty. And I think this thought, that we are all in it together, and need to be aware of each others limitations, can be connected directly to the Grand Emotions you indicate.

    So a different route to the same goal.

  • March 26, 2019 at 10:34 am

    I am neuro typical. My 7 year old son is neuro diverse. I am thankful for your article, I hope to use it to help family members better understand my son. I am constantly saying he is the most emphatic person I have every meet, he FEELS so strongly about things most people dismiss. He is a vegetarian because eating neat causes him to sob every single time and I simply never thought about it. People tell me he is “faking it” all the time because he responses are over the top to them. But they are always about what you have described as your primary emotions. Fir exsnpje, when people are not playing fairly. Your revelation has helped others already.

    • March 28, 2019 at 7:25 pm

      Brie, at age 7, I was the same way. I hated unfairness, especially from adults, and I fought hard against institutions like racism and sexism. I’m so glad that your son has you as a mother who cares so much to see and love him for who he is and see the value in his deeply-felt emotions.

  • March 26, 2019 at 12:42 pm

    Following up on Brie’s comment, I could understand what you were talking about in your article because of “Aspie’s” (Never sure how I feel about that word, I apologize if it’s not the right one to use) in my own family. Learning how to speak the neurotypical language of my mother while simultaneously trying to speak the autistic language of my father and brother, all while hopefully trying to get them to understand the major motivations of each other has been, well, difficult.

    I really appreciated your perspective this piece and I hope that more work is being done to look at how people who are related to those with autism might end up being oddly emotionally bilingual, and what those kinds of people (I hope to be one that navigates that space well one day!) can do to better link the groups.

    • March 28, 2019 at 7:21 pm

      Ro, I have a few friends like you, and they are INVALUABLE to me. They are able to help me understand those times when I accidentally offend someone by using a word like “official” that somehow reads with an emotional tone to someone else, or if I am being fair in being offended by what someone else has said to me. I have dreamed of having a friend who would help me to translate my heart in blogs like this, to make sure that what I wanted to convey will read the same way I intended it. I can’t tell you how often I say to someone something along the lines of, “Good for you,” which to me means nothing other than I am happy for them, but they read it as an insult.

      Because no matter how hard I try, and how many words I use, it’s so often misunderstood. There’s zero implied meaning in what I write, but neurotypicals are wired to read sentences for what they say and also for what they mean. They are used to sentences having an implied meaning.

      And most of us (aspies) are fine with NTs using that word when it is affectionately conveyed. It’s not an insider-only word, and we’re happy to share it with our allies who see it as a positive characterization.

  • March 26, 2019 at 12:55 pm

    I think I am mostly neurotypical, but I’ve long wondered if I might be on the spectrum, just a bit. Compared to most people, I am too logical and I don’t understand teasing. I almost never get it. Or saying things you don’t mean as a form of humor. I am always baffled. (and I’m 68 years old, so I doubt I’ll ever “get it.” I so related to your ideas of the grand emotions. I have also experienced offering comparative experiences as a form of solidarity. I also have to manage my TV watching so as to avoid commercials – my sister says “tune them out”. I don’t have the ability to “tune out” – I am always tuned in. Media violence exhausts me, and its effects remain for hours or days. I appreciate how you have explored a new context for understanding my feelings in relation to the world.

  • March 26, 2019 at 1:12 pm

    This article has left me reeling as I process my own grand emotions and my lifelong experiences of being misunderstood. Some of my earliest interpersonal emotional experiences were marked by confusion at my own overwhelming strong feelings, and how markedly different those were relative to how others around me are processing the same things. So extremely isolating… And the triggering situations were always marked by injustice. Not towards me but others. As an adult i funneled that painful need for justice and truth into a profession helping, of all people, individuals with autism.

    As a neurodivergent myself, i am highly successful on the surface by career/family standards, but my chronic illness and exhaustive quest of serving others, as well as empathically suffering their pains, has left me burnt out. Physically unable to work. But guess what hasn’t withered? That ned for truth and justice. I agree that we need to stop pathologizing (sp?) ASD traits and certainly move away from a medical model of treatment. Has it occurred to neurotypicals that their empathy deficits and narcissistic deceit as a default “normal” are in fact the ones behaving pathologically? So much to digest.

    • March 28, 2019 at 1:18 am

      I was married to a narcissist for 41 years before I kicked him out of my life. In my defense, this was before the days when people know what a narcissist was. I actually read a mystery in which the detective figured out from the scene of the crime that the murderer had to be a narcissist, and then he looked around at the suspects and figured out which one was a narcissist. In the course of the book, I learned how to recognize a narcissist, and then pretty much right away figured out that I was married to one. He was also the least empathetic person I ever met, so when you put the two together, it really hit home with me. Also, if everyone who knew both of us while we were married were polled, I’m sure he would get high ratings for being “normal,” and I would be the one who was labelled by most people as “weird.”

  • March 26, 2019 at 1:28 pm

    Yes! I specialize in working with parents who have children who are not neurotypical. Without
    exception, parents say to me, “they are saying my child is on the spectrum”, but s/he is very attuned, sometimes “overly” attuned to friends, family members, and experiences. I have always taken the position that the “lack of empathy”, some talk about, are from the same perspective that thought kids on the spectrum had “icebox moms”. How one interprets their world, needs to be understood as of continuum, with everyone having strengths and challenges on the many developmental lines.

  • March 26, 2019 at 2:13 pm

    Thank you for this article, and for your clear and forthright explanation of how you experience emotion. It moved me greatly, and I learned. Good luck in your endeavors and I will be sharing your article.

  • March 26, 2019 at 2:29 pm

    I am not on the spectrum. Your writing is so powerful, and extremely helpful. The way you break it down is brilliant. Every single person should read this. It’s like you picked the lock, of a door no one has had a key for. I am sharing this with everyone I know. Thank you, from the world.

  • March 26, 2019 at 3:00 pm

    Thank you for article – it really spoke to me. Both me and my husband are neurotypical (my husband has ADHD, which does affect how he thinks and acts, but neither of us are on the spectrum), but I feel like we related to this article in different ways. He definitely has more of the “grand emotions” than I do – things hit him really hard and he gets in funks for a long time after something he sees as completely unfair or terrible in the world occurs. It’s hard to see him this way, especially knowing there’s really nothing I can do to help him besides be there for him. I, on the other hand, really relate to the “this is my experience” part of the article – I’ve been told multiple times I’m a “me too-er” AKA I listen when people talk about their experience and then relate a similar one I’ve had back to them. I never really thought about it as a way that I am asking, “Is this close to how you’re feeling?” and the other questions the article refers to during this back and forth. It can certainly bother people and I do actually try and limit how much I do it because I’ve gotten push-back on it in the past. I am also extremely fairness and truth-minded, to the point where I cannot move on from something if I feel an unfairness or untruthfulness has occurred. This started as a young age for me – my sister would accuse me of lying when I wasn’t and I would break down if she didn’t believe me. I’ve been able to temper this a bit, but even now, if my husband says something slightly untrue about a conversation or interaction, I need to correct him to ensure that truthfulness and fairness is met.

  • March 26, 2019 at 3:56 pm

    Aspie here. Thank you so much for putting this into words. It explains so much about my social interactions and why I rub people the wrong way when I’m just trying to help or connect.

