The Particular Tragedy of Autistic Girls

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Dec. 7 2012 10:34 AM

Emily Bazelon's Excellent TED Talk on Girls and Autism Made Me Cry

Our own Emily Bazelon gave a TED talk last week on girls and autism that made me cry. Boys with high functioning autism, she explained, can generally get a toehold into boy-land. They can find playmates who are fixated on a particular video game or train schedule. But a girl with autism just can't find a way to fit in, as she wrote about earlier in this New York Times Magazine story. Girls are expected to be empathetic. They are expected to understand how other people think and feel. A girl with an “empathy deficit” who can’t even make eye contact has a tragically hard time finding her place. So Emily introduces us to Caitlin, who holds a party in the lunchroom and nobody comes. 

We can help these girls in the usual way, by being ourselves empathetic. But here’s the problem. We, as a culture, are experiencing an “empathy deficit,” as Emily explains in her new book out soon, Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy.

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Studies on bullying which Emily cites show that girls who bully online are much more likely to convince themselves that the person they are bullying deserves it. In other words, they create in themselves an empathy deficit, something that can happen more easily when you can post insults to your Facebook page instead of looking someone in the eye. 

Hanna Rosin is the founder of DoubleX and a writer for the Atlantic. She is also the author of The End of Men. Follow her on Twitter.