Axia ASD January 2021 Virtual PDSG Presentation: The Myth of Empathy with Dr. Linda Buchan

Thank you to Dr. Buchan for yesterdays Post-Diagnostic Support Group presentation on the “Myth of Empathy”, which was very enlightening, and expanded upon the presentation Linda and Sarah did in 2019 for a previous PDSG (available here).
For those of you unable to attend the “virtual” meeting, we are pleased to be able to share the presentation portion of the session with you.
Thank you to all those who attended, and we look forward to our next PDSG in March, when we are hoping to have a very special guest speaker!
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8 comments on “Axia ASD January 2021 Virtual PDSG Presentation: The Myth of Empathy with Dr. Linda Buchan
  1. Sam says:

    Thank you Linda and all at Axia,

    I gain a lot from your sharing of the PDSG’s. Always much appreciated.

    I think that this recent research paper follows on well from your presentation…

    Autism and the double empathy problem: Implications for development and mental health
    Peter Mitchell
    Elizabeth Sheppard
    Sarah Cassidy
    First published: 04 January 2021

    Kind regards


  2. Senor says:

    I can’t quite remember what Keiran said about feedback, but just want to assure you all that it was interesting and enjoyable. I again found myself being a bit quiet, but I’d rather be that way and allow others to really have their say. I definitely get something from that. So now I will be checking out Luke’s presentations, and will probably also go back and observe Linda’s presentation again. I usually find that I get even more on a second viewing. So well done everyone at AXIA. Sorry to hear about Sarah, but I expect she will still be ‘visiting’ occasionally.

  3. Ayani says:

    Great presentation Dr. Buchan! Shared it our small autism group.

    Why did your people not get it?
    To me it is logical, that, when you are forced to do something your body is not capable of, for sure it will cause anxiety! It can even be traumatic.
    I am capable to ride a bike, so of course, I cannot completely understand, however, I can somewhat relate, because, I know how it feels like when I am forced to do stuff that is difficult and causes stress and anxiety.

    I find such repeated micro-invlaidation-traumas so hard to cope with, because it isolates you and shames you too, kinda, and it happens indeed because people lack understanding..

    What I came across lately, as I work through a pile of books on how to treat trauma is a new approach that has come out of neuroscience and nervous system oriented psychotherapy. It is really different.

    1. They try to not see you as the diagnosis sitting in the room
    2. They also don’t push their modality-agenda on you
    3. they are connected with their own body-sensing, coming from a right brain perspective
    4. they practice mindfulness
    5. they integrate the clients body in the process through various methods
    6. The idea of fragmented parts is included
    7. True LISTENING is very important
    8. Every client is seen as the individual they are

    A few names came up:
    – Bonnie Badenoch
    – Janina Fisher
    – Pat Ogden
    – Dan Siegel
    – Bessel Van Der Kolk
    – Peter Levine
    – Iain McGilchrist

    They have worked with autistic clients too.
    I find their approach works best, because every body, autistic or not, has a nervous system. To me this seems the most empathic way to treat trauma. Autism or not (and I would say, most autistics have experienced some form of trauma, because they are autistic, as our society again is not so happy with difference..

  4. Linda Buchan says:

    Thank you everyone for your comments and ideas
    It is truly appreciated

  5. Senor says:

    I once had the ignominy to be told by a (non-UK) psychiatrist that I couldn’t possibly be autistic because I displayed too much empathy with his reception staff; who were very cheerfully trying to figure out the purpose of my somewhat unusual visit. Adults tend not to do stuff like that, where I live; probably because it almost inevitably leads to some ‘loss of face’. But I have never really been much of a real local anywhere; so I tend to think ‘loss of face’ is no big deal.

    To counter such a fatuous piece of nonsense, I just informed the psychiatrist that empathy was something that could be learned. Even at that time, I thought I was oversimplifying the issue myself. Now I would just say that some sort of empathy was always present in my life; it just materialised in a slightly different way from some others.