    • March 29, 2019 at 8:28 am

      Thank you, Val. Solidarity <3

  • March 26, 2019 at 4:31 pm

    You’re wrong about a lot of terms. You confuse emotions and values. We share the same emotions as neurotypics. However, our values (which trigger our emotions), are generally very different (you highlight that well). I’ll share some of my psychology class with you on that: Emotions (sadness, fear, joy, ..) and values (harmony, truth, justice, …) are different things. Emotions are the language of our brain. An emotion is there to tell us “react” so that our values are respected. To simplify, we have four main emotions: anger, sadness, fear and joy. When one of these emotions comes up, what it wants is to push us to do something. For example, anger is there to tell us “I need my values to be respected”. Sadness is there to make us understand that something we cared about is over. Fear is there to show us all the things that could happen if we don’t react. These three emotions are there to tell us “do something to get back to your preferred emotion: joy”. Values are the set of ideas that motivate us, that will trigger our emotions. Values are the ideas that build your identity. For example, justice is a value. And a belief is the way you translate a value. Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham share the same value: justice. They do not have the same beliefs ( = same ways of applying their values). Robin Hood thinks that to be fair, you have to steal from the rich to give to the poor, while the Sheriff of Nottingham thinks that to be fair, you have to stop thieves from stealing. When Robin Hood serves his value (justice), it brings him joy (an emotion). When he sees that the poor are taxed more, his value (justice) is not respected, it brings him another emotion: anger. Values can trigger many emotions. But values are “only” triggers of emotions, not emotions.

    Values are the ideas that build your identity. It is also thanks to the values you share with people close to you that you can be validated and that you can feel psychological safety. It is the order of priority we give to our values that truly define who we are. Let’s take my mom, a neurotypical one. She gives more importance to her reputation, loyalty, family than to the truth. As an autistic person, truth is the value I value most. During a family dispute, my mother got upset when a person she loved was accused of theft. This person was really a thief, but despite everything, my mother always continued to defend her. All her anger was generated by her values. As someone who loves the truth, this situation did not upset me at all, on the contrary, I appreciated the fact that the truth came out in the open. It is the difference in values that we have with neurotypics that is at the root of the misunderstanding that we maintain. But we share the same emotions. Generally, our values are values that do not trigger strong emotions every 5 minutes (unlike my mom for example). Most of my values are not regularly compromised or validated, unlike my mother’s. So my mom seems much more emotional than I am. But we share the same emotions despite everything, just not the same values

    • March 27, 2019 at 4:39 am

      Thank you Nicolett. You explained this much better than I could.

    • March 27, 2019 at 10:07 am

      thank you!

    • March 28, 2019 at 4:07 pm

      Agreed! I want to know what were the omitted words in the quote from the movie… i’m guessing they’re important here as well.

    • January 30, 2020 at 5:48 pm

      I’m with you on some points but not all.

      Yes, we do have feelings like joy and anger but at least for me, my body experiences them much more than my mind does. I often don’t understand why I’m suddenly crying or shouting until I can ANALYZE the situation, sometimes not even then. And to me, that doesn’t seem like something you can comfortably call an emotion.

      And as for values, the problem with your argument is how I and presumably many other autists actually experience those ‘values’.
      Take lying for example. I don’t feel anger when faced with a lie. It feels WRONG. It feels like some fundamental principle has been violated. This experience is much more visceral than when feeling any classical emotion.

      I’m sure you used the terms as defined in your psychology class (and didn’t you feel the urge to spread that knowlege) and they are technically correct this way.
      But this article was about how certain things are experienced by autistic people.
      And a question: Do you really think whoever wrote your study material knows firsthand how autistic people relate to the world?

  • March 26, 2019 at 4:54 pm

    Thank you so much. Married 29 yrs to a Science Prof who fits the Emotional language differences you describe. Even in his prolonged dying process of brain cancer, he was experimenting with his mind and body “ for the greater good”. Please continue your helping others understand “for the greater good first” is not pathological.

    • March 28, 2019 at 10:28 pm

      I’m very sorry for your loss and the world’s loss. Thank you so much for this very kind Solidarity. <3

  • March 26, 2019 at 5:47 pm

    Thank you so much for this! I think I ‘pass’ well enough for neurotypical (though I could be wrong!) but it’s not easy. So many elements of the Aspie experience resonate with me, but I am also profoundly empathetic and moved to tears by seemingly abstract concepts. I have always felt a tension between intuiting what others are feeling or thinking but having no idea how to act or what to do about it. Small talk is a challenge, but I love performing and I love deep personal conversations, either about life or ideas. I am female bodily, which is fine, but my brain is not particularly one gender or the other. I am a scientist, and I enjoy working with my colleagues on the spectrum because doing Social Talk and Work Talk at the same time is such a struggle! It’s so relaxing to not have to worry about doing the former badly while I am trying to think about complex problems. But I also love love and musicals and adorable baby animals, and cry easily at any strong emotion.
    It’s really nice to know that I am not alone.
    Thank you!

  • March 26, 2019 at 6:20 pm

    I feel like a lot of this is similar to what I felt like as a little kid (though I’m neurotypical) – in elementary school and through high school. I CARED! About fairness, and justice, and mercy, and outsiders, and all these big themes. And then life just…was too much. I got depression. It was and is so tiring to feel this way. To feel this much. To commit to this. To keep caring about truth and justice and mercy in what seems like an indifferent world. To care so deeply when so many people don’t. And all that indifference beat me down, so that I still care, but not like I did. Which makes me feel like a shitty person and to grieve for the person I once was. I miss her.

    So some of this makes makes me wonder – do autistics and neurotypicals experience emotions differently from the start? Or do many of us neurotypicals who experience these strong emotions of justice, truth, mercy, knowledge, etc… just get it socialized out of us over the years, whereas autistics don’t as much due to neurodivergent defense mechanisms against standard socialization?

    (Sharing knowledge is one of my family’s love languages, too, even though none of us are autistic. And I really relate to the instinct to correct writing, or point out flaws before praise. My dad was a pastor and someone created a church website for his church. And the first thing I did was check ever link to make sure it worked, and note every typo, and send this all to him – because that’s what we do, and we don’t bother couching editing notes in “nice” language. And then he sent it to the creator, and I felt bad, because she was hurt and sad that anyone had been that nit-picky. I would have framed and worded everything differently if I was sending it to her.)

  • March 26, 2019 at 7:12 pm

    Thank you. Your theory does have legs, as it hits a chord with me. It wasn’t until my late 50’s that I have learned to process and harness the energy of neurotypical emotions. To ‘feel’ them. To me there is a certain abstractness about them. What hits a chord though is your illumination of why I react to Truth and Justice and Solidarity and the “grand emotions” with such force while others around me do not. Tears well and the voice chokes at what others seem to have no emotional response. Now I have some knowledge and understanding about what has always been Truth for me. Much to explore as I begin my 60s.

  • March 26, 2019 at 7:43 pm

    Neurotypical here. Your words have both moved me to tears and given me much food for thought. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings and experiences with us.

  • March 26, 2019 at 8:47 pm

    Thank you. Epithanies all over the place & lack of tears explained. I can’t watch the news or scary stuff, reading is much easier – intense but more choices. A fall back position is analytical reason & it’s what you do when no one is looking that determines who we are.

    Well thank you, I feel a bit less isolated.

  • March 26, 2019 at 11:47 pm

    As an Atypical Nerd Do Well myself, I’ve struggled my whole life thinking it was just me, or because I’m a Pisces like my closest friends who, like me, can’t always say how they feel.

    You speak of epiphany like it’s an *aha! Moment*. How apocryphal. How revelatory. I like it!
    At face value I have to agree with Nicolet, here, about emotions and values being distinct, if related.

    Then again, I’ve learned to survive by ambiguous nuance in most of my daily dealings, so I vouch for Terra’s received message of expression in words as she can use them.

    Perhaps this is because, like those experiencing synesthesia (seeing the sounds and hearing the colors) the sunshine warms the thoughts of my imagination as plainly as her *emotional values* weigh differently in her utterance than in a clinical analysis book of procedure.

    I’m a lifelong writer finally learning that the best communications are often oblique, so they can be read personally, felt internally, while the uninitiated “neurotypicals” (as you say) typically follow their own nerve curves to understanding our Ying Yang universe of plural meanings in ways only they are evolved to do. Twyla Tharp calls this adhering to your individual “creative DNA,” or something like that. It’s close enough to what I mean that I think Terra is saying about as much. A bass musician named Phil Lesh once said, “If you heard those lyrics, then that’s what the band was playing.”

