Empathy and Autism

Can empathy and autism co-exist within a child? Amy Felix's recounting of the empathy her daughter showed to a sibling shows that they can. And they do.Parents are often told that empathy and autism don’t go together. Guest blogger, Amy Felix, is here with quite a different story, one that’s sure to warm your heart and give you hope.

The dog ate one of my six-year-old’s, favorite stuffed animals. Not just any stuffed animal, but one that can’t be replaced; one she handmade herself. A little, red and purple puppy that had been so well-loved it was barely recognizable. She rarely went anywhere without it so, of course, the dog ate it.

There were a lot of tears.

When the sobbing started, I instantly transformed into two mothers: A typical mother, who wanted to make her second born feel better…and an atypical mother who cringed and braced for impact as her first born who lives with autism emerged from her room to react.

Emotional outbursts from her siblings tend to set my oldest off on one of two paths: anxiety or indifference. Autism can make it hard for her to understand why others may be upset, which either intensifies her anxiety or causes her to walk away, seemingly having no emotional reaction at all to someone else’s feelings. When she goes down the more common path of anxiety, it combines with her inability to tolerate sudden, loud noises and easily pushes her to her breaking point. The mix of both kids’ emotions usually causes a ripple effect. Soon, the whole family is on edge. I suddenly find myself overwhelmed and scrambling to find many solutions for what started out as only one problem. It’s in these stressful moments when I hear the whispers in the back of my mind; the temptation to buy into a common myth about individuals with autism…a myth about my child:

She isn’t capable of empathy.

Here’s where God stopped me in my tracks, before my mind could fully toy with the idea of believing the lie. This time, my daughter’s response to her sister’s sadness wasn’t one of anxiety or indifference…

She sat down next to her sister. She asked her why she was upset. She paused for a moment and, as she was considering her own reaction, I was already in a state of awe. Then, she did it! She stepped into her sister’s pain and out of her mouth came words that brought me to tears, “I could make you a new puppy with the sewing kit in my room to make you feel better.”

Not only can autism and empathy co-exist, my child feels empathy.

She displays it. And, through the gift that is being a part of a special needs family, we never take it for granted. Which is why my second born’s response to her big sister’s offer was so perfectly precious: “Yes, I would love that so much! That’s one of the nicest things you’ve ever done for me!”

Everything within me wishes that I could lift the fog of myths and labels surrounding autism, revealing the endless gifts and possibilities of those who, although different, are definitely not less. I may not be able to change the whole world in this way, but I can start with simply changing myself. I can break free of any doubt in the back of my mind that empathy and autism are incompatible. I can also stand in the truth that, through hard work and God’s grace,

there’s nothing my child can’t do.

My name is Amy Felix. I’ve been married for 10 years to a guy who’s totally out of my league. I’m a homeschooling mom to 4 kids, ranging in age from 9 to 2 years. That’s really enough work on it’s own but, because I love it, I’m a photographer as well. And, in my spare time, I write. My faith is the driving force behind my special needs blog: Appointed To Hope. I’m a firm believer in being real, transparent, and using the gifts of this journey as a way to relate to others in their joy as well as their sorrow. To read more about my adventures in special needs parenting, visit my website at www.appointedtohope.com.

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  1. March 2, 2018    

    There are so many things that are labelled as things people with autism can’t do. My son also often proves these wrong. What a lovely post and a lovely way your daughter showed empathy!

  2. March 3, 2018    

    Wonderful and well written.

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Meet Jolene

Jolene Philo is a published author, speaker, wife, and mother of a son with special needs.



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