Asperger’s and Emotions

Asperger’s and Emotions

Listed in the criteria for Asperger’s in the DSM-IV is “lack of social or emotional reciprocity”.  Although I usually see it written as lack of empathy.  This criterion was the one that I struggled with the most in regards to my son.  I just didn’t see it.  If anything I have seen an oversensitivity to emotions of others.

What I have observed in my son is that he gets upset when others are upset.  If he has ever found me crying he always sits next to me and rubs my back.  Nevermind that half the time I was crying because he just had a meltdown that I couldn’t deal with.  The times that it was related to a meltdown he would always apologize and ask for a hug.  He has always been a very sweet child.

Death is something that has always upset him quite profoundly.  He was probably 9 and I took him with me to Good Friday service at our church.  He had wanted to go because he had heard they turn the lights off for this service.  He had been in christian school since kindergarten so he was quite familiar with the bible story.  At the end is when they turn off the lights and discuss Jesus’s death.  He started to melt.  At first I thought it was from the lights being off since he has sensory issues.  But instead he started to sob that Jesus died.  I was so surprised that it would upset him so profoundly since he clearly knew how it would end.

So when people started to talk about how he may have Asperger’s I kept getting hung up when they would say how people with Asperger’s lack empathy.  I just didn’t see it.  I do understand (well maybe that word isn’t the exact right word) that they lack theory of mind.  I have to explain to him how it could effect negatively when he does certain things.  He doesn’t always understand how he is perceived.  When he used to (please God keep it used to) have major meltdowns in class he would say he couldn’t leave before the meltdown because he didn’t want to draw attention to himself.  We had to keep explaining the meltdowns were drawing WAY more attention then walking out when he started to feel upset.

I found a couple of articles about the concept of empathy with Asperger’s and thought I would share

What I have noticed he struggles with is understanding the non-verbal communications related to emotion.  We had reviewed the facial expressions in emotions and he was supposed to identify his feelings every day for a while to help get the hang of it.  I found this nifty magnet in Vegas.

The little guy on the magnet rarely moved from bored.  He uses “bored” to describe a lot of emotions I have noticed.  In particular he says he is bored when he is struggling with school.  Maybe he has other kids use this word.  The describing of emotions is something I think we need to work on.  Thanks to I now know the word for not being able to put emotions into words is Alexithymia.  Here is a link about this

From the interactions with my son I think that does more accurately describe what he is experiencing.  He knows what facial expressions mean.  He may not always catch on to subtle clues but overall he notices when I am angry or sad.  He may not always smile when he is happy but he does know how to give me sad eyes when he wants something.  However he does struggle to put his feelings in to words.  Whether or not he truly knows what his feelings are is so difficult for me to know.

I think he knows angry or sad but does he know the difference between frustration and angry?  I don’t think he did a few years ago but I think he is learning it.  I think (and just my thoughts) that is why a few years ago when he wasn’t able to do something on a video game he would immediately melt and become very upset.  I think the distinction between the two is difficult for NTs as well but it is an important distinction.  As I have tried to explain to him frustration is an okay thing and just means he has to work harder to get through what he is trying to do.  He seems to be getting better at working through whatever is bothering him when he starts to feel frustrated even if he still doesn’t use the words “I am frustrated”

I have also told him that anger is okay too but it is not okay to smash things.  I think he has previously gotten upset with himself when he has felt these emotions and then just frustrates him or angers him more.  It has really been a process to teach him emotions are an okay thing.

I would really love to hear from someone on Aspergers about how they feel these emotions.


  1. Glad I could help! 🙂 Granted I did not have the benefit of an early diagnosis, so much of my younger life as something of a wild and crazy ride of “oh, wow, so that’s what such-and-such emotion is!” And yes, for many years, I could only think of emotions in broad, unnuanced categories. As a young kid, I knew the words for emotions and could vaguely associate them to certain emotional displays in others. But articulating my own inner emotional state? No. I do recall occasions when I was asked directly how I was feeling, and my response was cognitive confusion, often followed with a reflexive attempt to deflect the question with “I’m OK” or “Nothing’s wrong” or I would describe my *physical* rather than emotional state. As a teen, I began reading a lot of fiction, prompted by my English teachers who recognized I was academically bored and intellectually underchallenged. This made me think more about emotions, and I got to do so on my own terms. I began to recognize that there was some sort of disconnect in my cognition in terms of my emotions, that other people seemed far more aware and articulate about their emotional lives than me, and that I needed to make a conscious effort to understand my own emotions. But it’d be many more years before I knew this “disconnect” had a name!