    I see things in an orthogonal vector from normal experience. Where I used to, for so long, simply think, “Doesn’t everybody think this way?”, I now often consider the multiplicity of explanations needed and the number of *explainings* we’d have to convey to cover all our acquaintances with a bridging melody of minds that I become aware of the passage of illusory Time and think my time is better spent building bridges for others to stumble upon at their own pace rather than expecting I am here to set everyone straight.

    That’s why I enjoyed reading Terra’s take on this elusive topic. Her work draws others to it like moths to cloth, sustaining new arrivals with a light feeding of similar thinking. That is community. That is lacking for most awkward autistic aspies auspiciously aspiring for a go at explaining successfully more than once in a while.

    We don’t sift through the counterfeits of Life’s Handbook of Instructions until we’ve exhausted all their approaches we can stomach and, if surviving that, begin to write our own with our owned truths such as I’m reading on this page.

    I am lately seeking to master the fine art of writing as a bridge between the two worlds you seem to be describing. I don’t know if we’re really-really as alike as all that, but something does resonate here that doesn’t resonate there. I’ve learned to prick up my antennae’s (attached by ventricles from the aorta to the spiritual place between the brain’s pineal) enough times that I’ve given the time here to write this for reason. If that’s too mystical for some, I’m vindicated in my second paragraph, above.

    As a bridge between worlds, art can convey what physical language aspires to. (A picture “speaks” a thousand words.) I am tempted to point you all to pictures that would leap into your imagination much swifter than these sluggishly written slights of hand. But this chosen forum is acclimated more to text than context, writing our language down in words. I worry, though (don’t you?) for enough contextual meaning (and vocabulary equivalency) to avoid the *explaining* that too often devolves past meaning and becomes digressive missives left alone for more promising pursuits. Or at least I think that’s what Judith Blades’ eureka moment and Terra’s epiphany were hinting at. Anyway, allies abound. We’re never really alone until we wish to be.

    • March 28, 2019 at 7:00 pm

      This is one of the most grand things I have ever read. I mostly want to thank you for your Solidarity, which you conveyed in a language that, in this context, I wondered how each of us were reading and empathizing with your words. I wondered if everyone saw the irony in the places you intended it, could perceive the contrast of the gentle language with the aggressive ideas, or could feel the weight of counterfeits of Life’s Handbook of Instructions in the same way.

      It’s always difficult to put to words those things which can’t be measured and quantified. But, it is clear that some of us experience emotions differently, and without a platform to discuss those differences, we’re left without a way to be recognized for the Truth in the depth of our feelings. This is my experience, and clearly it resonates with a lot of people. I can’t say that I’ve found the right way to put to words something that feels tiered and dimensional, abstract and yet tangible. I wouldn’t say that.

      I think you identified the real power of this piece, and that it has been a meeting of minds and Solidarity that we rarely get to experience. It was a foundation for community, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such deeply felt emotional responses to a blog. I think we all found our emotions engaged in alignment with our logic, and we all (well, most…) took the vulnerable leap to see and feel something in a new way. That has been powerful for me, to see these comments and the ones in groups on social media. I’ve done nothing much other than respond to comments in the last few days.

      And yes, allies abound. To be autistic and have so many neurotypical people express that they have deeply wanted to better understand someone they know but haven’t been given the language to do so has been, what I would call, Movement. To see that people were able to see themselves represented in a way that made sense to them, too, felt like Movement.

    • June 3, 2019 at 11:36 pm


      My heartfelt gratefulness in now knowing another exists with the ability to knit your heart to your brain, speaking such eloquence confirms my tentative steps towards self-acceptance that I so desperately need and fear

  • March 27, 2019 at 4:58 am

    This is in reply to
    Very Grand Emotions: How Autistics and Neurotypicals Experience Emotions Differently by Terra Vance
    I’ve read the article very carefully, twice. Granted, my brain is the brain of a 77 years old woman, a neurotypical (I think!) person. The article (or blog) confirmed to me what I knew from my own experiences with my Aspie partner, namely that no wonder that we do not understand each other: Neurotypicals and Aspies speak different languages.

    The author seems to think that she finally find the vocabulary for how aspies “feel.” But the words she uses are not definitions for emotions but they are concepts and moral codes and ideas. Not emotions. So how could her theory prove that aspies are capable to experience and feel empathy?

    She says that she gets tearful when something impacts her deeply. That would not happen with my aspie! The only thing that will happen if he experiences something that is different from the norm is that he’ll have trouble processing what’s happening around him. For instance death. He will be over-occupied, for weeks or longer, by the death of an old schoolmate from many years ago, even if he did not bother to keep contact with that person. Suddenly, he’s unable to deal with the “loss”. I can only guess that he is very depressed in the meantime.

    In five years the only true (according to neurotypical standards) emotions I’ve ever seen on the face of my aspie gentleman friend was in the hospital after his 4 years old granddaughter’s heart surgery. He seemed to have been overtaken by emotions. Worry and love (?) for the little girl. Not before and not since have I seen visible signs of empathy coming from him towards anybody.

    My friend would never ask me “How can I help?” or offer “Here is how to fix this problem” as the author claims are the way autistic people communicate their feeling. My friend would never offer these “feelings” to me because he seems to be unable to tune in to my needs. Consequently, I feel unimportant and unappreciated. I don’t need “GRAND” emotions, I wish that I could just have small expressions of love and caring once and a while. I don’t feel that he has emotionally charged connections to me. Our “relationship” feels more like a business relationship rather than romantic and tender ties, based on caring and love for the other person. There is no motivation on his part to taking care of me, to tune in to my needs, to make me happy. He never ever expresses pride in me, which would be a way to compliment me. (Yet, faced with the possibility of losing me, he says that he doesn’t know if he could go on if I left him!)

    Therefore, I feel unappreciated, lonesome and resentful because of the lack of reciprocation in our relationship erodes my positive feelings towards him.

    So, this is how I experience “feelings” and “empathy” or the lack of it from my Aspie. And this is how, in our desperate ways, we talk two different languages and live in two different worlds. It is all very tragic and sad.

    • January 30, 2020 at 6:10 pm

      What often happens with people on the spectrum is that while we feel deeply, we do not visibly emote them.
      Sometimes we get discouraged from showing emotions in our own way early on since it’s “weird”.
      Or your friend/partner is emoting but not in a way you can read.
      And yes, perhaps he hasn’t realised you have a problem.
      Or he has but doesn’t know how to help you and thinks you don’t want to talk with him about it.
      Or he has had bad experiences when he tried to offer help in the past.
      I do not know this person or your relationship to him (you call him a gentleman friend but imply you are a couple?) so I can’t be sure but I suspect a combination of several of those possibilities.

    • March 18, 2020 at 8:12 pm

      You are not alone in your experience. I hope a response from the author will illuminate what someone in your shoes could understand or do to suffer less.

  • March 27, 2019 at 6:22 am

    Excellent article, I identify with lots of what you have written.

    So much food for thought (my favourite food!).

  • March 27, 2019 at 8:58 am

    I am struck by how many people describe themselves as “neurotypical – I think.” That resonates with me. I have always found it difficult to empathize with how people feel without being directly told. I always saw this as a flaw in me. At one point I learned that empathy was a skill that you could get better at, and approaching it this way did help, though only on the surface. It helps me more to articulate that lack of EMPATHY does not mean lack of CARING, and I try to make sure that I articulate caring to others even when I have no clue what’s going on inside them. To me, “how can I help?” is actually a good middle ground between being intuitively empathic and wanting to correct whatever is wrong – it expresses caring without relying on empathy.

    When I was in training to be a therapist (I know, not such a good idea for me), I was taught a strict idea of what constitutes a feeling, and to question anyone who expressed what seemed like a thought but called it a feeling. Not so helpful!

