Dreaming of Empathy

Once, when rushing out of the elevators from a publishing job, I ran so fast and in the wrong direction that I crashed into a granite wall. So I know what it is like to literally hit a wall. I sort of backed up, dazed, confused. Now I’m feeling some of that again but it’s a different wall, with my child on the autism spectrum. (see below)


Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Chris Moore based on the novel by Philip K Dick.

A few years ago we had a conversation about the ship Titanic. At the time, my son was not concerned about the passengers but he had a lot of empathy for the dishes. The however many tons of china that shattered. Although he has made progress in other areas, there is such a lack of empathy in him it makes you take a step back to catch your breath. I’m trying to work on it but unlike decoding figurative language with him, I don’t see how I can instill feelings in him.  This is not to say he has no feelings but if he does they are mute. Then there is his fixation with himself. It’s normal for children to be focused on themselves and their needs but when they have no empathy for others or desire to make a connection, and when all of their emotions revolve around getting their narrow interest met, it is like dealing with a sociopath. He does experience empathy for animals. Friends told me I should find this comforting, but it’s not that much of a consolation because animals are uncomplicated and undemanding. The fact he relates to them doesn’t make me feel that he is more likely to eventually relate to people. It’s also difficult to know how much this is caused by his condition or the fact he is an 11-year old boy. …or if it’s also some sort of genetic predisposition (in his personality) to being inward looking, stoic. When I was growing up I had a father who didn’t show me love. I was supposed to assume/presume that “deep down” he loved me, “but just didn’t know how to express it.” I feel like I am being told by people not to “give up” and not to resign myself to having a child who is a robot. And he is young, a moving target, but there is so little empathy from him for anyone, Dad, brother, sister, friends/supposed friends?, classmates. Maybe he felt something for me because he asked what he should buy me for Mother’s Day, a comment that really shocked me after all of the time he has spent completely indifferent to us, wanting only to be in his world, alone. There is a troubling parallel between the androids in Philip K Dick’s  book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep/Blade Runner, and my son. In that book, the humans think they have all the real humanity/human-ness. The androids feel maybe as human like. They are different because they have artificial memories. Maybe their feelings are artificial. But look at people, regular neuronormals: Many have emotional reactions beyond what is necessary or reasonable. So maybe I am wrong to feel like he is an android, but I’m more used to emotional dysregulation in terms of other things like depression than from a lack of emotion or empathy. He noticed me typing  the word autism  and said, Mom do I have autism? and I finally said, well just a very mild case of it, mild. But then he said nothing more. He was not interested in knowing exactly what it was or anything about it. It’s difficult when you want to have a real conversation with your son and all you can get out of him is a nonsensical response, not because he can’t respond, exactly, but he won’t, he doesn’t want to feel anything, he isn’t able to identify any of his feelings, it is mental effort for him to respond, react, interact.


About kinneret

Hello, and welcome. I'm writing this blog under an alias. Why an alias? I started to write what may be described as an "American Gothic" novel (sort of Henry James/ Franz Kafka with violence) with some autobiographical details. ..when I started this blog I just decided to use the alias. This blog is about art and art history, but my interests also include literature, film analysis, psychology, forensic psychology, faerie tale analysis, cognitive therapy, cognitive linguistics, classical theater, World War II, and Russian and British history. My favorite writers include Kafka, the Brontes, and Philip K Dick. Thank you for reading this blog and I will happily reply to any comments.
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2 Responses to Dreaming of Empathy

  1. marblenecltr says:

    Happy to see your blog, but sorry about the troubles mentioned. For what it is worth, the problem is growing tremendously fast. Of course, indifference to the difficulties of others is common to young boys, and I am sure you know that. However, our environment, physical and cultural, plays a great part in the problem. Just an example, the medium of television that you have so wisely removed from your family’s life still affects others in attitudes and behaviours from the medium itself and the content it presents. Add to that what we breathe, eat, and drink and what we receive in vaccines. It is the last factor that is the greatest cause of autism, but the strong possibility of cures provides hope. In the mean time, I am sure you have many followers greatly empathic regarding your problems,and I am one of them. You are in our minds and hearts, the best wishes to you and your family.
    A side comment about expression of paternal expressions of affection: they were almost non-existent a few years ago. Parents, especially hard working fathers, assumed that children knew that the father loved the child because of the great toil required to feed, clothe, and educate the offspring.
    Another side comment concerning criticism of others who may not talk so good as me self, you know what I meen? When one receives an excellent education in any subject, great effort is usually required for success, and the student is driven by a belief in the importance of what is being taught. Others who are not so learned are thus looked down upon, even as they fix your automobile, plumbing, wiring …

    • kinneret says:

      Yes, I agree that in generations past it was a different age and men were trained for the military and “manly” and now they are more “feminized” (by some views, but from others, more receptive to children). Children themselves in the past were to be seen and not heard (which was my case) whereas now they are catered to. All that said, my father was very cold. This is dealt with in my novel. This coldness sometimes took the form of sadistic humor, occasionally in vituperative attacks, or generally by completely ignoring and avoiding me. This is beyond the normal. (Since my mother also worked, the economic burden also did not solely fall on him.) …I’m not sure what you are referring to regarding criticism of those who speak well. I don’t expect my son to speak well, I just want him to interact with me. When I know he has a very high score on vocabulary on standardized tests, for example, if I ask him a serious question, I want him to not just reply with a nonsensical non sequitur like “potato.”

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