Empathy.

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Well done Sing Now Choir, for One Sound ‘America,’ ’18.

Well done for every-single sound, step, smile: I noticed it all as I watched from the back.

Well done to the noble front-rows, the free-styling naturals and the loud, lion-hearted leaders of our proud pride.

We need you.

We need the poise of the sixth-row-singers that you can’tsee, but you can’t be without. We can’t be without the belting-gifted, and we are-notright without those that get-it-wrong, and carry-on. We need the passion of the ‘pros’ and the passion of the people singing for pure-mental-therapy.

Well done everyone.

Well done to those that don’t mind heights; those that are fighting their own bodies to be able to perform with us; those that feel guilt for suspending-responsibility for one-night-only, to sing their hearts out. Well done to the shy and the bravely-anxious; well done to the pockets-of-people that build their own support-systems to enable everyone to be included. Well done if you don’t give-up and well done if you praise yourself, even if you weren’t perfect. Well done if you’re in the limelight and well done if you’re not.

Well done if you did it your way.

That is inspiring.

If you mimed because of the lump-in-your-throat, or if you committed to a wrong-note and owned-it, I saw it all, well done, it moved me to the core.

I joined Sing Now Choir when it was born, over three years ago now, when there were ten of us, and we decided to be a family.

Now look at us.

Well done us for accepting everyone into our ‘choir family’ because ‘singing is foreveryone.’ Together we are young and old, quiet and loud, sick and well, confident and shy, strong and vulnerable, happy and sad. Together we have everything covered: we can sing anything and we welcome everyone.

And we started as a small, orange idea in the ‘mastermind’ of Jack.

***

As I watch the choir, I ‘stand in the shoes’ of every singer I can see, and I imagine the journey they have taken to get to that stage. Everyone has a ‘Sing Now Journey’: a different reason for turning-up every week. Some of it is to do with singing, lots of it is much, much more than that.

I watch my best friend, Lesley, with all my might, wishing that her husband and her mum and dad were seeing what I am seeing.

***

Some months ago, someone told me that “autistic people lack empathy.”

Autistic people lack empathy…. autistic people lack empathy…

I’ve spend a lot of time worrying about this, wondering what empathy is, and if I have it.

***

I went to see Broadway star Natalie Weiss at the Leicester Square Theatre in London with my friends this month. She is a phenomenal singer. She shared with us some of the troll-comments on her YouTube videos and the nasty-last-one said “this girl couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag.” In response, and before my eyes, Natalie Weiss got into a human-sized brown-paper-bag and began to sing one of my favourite songs: With You, from Ghost.

This song means the world and more to me.

You have to be special to sing this song to a girl that really has lost her love.

It took Natalie Weiss two words to make tears roll down my face… and she was standing in a paper bag. Phenomenal. She made me cry for every bereaved person in the world as I sat in that theatre chair, and watched her pull the paper-bag down a little, so you could see her face.

It felt like she was singing the song inside me.

It was delicate, stripped, real, moving: the sympathetic pianist just tickled the keys and I had so many feelings. I have no idea what the feelings were… (Grief? Peace?) …but I think one of them was sheer empathy.

***

My worst feeling is someone else’s disappointment; I find it unbearable.

Disappointment is loss. I never want anyone to feel loss on any scale.

I want to ‘get behind’ people and ‘give them a hand’ with whatever they want to do. It’s like being a cheerleader, launching people into the air to do something impressive, and catching them on their way back down. Jack says I always support the ‘under-dog’, and it’s true. It is amazing, too, the things you can do, if you don’t mind who takes the credit.

If someone is feeling ill, I want to feel ill for them. I rescue ants, daddy-long-legs, spiders and woodlice. When I see a dead hedgehog on the road, I feel heartbroken for its family: I put myself ‘in the shoes’ of families on The News and I feel their pain. I cry behind cushions when Dan and I watch Blue Planet. I find that documentaries, about other people’s grief, make me nauseously-compassionate. My body tingled-with-helplessness when my mum and I went to the vets last week, and she managed to say “…my cat Merlin has died, we think he has been run-over…” When Lesley confides her sadness in me, I feel it for her, and am compelled to fix it no matter what, and yes, the ‘sob-stories’ on the X-Factor do make my tummy flip.

I think this is empathy.

I don’t really know what empathy is, because you can’t see it. I think it means that you ‘tune-in’ to a person’s feelings and share them: a bit like singing in harmony with them.

I think it might be all the flickery-details I notice on a face, that tell me if that person is ‘alright today,’ even if they are pretending. It might be the energy that moves in-between me and a person when they talk about something important to them. It might be the pang I feel inside me when someone’s voice cracks. It might be the way I can ‘read-their-minds’ even when we don’t talk, because I find clues in the way they stand, sit, sound, interact.

It might be why I find it hard to ask for help.

I must have empathy.

I can relate to every child in my classes: their pride when they understand things; their frustration when they don’t; their misery when they break-up with their friends; their joy when they are praised; their despair when they fall-over; their delight when they help another child; their uneasiness when there are difficulties at home; their challenging-behaviour when they are anxious.

When I was a child, I cried when my dad got a new car, because I didn’t want the old car to feel rejected.

Autistic people do have empathy: extra-detailed, bucket-loads of it. The problem is not knowing what to do about all the empathy we feel. It can be overwhelming, having so many other people’s feelings feeling-around in your head, and if you are a bit expressionless, with poor eye-contact and social-anxiety, it is not always easy to express it.

I am very connected. I constantly absorb the feelings of other human beings. I see what people need and feel, and I fix things for them.

I do have empathy, and so do other autistic people.

(I am not a psychopath.)

5 thoughts on “Empathy.

  1. I totally agree with u Claire my Tyler definitely has empathy , a little too much sometimes bless him x it annoys me when peeps say autisx peeps don’t have empathy xxx

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  2. This is very interesting to read, I love how fluently you express yourself. People make so many assumptions about autism, it’s refreshing to hear a different perspective. I have a child in my class with ASC that is hyper aware of everyone’s emotions and really struggles if there are crossed words between his peers. This helps me to understand him a little more. Thank you x

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  3. I feel so privileged to have met you Claire, and privileged to get to know more about you through these blogs. You are an inspiration.

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  4. Of course you have empathy. Your empathy shines from your writing. It shines from your eyes when you are talking to someone. It shines from,your body language all the time. You are a beautiful person inside and out, and you couldn’t be who and what you are without being empathetic.Love you lots. xx

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  5. Another lovely insightful piece of writing again Claire. You are so good at expressing yourself in writing, who cares if you can’t always do it vocally or in face to face situations?
    It strikes me, as you indeed alluded to, that maybe you have too much empathy. Putting yourself in other people’s shoes all of the time is, I imagine, mentally exhausting. As a healthcare professional, I find myself being very empathetic towards my patients, but sometimes I find that I have to let some things go, as you can’t win every battle for everyone. Incidentally, you’d be staggered at the amount of so called “caring “ professionals who I’ve worked with who completely lack any degree of empathy, and they aren’t autistic!
    I’m so glad that you were able to be at One Sound, and were there to help those of us who had various struggles, be they physical or mental. You were a rock for us, and I think if you take a look at how you coped with the whole great big noisy affair that it was, you were a rock for yourself too. Well done to you, another battle won! 😀😍

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