  • March 27, 2019 at 9:18 am

    I’m neurotypical. My husband is autistic. I can’t possibly know how he’d relate to your idea of ‘grand emotions’ but I personally find it helpful.

    Using the language of emotion for things that I would ordinarily call ‘values’ helps me to come to terms with the truth of just how different my husband and I are and it shifts my thinking just a little bit closer to accepting our differences without the heavy value judgements I often place on him. I don’t want to pathologise him or see him as being in deficit but the constant conflict that we experience in trying to communicate about things that seem so basic to me, makes me wish he were more like me (and the same is true for him). In those moments I tend towards blaming AS but I am always looking to understand him better so that I can reframe my internal narrative.

    I am aware of the arrogance of my viewpoint – the privilege of my majority position – and I am sorry but changing it is a long slow process. Your article helps shift my thinking a little – at least for now. I can understand that my husband does experience strong emotions but they always look like negative emotions from my perspective. To think of his commitment to truth and justice as emotions helps me to frame them far more positively. It’s a small step. I may never stop wishing he could understand me better and that he would know how to communicate with me in a way that feels like communication to me – but this idea of ‘grand emotions’ allow me to be proud of his standing up for truth. I hope I will remember it when he is shouting at me that I am a liar. I hope that my ordinary NT emotions will not be so triggered by this blatantly false accusation (by my reckoning, obviously) to remember that one of his grand emotions is truth and that I am in some way violating it. That is my hope (hope is a grand emotion in my world).

  • March 27, 2019 at 10:05 am

    This is bullocks and publishing it discredits all of psych central. These things are not emotions. If you get very emotional in response to something, it does not make it an emotion. Responding to something beautiful or something tragic like a hurricane with strong reactions does not make those things an emotion.

    The author should do both psychological research on the concepts and actual research with autistics. Claiming to have done research because you simply asked some autistics if they feel strongly about injustice or knowledge and they agree, does not verify your theory.

    Further this is one person’s account.

    No matter how many people agree that they feel strongly about these things and that it resonates with them, does not make this scientific, it does not validate it. It simply means people feel strongly about these things. It does not make any of these things emotions or what the author calls grand emotions.

  • March 27, 2019 at 10:37 am

    I am a neurotypical (I think) psychologist. I sometimes work with people on the autism spectrum. I find this entry extremely valuable; it is opening my eyes to the possible new ways of seeing some of my clients. I am not a researcher, but I hope someone runs with this idea. I will share this post with my colleagues. Thank you for sharing your grand emotions and ideas with us.

  • March 27, 2019 at 10:53 am

    This article was eye opening to me. I believe that I am neurotypical but I have suffered in relationships from many of the misconceptions that you describe. Logic and reason are my most profound emotions. My husband was the same way. Our “fights” would generally be long drawn out sessions where we methodically tried to analyze each other’s positions. Often we would spend much of the time simply defining our terms. There was very little hostility, only a searching towards understanding and resolution. Since he passed away, I find that I miss that tremendously. I am always shocked that others don’t want to proceed this way. They want to talk about “feelings” but not explore, unravel and solve. They are upset that I’m not passionate enough.

    I have also gotten into trouble because, like you, I tend to respond to others’ issues by relating similar issues I have had in the past. To me, this has always been a way of reaching out and finding common ground. Perhaps letting the person know they are not alone. That is how I would view it. Others don’t seem to like that. I have learned that people most often simply want expressions of sympathy. So I now try to utter them, but it hurts me deep down to stop there, rather then try to brain storm a path forward.

    I think its important to at least put it out there that these reactions are not unique to people with ASD. In many ways I am very neurotypical. I cry at movies and even at hallmark commercials. But I think we would be able to relate to each other well.

  • March 27, 2019 at 11:30 am

    Interesting piece. However, I’m curious. How can people be neatly divided into “neurotypicals” and “neurodivergents”? What is the definition of “neurotypical”? I particular take issue with this statement: “A neurotypical person is not wired to be rewarded by our brand of interaction and emotional Solidarity. Our method of relatedness doesn’t translate our heart accurately with neurotypicals. Our direct, blunt, and sometimes-brutal honesty is offensive to neurotypicals; and in turn, their roundabout, indirect, suggestive language reads as confusing, manipulative, and patronizing to us.” How can you say that anyone not on the spectrum (aka neurotypicals) neatly fit into this classification? I’m not on the spectrum but I will be blunt and say I think this classification of people into neurotypicals and neurodivergent is utter nonsense.

    • March 27, 2019 at 7:00 pm

      Greetings. Classifying people as “neurotypical”, “neurodivergent”, or whatever is itself a symptom of a much larger problem — the objectification of persons into things, or in other words, the reduction of subjects into objects. The epitome of this is the reduction of personality to brain biology: the whole idea that the mind is nothing more than the anatomy and physiology of the brain has the effect of reducing persons to classifiable — and ultimately controllable — physical objects. This is why I absolutely reject theories like behaviorism, determinism, “behavioral medicine”, and all the rest that try to convince you that individuality is only an illusion, and what you really are is a THING that can be classified, categorized, and molded to serve the interests of others. If you think this is “nonsense”, you need only read Skinner’s “Walden Two” to see that it is a directed and purposive ideology, and where it actually leads.

      Well, maybe I am autistic and maybe not, maybe I am schizoid and maybe not, maybe I am just a recalcitrant INFP Kierkegaardian existentialist who refuses to sit back and see persons manipulated as objects in the name of socially desirable ends. But think about this: the term “gaslighting” has become wildly popular in psychological conversations of late. As articles on Psych Central claim, gaslighting is, “… an insidious erosion of your sense of reality; it creates a mental fog of epic proportions,”, and, “Gaslighting … refers to manipulation whose purpose is to create doubt in a person or a group of people … [it] makes you doubt your own perception, your feelings, and your memory. It makes you doubt reality itself, and therefore your own sanity.” If so, then might there not be an element of this — and, possibly, the manipulative “narcissism” that goes along with it — in “diagnosing” people who don’t fit one’s belief of what “normal” should be as having — and being — this condition or that condition, labeling them as “atypical” or otherwise “not normal”, and subjecting them to all sorts of abuse and manipulation (read as “therapy” and “medication”) until they conform to you own (read as “society’s”) idea of what normal should be? In sum, might it not boil down to a form of “gaslighting” to classify people as “neuro” this or that?

      Just something to think about, before one accepts the game of labeling one’s self as this thing or that thing.

      • March 28, 2019 at 11:20 am

        Just to clarify: I did not intend to change the subject here. I wanted to point out that, while terms like “neurotypical” and “on the spectrum” are, of course, objectively nonsense, the way they are used is part of a process, all too often masquerading as “mental health”, that is used to objectify, humiliate, and manipulate people in much the same way that narcissists manipulate their victims. People have all to readily accepted behavioristic theories, and the psychology and medical practice that emerges from them, without considering what lies at the bottom of it all, and how it works. Please, before you start believing “diagnoses” like neuro- this or that, read the books — Skinner’s “Walden Two” being the most accessible — and ask yourself if the “better life” and “better world” behaviorist theory promises is really not just another Auschwitz.

      • March 28, 2019 at 2:53 pm

        I’m floored by this take on the article, and I don’t understand your comments at all. You are right that values are not emotions, true, but I do believe they can be felt in that way. Maybe we don’t have the right language for it yet, and that’s why we are using “emotions” to describe them. But, in our case, it’s beyond simple values. There are our calling, our reason for being. As far as labeling, I was absolutely honored and validated when I received my diagnosis of ASD back in 2015. It only confirmed for me what I had known for 8 years previous. I have no idea why or where you’re getting Auschwitz out of this. Labels are meant to increase understanding in this case, and nobody is being thrown into a grave, so I really, truly don’t understand your take on it.