    I’ll be writing more abut my experiences with alexithymia down the line. I’ll let you know when I get it up on my blog. 🙂

  2. AspieEmpath says:

    I’ve found Karla Mclaren’s site informative and helpful to me personally when trying to understand my emotions better.

    I would certainly agree with the article, that aspies can be extremely sensitive to other people’s emotions, to the point that it’s overwhelming at times. It’s knowing how to respond that’s SO difficult….especially.when a response is expected. As an adult, I can handle emotions somewhat better but I still think that we FEEL things stronger somehow. What others might be able to brush off (an insult or negative comment) often feels like a devastatingly person attack. I would have thought it was just me, but a man I know who has aspergers describes it very much the same.

    The information about alexithymia is fascinating to me. Likely this would have described me when I was very young but not today. I am a 54 yr. old woman by the way. Alexithymia sure sounds like the man I know with aspergers though! We were discussing the fact (after a misunderstanding) that he simply does not ever (as in simply cannot) put his feelings into words just a few months ago.

    • Thank you for stopping by & reading/commenting on both posts. I will definitely check out Karla Mclaren’s site. Thank you for sharing your story and your friend’s story related to alexithymia. I know that every autistic is different (just like every person) but it is still good to learn about what has been possible for other people. I think my son also feels things stronger than others and immediately knows when I am stressed or upset. So I am always trying to be happy or just calm around him. Thanks again for stopping by and I hope to see you here again.

  3. Hi
    I guess I’m the first to reply!! I have Asperger’s Disorder and my kids have Autism. Emotions are a hard thing for us to deal with. As a mom you want to do the best for your kids and hurt when they do I know and get that. That’s why you keep telling him it ok and trying to teach him but your words can only comfort for a short time. Then he’ll be continuing his frustration and when he’s older he may think you don’t understand what he goes through because you don’t feel it and that might start fights or make him angrier because saying it’s ok doesn’t calm the overwhelming emotions we go through. I am 32 and STILL have emotional breakdowns over playing video games. It may seem weird but you don’t outgrow your problems when you age into adulthood being on the spectrum. The brain matures so some things get better but your emotion and other problems will always be with you. Being on a spectrum you are on a roller coaster of emotion. Some you can’t control and the OCD co-morbid inside makes us relive it right away and later times. I tell my youngest less severe when he cries from playing his video game that I know how he feels. It’s not your fault you’re an NT but the overwhelming emotions that can be unbearable, you don’t fully get. You just know the text of it all. Being overhemed, your heart races, you can’t cope so you throw things and tantrum. It’s really hard to control!!! So you know, the tantrums are a part of communication too your child is trying to do. Communication problems are big problem on the spectrum. Me and my husband have that because of me. 😦 So hope I helped. The emotional roller coaster you have being on the spectrum is hard on Autistics and anyone in the Spectrum!! Some commit suicide due to depression. Some are Diagnosed with Bipolar like my sister. If emotions are severe enough, disorders get put on the side. Extreme emotions are hard to take and when upset with someone, my heart is racing and chest is hurting like I’m having a panic attack. I also am finally understanding to be able to explain emotions. It’s hard and most of the time I still can’t explain stuff. Some things just can’t be taught. Some overwhelming emotions will ALWAYS be there!! And being able to explain things, something’s we will never be able to do. It’s hard and I just don’t get things no matter how hard my husband drills me. As a mother you can only try but it will be up to him to find a way to cope with his emotions if you can’t help him and your stradgeties aren’t working. It’s harder as an adult believe me. Anxiety is worse because you understand the world and no longer ignorant to it. Ignorance can be bliss. You’re overwhelming emotions are always ready to explode and you can take things wrong or ready to be defensive and then here comes the emotions!!!! We are all trying to fight the food fight on this called Autism/Aspergers and all you can do is try!! Good luck!! 🙂


  1. […] have almost too much empathy.  That could be a whole post on its own, oh wait it has been a few- here and here.  If you would like to read about how the lack of empathy on the DSM is a bunch of BS […]

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