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Emily Bazelon

Emily Bazelon is the author of Sticks and Stones, a book about bullying to be published in February by Random House. She is also a senior editor at Slate, a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine, and the Truman Capote Fellow for Creative Writing and Law at Yale Law School. Before joining Slate, Emily was a Soros media fellow, an editor and writer at Legal Affairs magazine, and a law clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. She has been a guest on The Colbert Report, the Today Show, the PBS NewsHour, All Things Considered, and Talk of the Nation. Emily is a graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School.

4 Responses to Emily Bazelon

  1. Tara Hughes says:

    Hi Emily,

    I am an autistic woman. I watched your entire clip and although I welcome your attempt to highlight the existence of women and girls on the spectrum I am deeply concerned by much of what you say.

    Just to tackle a few of these issues:
    *females with an autistic spectrum condition diagnosis are indeed heavily outnumbered by males. However, it is inaccurate to take this at face value as evidence of a gender bias in this condition. Females do present differently, are under-diagnosed and some research suggests are likely to be more adept at copying neuro-typical behaviour.

    * autistic people, even autistic women, are not one homogenous group. We all have different personalities, experiences, skills, etc. Relying on the purely anecdotal and projecting that across a whole group is bad science. If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve only met one autistic person.

    * so-called ‘low-functioning’ autistics can not be assumed to have low IQ’s. it is impossible to accurately the measure of some people’s IQ’s and it is dangerous to make assumptions.

    *The use of ‘low-functioning’ and ‘high-functioning’ terms wrt autism is unhelpful and divisive and does everybody described by them a huge disservice due to the assumptions they engender.

    * I was deeply dismayed by the perpetuation of the myth that autistic people can’t empathise. I can re-assure you that I and all the autistic people I know do too. I also object to being described as ‘suffering’ with autism. It’s not cancer. I’m not diseased. I have a different operating system to most people, and there are good bits and less good bits about that, just as there are to anyone with any operating system.

    I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you further in order to help you understand more about us autistics.

    Tara Hughes
    onein500 is a facebook group for women on the spectrum

  2. Linda Mad Hatter says:

    Empathy is the “capacity to understand how other people are feeling and respond”?

    No, it’s not. Empathy is the capacity to understand how other people are feeling. Responding to that is about communication.

    As a woman with Aspergers, if I sit in a group where a woman complains about wrecking her favourite pair of shoes, and I do not respond “appropriately”, then it will be considered that I lack empathy.

    If I were male, and had a response that didn’t “fit it” with the female perspective, it would be considered normal. A male would not be judged to lack empathy simply because he does not care about shoes, or does not know the appropriate response to wrecking a pair.

    This type of “appropriate” response is sometimes difficult for me, especially if I am overloaded with anxiety or sensory issues already. It’s not that I don’t want to respond appropriately (because I do), or even that I don’t know how (because I do), but that in that moment, I am physically incapable. It takes energy and focus to play the neurotypical game, and sometimes, I’m off my game. This has nothing to do with empathy. I get why women care about shoes, because it’s the same way that I care about books.

    The problem with the ASD community, and empathy, is that people never seem to ask “why?”. I see this in all areas of mental health, and even physical health, as well as other humanistic areas… Humans are prone to see a behaviour and come up with the easiest explanation without delving into the nitty gritty. It’s easy to look at a woman (or man) with ASD, and see that they don’t notice the child crying in the corner, and assume that this means they do not care about the child in the corner. However, perhaps they didn’t see the child, or perhaps they care, but are unsure about what to do. Perhaps the noise overloads their brain, and they just can’t think of anything else but escaping. There are a hundred reasons why they may not go over to comfort the child, and none of them have anything to do with a lack of empathy.

    And if you still are not convinced, consider this… Has there ever been a study done on the percentage of neurotypical kids that bully other children vs the percentage of ASD kids that bully other children?

    Or forget the kids – what about adults? How much empathy do neurotypical adults give to those who are not? Not seeing, or not understanding, another person’s perspective actually seems to be pretty common to me. Which is a key criteria for empathy.

    People with ASD are not empathy deficient any more than anyone else. The problem is that people writing books and articles on ASD are not inclined to ask “why?” before they jump to conclusions.

  3. Andrea Kennedy says:

    Hello Emily,

    I am the mother of two children with autism, one of whom is a girl. There are many misleading, harmful, and unfactual statements you make in this talk. Using the phrase “empathy deficit” to describe people with autism is absolutely wrong and harmful.

    I am hoping you will take the time to read the blog post by Jess Wilson (and the many many comments that follow)over at “Diary of a Mom”… http://adiaryofamom.wordpress.com/2012/12/10/empathy-explored-and-ignored/

    You have a public platform and over 13,000 twitter followers. You have a chance to make this right. Please show us your “empathy surplus”, as you call it, and make some meaningful, helpful statements for girls AND boys with autism.

    Wishing you well,

    Andrea Kennedy, Ph.D.

  4. Charlotte Lehnhoff says:

    I have read a lot about autism and Asperger’s syndrome. Your talk connected a lot of the dots, and brought up points I haven’t read anywhere else. You talk touched me quite deeply, and I would love to share it with my therapist. Is it possible to have a transcript?

    Many thanks,
    Charlotte Lehnhoff

    p.s. Are you related to Judge Bazelon?