      • March 28, 2019 at 6:19 pm

        I actually agree with what you’ve said. Why would we fashion a cage for our own birds? My autistic brain does not like imposing limits on what can only be measured by the limits of perception; however, as Bohr said, “The opposite of a profound truth is a profound truth.” I wonder, if you read the article, you would feel the same about what I’ve done with this piece.

        I didn’t create the dogmas which imprison me, dehumanize me, and limit me. I didn’t ask the world to see me as less than human, to talk about me in ways that reduce me to an empty, unfeeling, unthinking, concrete being something less than a whole, autonomous, thinking, wildly-capable, valuable contributor to the world. I don’t feel that it’s possible for me to outrun these labels, and the world has already been able to read the differences on me since at least my earliest memories. I didn’t don these limits by my own choice, but understanding how I am different from others and why gives me a framework from which to form a community of like minds and to find ground upon which I could build my knowledge of myself.

        There’s nothing mighty about submitting to the limiting constraints and pathologies of “disease.” But, there’s something mighty in defining ones’ own terms. Since all of human history, differences are ranked in a pecking order, and it’s a pecking order I’m not wired to be able to perceive. It’s certainly not one I respect or observe. I’m wired to resist those orders; however, I am different. Knowing that is validation and explains why despite having the same values, I am not being read according to my heart. The differences are there whether or not someone names them. My most innate intuitions are different from the majority, and that is translating in a way that makes me and the rest of us regarded as incapable or unworthy of being heard and seen and given agency over our own trajectory. So, I am incapable of stopping the world from labeling me, and I’m also incapable of asking them to ignore my differences. I can’t ignore my differences.

        I Labor to bring a humanized, thoughtful perspective of what those differences mean, and to empower the neurological minority with the graciousness of being understood.

        You alluded to the Holocaust. The victims of that tragedy weren’t just the Jews, gay people, Black people, those with intellectual disability, the Romani, etc., but of all the people who were forced to deny the humanity of those who were the minority and who were denied the capacity to embrace their own goodness and free will to be Dissenters and benevolent and Just and Merciful. A movement of hate like that doesn’t start with labels or diversity, but with the supremacy that would view someone different as less deserving. The key to stopping future atrocities is not to ask people to stop being Black, or Jewish, or gay, or autistic, or to deny that they are those things. The key is to empower people to understand that those things are not inferior, that we have the freedom to choose to empathize with and see value in diversity. We autistics know we are different. Society can see our differences, but unless they understand and humanize them, they are left without a way to interpret them. With or without a label, the differences are pervasive. The label isn’t the problem, but the limits of the way its defined adds to oppression. Some of us are capable enough to “pass” as neurotypical, at least for a short time; however, not having our differences acknowledged doesn’t mean that their effects will not have consequences.

        Would you read it, please, Dr. Druid, and tell me if I have made a cage or if I have fashioned a key?

      • March 29, 2019 at 11:18 am

        Thanks for your response. The issue is not whether or not you have found a key, but why there needs to be a cage in the first place. The “cage”, as I see it, is accepting the objectification imposed upon one’s self by others, including so-called “diagnoses”, and believing that this is the reality of who one actually is. This gets augmented by the belief that somehow one’s personality just is the “wiring” of the brain, an hypothesis for which there is no proof outside of an essentially willed commitment to believe in it. All right, if believing this defines who you are — and I can accept that — then it still needs to be pointed out that believing certain things may lead in a certain direction, and that direction seems, at least to me, to be the opposite of what you are saying. Believing that you are what a “diagnosis” claims you to be reifies the cage into your own reality, and believing the neurobabble locks the door shut.

        I take it from your comments that you are somewhat in agreement with this: “There’s nothing mighty about submitting to the limiting constraints and pathologies of “disease.” But, there’s something mighty in defining ones’ own terms.” Right, the problem is that once those terms are defined, they become a habituated way of thinking about one’s self, and others as well. Tell me, what do terms like “neurotypical”, “neurodivergent”, and “on the spectrum” really mean? The are ultimately nonsense, as the person who posted the article I replied to suggested. They are Humpty Dumptys — “A word means what I say it means” — and really nothing more, except that they slip into one’s thinking and become habituated ways of looking a things, a trap into which one’s mind falls. This is as much a problem with defining your own labels — are you not really doing the same thing; are you not categorizing yourself, and making yourself into an object? This is something that feminist philosophy discovered a while back — that categorization leads to objectification, which leads to reification and internalization, and — bang! — so slams the door of the cage: the cage not only of the way others think of you, but of also your own way of looking at yourself. Why, instead of “neuro-whatever”, not just “I am who I am”?

        This is all really just another instance of a very old debate — nominalism vs. realism — and it’s odd that I would be coming down on the “realism” side, but I have to acknowledge the trap that one can fall into by believing that the names we give things are “real”. Look, I still will not be able to be in the same room as a television, I still will not engage in social smalltalk, I still will see patterns and and divergences from patterns — I will see the bug on the wallpaper before anyone else notices it — I still will not be able to stand the feel of certain surfaces, and on and on — you know the drill — whether there is a “diagnosis” or not. Those things will still all be true, whether I am cast into a category by others or not, and whether or not I accept or reject that categorization. The difference is whether or not I reify the opinions — and the labels used to categorize those opinions — of others into my own reality, and that, most likely, has more to do with personality traits like introversion and extroversion, than it has to do with “wiring”. Maybe, as Jung wrote a 600 page book to demonstrate, realism vs. nominalism also comes down to personality traits, which, in the end, are also artificial categories. People who study, for example, MBTI personality traits would say that I am the same “type” as Kierkegaard, which on the surface seems to be true, but I am also the same “type” as Louis CK, which could not be farther from the truth. What this means is that behavior and cognition are only contingently related, and that categories like “INFP” or “neurotypical” are entirely subjective, and that reifying these things into “objective reality” is both a logical absurdity and, potentially, a behavioral catastrophe.

        The reference to the Holocaust was actually directed toward the end of Skinner’s book, where the protagonist must decide whether he wants to get on the train to Skinner’s behavioristic utopia, and my point was that the behaviorist world — which relies upon objectifications like “neuro-this-or-that”– might not be the utopia it is advertised to be. However, it could be argued that one of the things that enabled the Holocaust in the first place was the same sort of believing in labels — and reifying those labels into a twisted reality — that people do with terms like “neuro-this-or-that”. It categorizes and objectifies things that may or may not be true, it reduces the individual to a set of stock descriptions that may or may not be accurate, and it leads to a kind of knee-jerk “us and them” thinking that is the very source of tragedies like the Holocaust. This is, as mentioned above, the result of reifying subjectively believed labels or descriptions into “objective reality”, and then acting upon them in service to yet another twisted “reality” that one has accepted as the “way things should be”.

        In the end, each person will believe what he or she will. But for me, at least, it raises a red flag when people start casually using terms like “neurotypical”, “neurodivergent”, “on the spectrum”, and so forth as though they have some objective reality, and in some way see themselves as being defined by those terms, regardless of who may have created them.

      • March 30, 2019 at 12:06 am

        I understand what you’re saying, but here is something you might not have considered. Sometimes labels are important as a transition stage. Right now labels can sometimes (we wish it were always, but it’s not) get people the kind of practical help they need to succeed in school and or life. To give you an example of how this kind of thing can work: Back in “the good old days” homosexuality, especially in the armed forces, was a crime — if you were caught in the act, you were sentenced to long terms in prison. One courageous doctor succeeded in classifying homosexuality as a mental illness, which had the result that it was no longer considered a criminal act. “Caught in the act” would get you kicked out of the military, but not sent to prison. Now, of course, people are working to declassify homosexuality as an illness, and some people who are ignorant of history, are raving and ranting that evil people classified it as a mental illness. What I am saying is that right now, the labels of “neurotypical” and “non-neurotypical” are useful as a step toward the ultimate goal of people realizing that all types of brains are “normal” and that everyone is “on the spectrum.”

