Some Thoughts on Emotional Communication in Asperger’s Syndrome

There is a common misconception that individuals with Asperger’s syndrome (AS) are incapable of showing or feeling emotion. A.J. Mahari, an author and woman with AS, elaborates on this misconception by explaining that the problem is not feeling emotion, but expressing it. She writes, “it is not natural for us to communicate and to express our emotions in a social/relational context.”  So while a typically developed person may not get the sense that people with AS are feeling emotion, the reality is that they are. Many people with AS simply have difficulty expressing these emotions in the same way neurotypicals do. It’s almost like trying to understand someone that is speaking a different language than you.

People with AS also understand emotions differently. While a typical person can quickly perceive sadness, anger, and happiness, some with AS find these emotions more difficult to comprehend. The identification of emotions may take longer, making communication more difficult. But in no way does this difference exclude them from feeling emotion.

For those with AS, the need to bridge this communication gap is of great importance. Social skills can be taught, and one individual with AS suggests using movies as a resource for learning to read emotions. This seems like a great idea, because emotional situations are so exaggerated by actors in Hollywood. Observing how characters respond to each other’s expressions of emotions may be helpful for learning this aspect of human interaction. Liane Holliday-Willey wrote an autobiography titled Pretending to Be Normal, explaining how she mimics the expressions of others in order to fit in, even though she does not understand feelings the same way. But on second thought, it’s actually pretty typical for anyone to sometimes just do what you think you are supposed to do in a social situation, even if it doesn’t always make sense.

One blogger with AS describes the failure to communicate as a reciprocal process. Explaining that just as those with AS don’t understand the expression of emotion by neurotypicals, neurotypicals do not understand the expression of emotion of those with AS. These varying perspectives are important because they remind us that everyone is different, and that pretty much everyone is just trying to do their best to form relationships and understand the world more completely. I think the best thing we can remember when communicating with anyone, especially those with AS, is to be patient, because as long as there is a desire to understand one another, there is a way to do so.

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