When the Twin Towers fell on September 11th, most Americans were overcome with strong emotions.
Anger, sadness and fear could be clearly seen on the faces of those at the scene and those later interviewed.
Autistic Americans felt these emotions as well. They just showed and experienced them in different ways.
Most autistic people, would beg to differ.
Empathy and emotions are usually measured by what can be seen. Tears, shouting, blushing and trembling are things that can be seen and even measured or predicted.
Autistic people do feel emotions and experience empathy. The problem is that for all of the research that has been done, few researchers have bothered to question them directly.
A tragedy, such as the one that took place on September 11th, would require a great deal of emotional processing by a person with autism.
An autistic person, when hearing the news, might not say anything. They might walk away to a quiet room so that they can make sense of the situation and give their emotions a chance to register.
They may not react when anyone is present, but wake up crying hysterically in the middle of the night. They might clean their house from top to bottom in an attempt to calm themselves and bring order into their lives after such an unexpected shock.
Autistic people with tell you that it’s not a lack of emotions or empathy they experience, but an abundance of both. If their reactions mirrored the intensity of their emotions, they would either be institutionalized or jailed.
To live in our society means keeping intense emotions under control.
Autistic emotional processing is like a person moving into a new home. Large boxes (emotions) are stacked inside the house first, rather that opened immediately to put each item away.
Eventually, the emotions are put in their place and an autistic person feels the same thing anyone else would feel.
It is easy to jump to the wrong conclusion when a person doesn't react the way society deems as "normal", but they might just be processing their emotions differently.
September 11th affected everyone. Autistic Americans, like all Americans, cry red, white and blue. They might just be holding their tears inside, as they offer a weary fireman a drink of water.