      • March 30, 2019 at 2:19 pm

        You make a good point, but it also reinforces what I said — that believing the label traps you in a way of thinking. That changing the label from “homosexual” to “mentally ill” altered the treatment of the persons in the situation you described is undeniable, but it also took a long time for the people so labeled to get it through the heads of others (and in some cases, their own) that they are neither of those things.

        But “the ultimate goal of people realizing that all types of brains are “normal” and that everyone is “on the spectrum”” pushes a couple of “hot buttons” for me, and really calls into question whether transitioning from one set of labels to another (like “normal” and “on the spectrum”) is what one really wants to do.

        (1) “get people the kind of practical help they need to succeed in school and or life”. This ties in with what I said about labeling leading to gaslighting. Who says someone needs “practical help”? Because they are “sick”, “abnormal”, “underachieving”, “depressed”, “neurodivergent”,or what? From another blog on Psych Central, one of the first steps in gaslighting someone is, “You’re crazy/you have mental health issues/you need help.” “Practical help” in forcing someone into the mold you think they should fit is manipulation, if anything is. Who says that “succeed(ing) in school and or life” is what someone wants, who decides what “succeeding” is, and how much further does this need to go? As I said in my original post, labeling people all too often leads directly to this kind of subtle manipulation. Now there are those who think that people should “fit in”, but that way of thinking is more of a personality trait, and as such is not something that can be argued against. About all I can do is point out that this way of looking at things is only one option, and hope that at least some people will understand the kind of manipulation that believing the “labels” can lead them into.

        (2) “What I am saying is that right now, the labels of “neurotypical” and “non-neurotypical” are useful as a step toward the ultimate goal of people realizing that all types of brains are “normal” and that everyone is “on the spectrum.”

        If there is little point in arguing that no one has the right to tell (or manipulate) anyone to “fit in”, “succeed”, or whatever you want to call it, then there is even less point in arguing against this neuro-psychic identity stuff. The belief that psychology reduces to neurology is only that — a metaphysical belief — and is underpinned only by yet other beliefs in what science itself is, and whether a “scientific” word view is better than any other. I could go on forever — and have — about why reductive materialism, which includes the BELIEF that a person is the sum of their brain anatomy and physiology, is logically inconsistent, factually baseless, and has morally abhorrent consequences, but to no avail against the almost religious devotion to “my brain” that gets repeated over and over again, without any critical examination of its basis and consequences. All I can do is point out that there are different views of what science is and what it really says (Wolfgang Pauli has written on this), there are alternative views as to where psychology comes from and what persons are — all equally supported by one view of “science” or another — and differing opinions as to whether science constitutes the “last word” on what exists and what does not.

        But I will argue that believing the “my brain” stuff has roughly the same moral (meaning “values” or “emotions”, take your pick) consequences as believing that women are defined by their reproductive organs, and that a woman’s life should be directed by their reproductive anatomy and physiology. It’s the same line of thinking, the same kind of labeling, at it leads in the same direction. So think about what it is you believe, before actually believing it. I have been fighting against materialism, determinism, and science-worship since I first understood what those things are, and what they really mean when they get loose in the world, but it admittedly has little chance against the oft-repeated but never examined mantra of “our brains”. So I guess I am left, a bit like RBG, with nothing left to do about it except to say:

        I dissent.

  • March 28, 2019 at 6:48 am

    As an Aspie who tends to think systemically and in “greater truths” (what you have characterized as “emotions”) I connected with many parts of this article.

    I don’t know yet if concepts like “Truth” serve us or neurotypical people when they are characterized as “emotions,” even “grand” ones – they are states of being, and contain many emotions that drive and enhance them – they move us BEYOND emotions.

    I’ve always wondered if Aspies are “pushed beyond emotion” at birth, or need something beyond the wants of the self to get emotional about things. It’s been my experience that my most emotional moments happen when I sense an injustice or damage that goes beyond what affects me personally. The impact has to be systemic, affecting the greater good (or evil) and disturbing to the fabric of life in order for me to truly sweat it. Truth is definitely one of those for me, as is love.

    • March 28, 2019 at 10:10 pm

      I have an article in the works about values being oriented to the maxim, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

      I’m not sure if “very grand emotions” is the best way to characterize these differences. I think that our values and our emotions are immutable and inextricable, and separating the two of them into different or independent constructs is not something that could truly be measured or defined.

      I believe that the lack of connectivity between cortices in the brain, and the fact that we process many stimuli in different parts of the brain from typical brains, lends itself to tiered or layered thought and emotion. This is why I thought of the two different categories of emotion as primary and secondary. Those emotions which are typically defined as values or ideas require logic and a purposeful removal of the self, and those “emotions” are often at odds with the emotions which are personal and serve the self.

  • March 28, 2019 at 10:36 am

    NT married to a HFA. The words you have bolded are not emotions. They are VALUES.
    We all have them, and feel deeply when they are honored or conversely, dishonored or disregarded.

    Most NTs haven’t really considered their own values, which is why the media can push us around so easily and completely. It’s also why some NTs behave erratically – values changing depending upon their situation or location.

    Those of us who have taken the time, understand what you’re trying to say, and if you had gone just a bit deeper in your thinking, you would understand that feelings are the responses to having your values recognized and accepted (validated) or denied or unacknowledged (invalidated). Those “shallow” emotions are the key here, the actual EMOTIONS.

    You’re so close, keep digging deeper into your emotional state. I believe it is undervalued by those on the spectrum.

    That said, I share many of your values, but I also value Novelty, a value that is often disregarded by those on the spectrum. Especially those who value Routine/ritual.

    • March 28, 2019 at 10:03 pm

      The way you speak, here, is full of the condescending ableism that characterizes much of society’s regard for autistics. I understand with perfect clarity what is the standard definition for values and emotions, but thank you for the all-capital letters to really drive your point home. What I would like to know is how it feels to be so purposefully reductive, condescending, and dehumanizing to someone whose mind is completely different from yours? Tell me about that emotional experience. I’d like to do a little digging into the psychology of what it’s like to have privilege and then use it to wave away the potential for something outside of your own experience. I’d like to know what drives actions like this, to take someone else’s experiences, those things which I couldn’t possibly empathize with because I have no idea what it’s like to be in a totally different type of brain, and then to deny and refuse to acknowledge (invalidate) that experience. To speak to someone as if they’re unintelligent and uneducated, as if they are emotionally illiterate, and then to ironically state that emotional states, or the act of digging to understand them, are undervalued by someone else… how does that feel? How does it feel to patronize a human being, infantalize them, and deny their humanity?

      You are mistaken, madam, if you think that you share many of my values. That, I can assure you, is a vastly different emotional and cognitive experience.

      • March 29, 2019 at 11:10 am

        20+ years in a relationship with an ASD partner has taught me this is how to communicate with people who say something wrong on the internet. (I use caps because underlining isn’t available.)

        I find it truly interesting that my comment in the form communication my ASD partner uses to speak to me, pushes buttons of dehumanization and disrespect. Those very same buttons have been almost continuously pressed for me daily.

        You ask what would cause me to be this way, I learned it from him…I had to if my “feelings” were ever going to be received, I had to change me. That is painful, that is dehumanizing.

        Please also know that I have a sister and a nephew on the Spectrum whom I love very very much. They turn to me to assist them with dealing with the outside world and each other. So I’m not a complete jerk, I’m just struggling within the constructs of my marriage.

        You are fortunate to have found a partner who is also on the spectrum. You get daily validation. I envy you that.

      • March 29, 2019 at 3:45 pm

        I do, genuinely with no subtext, empathize with you and feel for you. I will wholly agree that an inter-neurotype relationship is difficult and can be unrewarding to both people, especially since there is no effort on the part of the scientific or academic community to catalogue and define our differences and how we can better communicate our hearts to each other. Both of us, autistics and neurotypicals, have to be willing to listen to each other and care about each other enough to give each other feedback, bounce ideas off each other, and put in real effort to understand each other in order to identify exactly how we’re different. Then, we have to find a way to word it that humanizes both neurotypes and can be understood by both and put it out into the world.

