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Autism in Adulthood

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Community Based Participatory Research, Autism, Interpersonal Violence


As early as 1962, psychologists described children with “autistic psychopathy” as being “unable to achieve empathy.”2 An empathy deficit has since become a core feature in many conceptualizations of autism, including the Theory of Mind (or mind-blindness) model and the Empathizing-Systematizing model.3 Researchers have distinguished between cognitive empathy (or theory of mind; the capacity to understand another person’s perspective or mental state) and emotional or affective empathy (the capacity to experience affective reactions to the observed experiences of others), asserting that autistic individuals have deficits in the former, but not in the latter.4,5 Even this position, however, has been widely criticized by autistic individuals in online forums. For example, purported deficits in cognitive empathy may be a problem of experiencing too much emotional empathy or of needing more time to process empathy’s cognitive aspects.6 Or they may be due to a breakdown in mutual understanding between people who experience the world differently (and may apply just as much to neurotypical people failing to empathize with autistic people as it does in the opposite direction).7 Autistic adults often argue that the notion that autistic individuals lack empathy or theory of mind is dehumanizing and perpetuates dangerous stereotypes and oversimplifications.6 Following is a transcript of our roundtable discussion, with minor edits for clarity.


NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in the journal Autism in Adulthood. The final version can be found at

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