    It occurs to me now that we would not have method acting if this supposed lack of empathy was a monolithic thing. I can think of quite a few well-known method actors who don’t exactly conform to the non-empathic stereotype; some of whom have confirmed they have received an assessment. And who is to say they are entirely faking it? I tend to have a fairly good idea when my own expression of empathy is fairly genuine and helpful. And at other times, I just tend not to over-commit myself to other people’s preferred style of empathic expression.

    I find generally that most people really don’t want to know what makes me tick. So much so that I usually can’t be bothered to tell them. And I can hardly be bothered to conform to some of the ‘labels’ myself. But that said, self-realisation and an external assessment can be quite liberating experiences for an older adult. That’s probably how I manage to stay quite cheerful under the local version of lock-down.

  6. Linda Buchan says:

    I enjoyed reading this
    I hadn’t thought about method acting before

  7. Vic says:

    “I find that most people really don’t want to know what makes me tick” – so true – it seems that people want to know that you have feelings, but not if those feelings are too much for them to deal with – they don’t *really* want to know, but the expression of some feeling means they can feel comfortable. As if they want to see themselves reflected in you.

    Isn’t it always about working out what other people think is a suitable amount of mirth, of ennui, of anxiety, or anger, and displaying appropriate signals so they feel comforted? If you feel too much, laugh too hard, melt down from the stress, then it’s also not desirable and comfortable to them. It’s not about feeling or being genuine – we know it is not – it’s about expressing what other think is appropriate.

    Method acting? I think I’ve been doing this all my life. I used to think that this perspective was how everyone thought – that everyone navigated this maze of suitability and context-mapping, and wonder why some people seemed to find it so easy. And the accusation of “overthinking” and “over analysing” follows me still. But how else do people know what is the right thing to say?

  8. Corina says:


    As I am very much interested in Trauma, I read a lot about it and have learned about the window of tolerance.
    When you are within the window of tolerance, you feel present, curious, compassionate, open, safe…
    When you fall out of your window of tolerance, you lose curiosity and compassion too..
    So maybe all that lack of empathy means, many people actually are acting outside of their windows of tolerance, either in fight flight or freeze states???

    A German Autistic Doctor and psychotherapist mentioned in an interview, that where she finds peace,is her quiet appartment.
    She lives there as a single person, writing her books on autism.

    She said, for autistics, when break in routine, and structure falls away, and there is sudden disorder, it will cause anxiety…and lead to meltdowns…

    I am quite territorial as well and I get very annoyed now, as the house owners decided, to add a balcony too, while the roof is repaired…
    They will be doing this construction work for months,so there are weird scraping noises everywhere all of a sudden and and I feel disturbed in my privacy..
    I used to have the windows open all day, to circulate oxygen, but now, I pulled the curtains, so I don’t see the construction workers moving around outside the window. (I live on the first floor, but they can now directly look inside, which feels like a threat to my nervous system and causes stress.

    But, as I wrote to the house owner, explaining this and how as an autistic I needed the space to recover and recharge… she did not react at all with empathy, understanding and kindness.
    Nor is she having any empathy for my hyperacusis. No acknowledgement whatsoever. But rather rubbing it in some more, that I am different. It feels discriminating.

    Her suggestions was (I have that in writing), that I should move to the country instead.
    That felt like a slap in the face, I feel unwanted and shamed too.
    And I feel invalidated and completely disregarded in my (autistic) needs for a SAFE place without noise where I have privacy…

    She is aware I don’t own a car, and she is aware I have limited monetary resources, yet they are also planning to build in a toilet that used to be outside the appartment upstairs, so this construction will then augment the rent from 850.– to 1200.– which I cannot afford anymore.. they know it, and they want to get rid of me, clearly.

    My home is my castle, it’s the one place I have, where I used to feel SAFE.

    i feel grief for the loss of what I used to have and now lost because I have no control over events.
    FOr me it is the lack of having control over the situation is what makes me feel powerless.

    I wrote to local authorities that aid in difficult living situations, but I don’t know what will come out of it.
    I for sure wish to live in a quieter space, but the difficulty is to move the heavy furniture I have accumulated over time.
    I will need to hire a company and this is a huge change and I really feel completely overwhelmed by this situation.

    But no empathy from the house owners. They seem like parasites, just caring about their own needs.

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