        Because most of us have no idea we’re autistic until we’re well into adulthood and have had a lifetime of things going awry before we learn, if ever, that we are wired differently and what it means. Right now, with the characterization out there that we lack empathy, that we can’t make eye contact, that we are x, y, and z, most people won’t see themselves as fitting this criteria. It’s not true. If you tell me about something that hurt you, and I offer you advice, or I tell you about a story where something similar happened to me, you would likely read that I didn’t have empathy for you because you’re wired to respond to people’s feelings. To me, if I just said, “I’m sorry, that must be so hard for you,” that would feel like I’m just being dismissive to you… that is, until I figured out that the way I responded was not how most people (NTs) wanted me to respond. Now that I know your emotional needs are different from mine, I would try harder to respond to them in your emotional language because I do care for you. If your partner isn’t willing to do that for you, then he’s in the wrong there. But, you also need to be able to see him as someone who is not “less than” or is emotionally illiterate.

        I’m sorry about how your partner speaks to you. If he’s dehumanizing to you, that’s not fair. If he doesn’t put forth an effort to adapt to your needs, that’s not fair. There are not many helpful resources out there for inter-neurotype couples. What’s out there is mostly the equivalent of hate speech and paints the other as vapid, empty, emotionless, and soulless. What makes that literature even less reliable is that most of the behaviors described therein are from people who were never diagnosed. So, those materials have nothing to offer you in the way of actually reaping any kind of rewarding and mutual relationship with your partner.

        I put my whole heart into this article and months of emotional and cognitive and physical work. If you read the other replies from people, you’ll see that it resonated as true to them. Notice all the people who aren’t sure if they’re NT or not? That’s because there was finally something out there to help them see themselves. I might not have worded it the best way, and I probably didn’t, but it should have been an indication, at least, that I have dug deep and that I have tried to help… so people like you might not be so alone in your relationships anymore.

        I agree that I’m fortunate to have another aspie partner. The things about me that I know have been annoying or “too much” or out-of-sync for most people have been his favorite things about me. I do know how disheartening it is to not have that and have been there, and how there are 50 little things that happen every day no one else would understand or see as a big deal if you described them. Or, they’d say, “All men are like that,” and dismiss your concerns. I won’t tell you that, though, and I would believe you. But, if I can help people, they’ll first have to see me as a capable ally and respect that I understand the difference between a value and an emotion (as are frequently characterized).

      • March 29, 2019 at 5:00 pm

        And therein lies the disconnect and the difficulty between neurotypicals in neurodiversives.

        You said, “To me, if I just said, ‘I’m sorry, that must be so hard for you,’ that would feel like I’m just being dismissive to you…”

        The problem with that is, it’s the best way to start the conversation before you share the story of commonality. Of course you can bypass the “I’m sorry” part, it’s really not as important as acknowledging how difficult or wonderful or whatever someone else’s experience might be before you share what part of your life experience is similar enough to show that you do in fact understand. Skipping over that tends to cause exactly what it is you were trying to avoid, sounding dismissive. Please forgive me for using the word you as I don’t mean specifically you oh, I’m using it completely colloquially.

        All that being said, I apologize to you directly for my comment causing you offense. That was never my intention, and now I sound just like the robot I married so I’m going to sign off and thank you for this article, and the discussion between us that followed.

      • March 31, 2019 at 10:37 pm

        Elizabeth, what you explained to me about the sentence I quoted was exactly what I said under the sentence. You did not need to feel that you had to devolve to the language of robots. I regret that we weren’t better able to connect.

      • April 1, 2019 at 2:10 am

        As I stated in my last comment, I was not talking about you directly. I was using the word “you” colloquially. I never meant you personally, as I see you trying very hard to connect. Hope that clears that up.

  • March 28, 2019 at 10:58 pm

    I have long thought I might be an Aspie, for any number of reasons. One of my dearest friends is an Aspie and proud of it, and when I have read bits and pieces about Asperger’s Syndrome, it seemed to fit with who I am. But when I went on line to read about the symptoms of Asperger’s almost everything fit except that I have always been able to read very easily other people’s body language and interpret very accurately their reaction to what I was doing or saying, which made me think at first that I couldn’t have Asperger’s. But lately I have started wondering if maybe Asperger’s is also a spectrum like autism, rather than a small box where you either fit inside or don’t. Unfortunately, there was no one I could ask. When I read your blog, I just kept going, yes! yes! For me, the most important thing (I deal in little things, not world shaking events) has been fairness. When somebody is unfair to me, I can get upset, but it is unfairness to others that can put me into a blinding rage. I’m 76 years old, and when I was younger, I thought that by now I’d really understand what life was all about, but I’m still learning, and it feels really good.

  • March 29, 2019 at 2:28 am

    I’m reading the new comments and see that now the tread is into accepting or refusing “labels”. Whether I use or refuse a label on my partner and myself is not the most important thing for me. The sad reality is that I acutely feel the gap (abyss?) between us because of not able to speak the same language and able to experience the same emotions and the effect of the language that each of us uses.
    It must be equally frustrating to him how I perceive his language and mode of communication. I feel helpless and trapped in my neurotypical world while he is trapped in his neurodiverse world. And I say it again, that’s what is tragic about the relationship between two differently wired human beings.
    I am questioning, why psychology and psychiatry and medicine doesn’t do something about this. Why can’t we be given a mutually understood language and tools to effectively communicate with each other without constantly running into either hurt feelings or frustrations to the point of “meltdowns”?

    • March 29, 2019 at 9:01 am

      I question why behavioral science isn’t trying, either. If we (aspies) do it differently, they put it in the terms that we can’t or don’t do it. Despite thousands upon thousands of us objecting, explaining, and even pleading, offering to participate in research and doing what we can to reach out, we are silenced and ignored.

      This applies for children, too. I have a close friend who is a speech pathologist, and she immediately recognized that my daughter is right-brain language learning. She might be considered “behind,” by neurotypical standards, but right brain language learners develop on a different type of curve and tend to start speaking in sentences between 3-4.5 years old. They also tend to be prolific writers and speakers. I am a right brain language learner, too. I was at the bottom of my class in primary school, but graduated valedictorian.

      But, children are given intensive therapies for language development, therapies we consider abusive and the UN have deemed “torture.” 40 hours a week of therapy for 2-5 year olds… Autism is a multi-trillion dollar industry. A lot of people would lose a lot of money if they listened to us and told the truth. Even IQ tests given to us are inaccurate (especially in early childhood) because they are normed against a neurotypical development curve. At 21 months, my daughter had zero words. Then, one day, she came to me and said the alphabet. Then she said it backwards. She’s 2.5 and taught herself to read already. She was considered “developmentally delayed” and believed to be intellectually disabled. Now, she can (verbally) tell the difference between a hendecagon and a dodecagon, a trapezoid or a parallelogram. Yet, had I followed the suggestions of all the medical professionals, those abusive therapies would have been given the credit for her growth.

      It will take autistic people finding a way into the mainstream and pressure from people like you to change the discussion. I have a “He’s always looking for debate” article on this page for couples, and several that aren’t framed as being about relationships, but they have very helpful information in them about how autistic adults are different, communication differences, sensory differences, meltdowns, etc.

  • March 29, 2019 at 2:58 am

    This is intriguing and bears much more thought and research. It has a lot of merit.

    One of the first things I realised after diagnosis (10 years ago at 45) was that I have to think what NTs naturally feel, but I can feel what NTs have to consciously think.

  • March 30, 2019 at 10:11 am

    I am an Aspie and it is the grand emotions that I relate to, but have never heard them described before. Your article rang so true with me and brought those grand emotions to the surface right away. It is very moving and reassuring to know that maybe the feelings and emotions, grand emotions, I experience are shared with some others, are valid and ok. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and for the article, it was spot on.

