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26 People With Autism Who Are Clearly 'Incapable of Empathy'

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The myth that people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) don’t have empathy is an incorrect and harmful one, and it stems from misinformation. While people with autism may find it difficult at times to interpret others’ feelings based on social cues, that doesn’t mean they’re incapable of being empathetic. And while people with autism may also express their feelings in unconventional ways, that doesn’t mean they don’t have them.

We asked our readers with autism, or those who have loved ones with ASD, to share their favorite photos of some beautifully empathetic moments.

Here are 26 pictures of people with autism (who supposedly are “incapable of empathy”), doing just the opposite of that:

1. “This is my 5-year-old son with autism with his arm around his little sister to comfort her and help her feel safe. We were at a parade, and the loud drums scared her.” — Lauren Casper


2. “This is my son with his kitten. Having a pet has enabled him to show his ability to care about and empathize with another living being in a way he currently cannot show towards other humans except in extremely rare instances.” — Elizabeth Campbell


3. “To give his little sister ‘kisses,’ he just touches his head to hers. If he ever accidentally bumps our little girl or hurts her and she cries, he cries because he feels so bad. If I’m ever upset, he always comes to me to sit with me.” — Mindy Bock


4. “My 11-year-old has autism. From the moment my fourth child was born, the two had an instant bond. She loves him so much. He is now 2 and also has autism. They just get each other.” — Vanessa Robbins


5. “My oldest son has autism. He was not an instant fan of his baby brother when he arrived, but now they are thick as thieves. The little guy likes to sit inside boxes and totes, especially when he is tired or sick. This picture shows my oldest climbing in with him one day and asking, ‘Are you OK?’ His brother gave him a huge smile back, hugs were exchanged, and they played a while longer.” — Valerie Werner


6. “We adopted an older cat last year, and my 5-year-old daughter with autism loved her instantly. When talking about where she came from, my daughter said, ‘I will take good care of her. I will make her happy. I love her so much.’” — Heather Hall


7. “Here’s my daughter ‘lacking empathy’ as she helps her little brother learn to play a new app on the iPad. She kept encouraging him, saying, ‘You just have to keep trying, Monkey. You will learn how if you don’t give up!’” — Wendy Eanes Steadham


8. “In this one, my 4-year-old autism spectrum disorder daughter came, played with and cheered up her little sister, who clearly has her own issues.” — Kendra Hopkins


9. “[My son] was 5 when we fostered a litter of kittens and their surrogate mother. He loved those kittens so much, if they cried he would want to know what was wrong with them.” — Ruth Peterson


10. “My 3-year-old son has autism and has so much empathy! He is very affectionate to everyone, especially his new baby sister. Anytime she fusses or cries he runs over to comfort her.” — Kel Billings


11. “This was me during my freshman year. The reason I look so sad there is because this was the day my cat (the one in my arms) was diagnosed with feline leukemia virus (FeLV). I wept for hours and hours because I knew this poor kitty (who had acted as my service animal without even being asked to) had just been given a death sentence. This picture truly shows how even with autism, I’m able to experience a full range of emotions — I just experience it differently than neurotypical people do. Maybe I can’t read between the lines while communicating with others, but that does not at all inhibit me from caring about others and sharing feelings and desiring to help others.” — Emma Wozny


12. “When he thinks someone isn’t feeling well he will love on them until he nearly smothers them. I took this picture when both he and his puppy were not feeling great. Puppy had some shots and my son had a tummy flu. He still wanted to love on his puppy… I know what people see when they see my son, but I also know what they do not see, what cannot be shown through a single simple picture.” — Holly Hartranft


13. “Here’s my daughter, with autism, 7, snuggling Mommy during my last hospitalization. Out of all four of our children, she is actually the most empathetic and sensitive of them all. She hates to see others in pain and will cry immediately if she thinks she has done anything to hurt your feelings. Autism does not equal no empathy.” — Kate Sytsma


14. “My 5-year-old twins who are both on the spectrum show empathy every day, especially to each other. When one was afraid to slide the other said, ‘Let’s go together, I’ll protect you.’ When one was very sick the other made her cards and read to her. When one had to go to the doctor without her, the other asked to make her sister ‘boo boo cookies.’ They hug and snuggle all the time. And the time they found an abandoned baby squirrel in their play house they begged me to save ‘Dave,’ so I found someone who would help him, and we gathered him up on warm towels in a box they made up for him and off we went to save Dave… If they don’t know and show empathy, then I don’t know who does.” — Erin Tusar


15. “My son has nothing but love in him, especially for his brother. He gets upset when someone is sad or crying and wants to comfort them. Don’t tell me that autistic kids are not empathetic or affectionate. Maybe they are just picky about who they want to share themselves with.” — Karyn Hebbaz


16. “My son, who’s almost 5 and is diagnosed with autism, loves his little sister no matter how much she drives him crazy. I’m so glad I caught this moment — when her hat fell off, he put it back on for her.” — Kristy Nickerson


17. “This is my 4-year-old ASD son giving his 8-month-old sister a kiss, completely unprompted. He brings her toys, shares his favorite comforter with her, picks up things she has dropped and copies things that she does and noises she makes. She adores him and the feeling is 100 percent mutual.” — Anna Rona



18. “My son feels empathy often for people, animals and movie/book characters. He’s my biggest comfort. In this photo he’s bringing his sister a dandelion because she was too tired to keep playing and needed a rest.” — Allison Urbanczyk


19. “This is my 25-year-old son with autism with his great grandmother last year. She passed away this April after battling Alzheimer’s. He was her baby, the light of her life, and the only one she seemed to remember towards the end. He would always sit close with her and love on her like this. I will treasure these memories forever.” — Kelly Renee Smith


20. “My sister passed away in June. I have days where I struggle. My sweet boy made me a ‘book of positive for grieving days’ which I stapled together and carry in my pocket. He will also stop whatever he is doing and cuddle with me if he sees that I’m having a hard day. He’s been one of the most empathetic people through this process.” — Dawn Human Nicholas


21. “This was the first time our son really acknowledged his new sister. She had only been home for a short time and he walked up and gently laid his hand on her. It was so sweet and tender. He doesn’t always know how to express himself but he does love and care deeply. He has shown us that over and over again.” — Christa Brower


22. “My 2-and-a-half-year-old wanted to make cupcakes for his sister because she was sad that morning and he missed her while she was at school.” — Lexie Nooyen


23. “Here’s my beautiful 5-year-old nonverbal autistic son giving his dad a kiss. A bond and a love that only actions can express.” — The Funny Side of Chaos Facebook page


24. “Here are my twins, both ASD, holding hands supporting each other.” — Miriam Gwynne


25. “This is my son showing his love to his dad.” — Sonya Green


26. “Our son is not only empathetic, he is overly empathetic. If someone else gets hurt and cries, it’s almost as if he feels it and he cries real tears too. We can no longer watch live TV because if there is a commercial in which someone gets upset or sad it upsets him greatly and can cause him to meltdown…. When he reaches in to hug a sibling when they are hurt he still uses his body and head rather than his arms, but they know it’s his way of hugging.” — From the Bowels of Motherhood Facebook page


*Answers have been edited and shortened. 

Originally published: December 15, 2015
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