Article – Double Empathy Problem

Exploring the Double Empathy Problem

The double empathy problem is a theory proposed by Damian Milton in 2012 that suggests that communication breakdowns and misunderstandings between autistic and non-autistic people are not caused by a lack of empathy but rather by a mutual lack of understanding of each other’s perspectives.

Key Points of the Double Empathy Problem:

  • Both autistic and non-autistic people can struggle to understand and empathise with each other. This is because they have different ways of communicating, processing information, and expressing emotions.

  • The problem is not a one-way street. It is not simply the case that autistic people lack empathy, or that non-autistic people are not understanding. Both groups can contribute to misunderstandings and hold responsibility to resolve conflict.

  • The problem is exacerbated by the fact that neurotypical culture is often seen as the norm, and autistic ways of being are seen as deviations from this norm. This can lead to autistic people being labelled as “inflexible’, ‘uncooperative” or “too direct” when they are simply trying to communicate in a way that is natural to them.

Implications of the Double Empathy Problem:

  • It suggests that to ensure an inclusive, creative, and diverse society – we need to be flexible with our communication styles and accepting that others may have a different way.  

  • It suggests that we need to challenge the idea that neurotypical culture is the only valid way to be.

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