  • March 30, 2019 at 11:13 am

    Thank you.

  • March 30, 2019 at 7:55 pm

    Precisely. I’m accused of being insensitive for not naturally responding with “That must be so difficult for you,” instead of “What can we do about this?” I was sort of trained to discipline myself to do it by a now ex-GF. But I really don’t speak neurotypicese.

  • March 30, 2019 at 7:56 pm

    Precisely. I’m accused of being insensitive for not naturally responding with “That must be so difficult for you,” instead of “What can we do about this?” I was sort of trained to discipline myself to do it by a now ex-GF. But I really don’t speak neurotypicese.

    • March 31, 2019 at 3:11 am

      Same. I even made a short video about it on my YouTube page. I feel like saying, “I’m so sorry” to somebody who is telling me something sad face-to-face is so cruel and dismissive, but it makes neurotypical people feel heard and actually makes them feel visibly better, which absolutely astonishes me!!

  • March 31, 2019 at 8:09 pm

    Just gonna leave this here.

    “I’m sorry” is not required. Responses are not even required. Logic is most definitely not required (and generally not relevant).

  • April 10, 2019 at 5:20 am

    I’m autistic and relate very strongly to this. I can’t watch the news because I can’t function with that amount of injustice, the unfairness of it all. I don’t understand how others can. The only part of this that I don’t relate to, is that when I’m upset I need my emotions to be validated before the practical “here’s a solution to help” option, so that’s what I default to when another person is upset as well. Most of my autistic friends are much further down the practical help end of the scale though, so maybe I’m an odd one out with that.

    • January 30, 2020 at 6:41 pm

      Funny thing is, I’m autistic and sometimes I just need to rant. I don’t want to hear how I can’t do anything about the situation. I have a storm of emotions in me and need someplace for it to… break? (I’m not sure about this metaphor)
      And at other times it’s all buisness.
      So no, you aren’t the only one. Autism isn’t as much a spectrum but a buffet of quirks and you don’t have to pick everything.

  • April 10, 2019 at 2:09 pm

    Justice. Fairness. My name is Monica which I learned early on means mediator. I was an advocate for children with disabilities and a Court Appointed Special Advocate for abused and neglected foster children. My son is an Aspie, dyslexic, ADD, and I know my husband while never diagnosed is in the spectrum. I am bipolar and ADHD, and have many of the same sensory issues as my son and tend to be literal-minded in conversation. I get overwhelmed by too much human interaction so since retiring from teaching i spend most of my time with
    my rescue dogs and goats. I am very very good with children. I think we think alike. I am sharing this for my son to read. He always fears making social mistakes with NTs.

    • April 11, 2019 at 9:22 am

      I hope your son finds this inspirational. The world is better for having you in it, Monica.

  • April 11, 2019 at 8:38 am

    Hey, this was a really great read, thanks so much! I’m autistic too, and I am someone who has experienced the things you’re talking about very often, the way that communication breaks down and i end up being the one exiled from communities for things that are opposite to what i am saying etc. this was very validating to read and know that I am not alone in those struggles

    But more than that, I do think you are onto something when it comes to primary / secondary emotions, the way i have been describing autism is that neurotypical brains optimize for fitting in with society while neurodiverse and especially autistic brains seem to optimize more for “processes”, however that isn’t to say we aren’t also social, i am in fact hypersocial, and i have tons of empathy, but i want to channel the expression of that into solutions to problems, helping people achieve their dreams, etc rather than through sympathy or commiseration.

    Obviously I do think it is possible for some autistic people to “fit in” to society, but i don’t think it’s enough for us, like, we want to understand why people say the things they say at the times they say them, what function is the statement fulfilling, and is there a better thing to say that could achieve it even better, or is the thing being achieved even the answer to the problem, like if someone is in need of help but the neurotypical way of interacting is to just follow the “hi, how are you” script then the scripted style of interaction prevents them from communicating that need, the other person then isn’t able to help, or, maybe we know what their responses are supposed to communicate but we can tell from other indicators that they actually don’t feel that way and we wonder why they are faking it, are they actually in need of a closer connection but are trapped in formalities, once we understand a thing we can be really good at it. Like i’ve had people say to me “you always know exactly what to say to cheer me up” but i don’t have a clue it’s just that I understand the underlying emotional state and am responding to it directly instead of to the presented facade.

    So to tie that back to your essay, I would say these are compatible views because if for example Rational, Solidarity, Truth, Justice and Mercy, these things benefit most from a process oriented thinking, for example, for justice to really be just you must know the full context, to believe in mercy you must believe in people’s abilities to change, these are all things that require effort to achieve rather than simply being a passing emotion, so, they are emotions that have an important role to play in the functioning of society, where as some emotions we may even view as holding society back, making them functionally unproductive and so less valuable to us because we have so much empathy, because we care enough about people that we want foundational change for the better for them not just surface level appearance happiness.

    • April 11, 2019 at 9:09 am

      You have a beautiful mind, and you’ve given me much about which to think. I’m in the middle of a fiery piece, and this was gasoline on an already-raging inspiration pyre. Thank you. Please stay tuned… bigger ideas on the horizon.

    • January 30, 2020 at 6:47 pm

      Allistics are multiplayer mode, autists single player mode (with a penchant for strategy guides)

  • April 12, 2019 at 10:49 am

    Thank you for putting this into words. As a therapist who works with spectrum families, the biggest struggle I see is the family (neurotypical) trying desperately to understand the emotions of their neurodiverse loved ones. I can’t wait to share this with them. Thank you!

  • April 14, 2019 at 4:40 am

    This article is making me cry. I will recommend it on wrong planet. It is true, I feel for Work. My NT partner and I argue when I try to explain technical ideas. Maybe this is part of the reason why. Thanks!

  • April 16, 2019 at 1:22 pm

    First, I want to thank you for writing something so eye-opening about how you process emotions. I have a 24-year-old son with severe, non-verbal autism, and he has to have 24-hour care in an ISL due to his behavioral and safety concerns. I love him so much, but I am limited in the amount of time I am able to spend with him. I volunteer for an organization that does Autism Training for cities, first responders, businesses, churches, etc. I travel a lot to do these trainings, and I really appreciate your insight for the Social part of our presentation. Because Justin hasn’t been able to verbalize his feelings to me, I always want to hear what it may be like for him. I know he loves me, and we have a special bond. It is very hard to be separated from him due to the behavioral/safety issues. I don’t want to upset him either. I am able to meet him at his doctor’s appointments, and he comes home some on weekends – primarily supervised by his dad. He loves riding on the back of the 4-wheeler with his dad out on the farm. He just gets extremely physically angry when he has to be separated from me, so I can’t take him back to town. I can’t leave the exam room with him – I have to ask for my hug and wait there until I’m sure he is gone. I can’t just go by his house to see him because he goes to get his shoes and goes to the car immediately and puts the seatbelt on as tightly as possible and slams the door – and won’t get out. I tried to take him to my favorite little coffee shop a few weeks ago when his staff said he had a really good morning, but he immediately ran away from me. Then he ran behind the counter, scared the girl working there, drank at least 2 customers’ drinks, ran away down another hall, and I had to get a big guy there to help get him outside to the car. So, I want to do things with him, but I just physically can’t, and it makes me feel sad and defeated. I spend so much time trying to help people accept and understand those on the spectrum, and my own son is so challenging. I love him so very much – he is my heart. Reading about how you see the world really helps me. I have felt like Justin’s life has been a big ? Constantly trying to understand what he is thinking, what he is needing, what I can do to help.

  • October 20, 2019 at 3:49 pm

    This is the most important thing I have read in a very long time. Thank you for your labour and your generosity in sharing this work. My life’s project is reimagined as a result.


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