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Double empathy, explained

๐ŸŒˆ Abstract

The article discusses the "double empathy problem" theory, which suggests that communication breakdowns between autistic and non-autistic people are a two-way issue caused by difficulties in understanding on both sides, rather than just social shortcomings of autistic individuals.

๐Ÿ™‹ Q&A

[01] What is the double empathy problem?

  • The double empathy problem theory posits that a mismatch between autistic and non-autistic people can lead to faulty communication, as the problem is mutual - autistic people have trouble understanding non-autistic people, and vice versa.
  • For example, difficulty in reading the other person's facial expressions may stunt conversations between autistic and non-autistic people.

[02] What is the origin of the double empathy problem theory?

  • The idea that social issues in autism are a two-way street is decades old, with autistic activists arguing since the 1990s that autistic modes of communication conflict with neurotypical ones.
  • The term "double empathy problem" was coined by autistic researcher Damian Milton in a 2012 paper, as a way to reframe the notion of impaired theory of mind in autism to include potential misunderstanding by non-autistic people.

[03] What evidence supports the double empathy problem theory?

  • Studies show that non-autistic people have trouble accurately interpreting autistic people's facial expressions and mental states, and may make negative first impressions of autistic individuals.
  • Autistic people's social and communication issues are not evident when they interact with other autistic people, suggesting the problem lies in the mismatch between autistic and non-autistic communication styles.

[04] How does the double empathy problem theory challenge current thinking about autism?

  • The theory stands at odds with the idea that autistic people's social difficulties are inherent, as it highlights the importance of examining both sides of social interactions.
  • It suggests that the focus should be on the strengths and unique communication styles of autistic individuals, rather than solely on their deficits.

[05] What are the implications of the double empathy problem theory?

  • It may help explain why some autism assessments and treatments fall short, as they focus solely on changing the autistic person's behavior rather than facilitating their unique communication styles.
  • The theory underscores the importance of training programs that help non-autistic people interact appropriately with autistic individuals.
  • It also suggests that the routine misperception of autistic people may contribute to their mental health issues, such as loneliness and feelings of isolation.
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