From: Ari Ne'eman
Date: Mon, Aug 24, 2009 at 2:53 PM
Subject: ESPN Surfing Gets it wrong about Asperger's and Empathy
Dear ESPN Surfing:
In a recent article on the ESPN Surfing Blog, contributor Jon Coen applauded surfer Clay Marzo's recent win in the Quiksilver Pro Puerto Escondido, adding the following:
"What may have been most interesting is that he was adamant about dedicating his victory to Honolua Bay artist/surfer Ron Cassidy who died at Puerto last year. It's striking because if there was one thing we learned about Marzo in "JAW" and the string of press he got following it, was that his mind doesn't work socially the way ours works. Sure, the win is remarkable, but does this point to some growth in his character as well? Is he developing a sense of empathy uncommon in Asperger's patients?"
While we join Mr. Coen in applauding Clay Marzo's win, we'd like to express concern about the characterization of empathy as uncommon amongst adults and youth diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. Autistic people face difficulty perceiving and expressing neurotypical social communication. This communication gap is often misunderstood as a lack of empathy on the part of Autistic people. It is understandable why Mr. Coen repeated this common stereotype, reflecting an outdated understanding of the autism spectrum still frequently cited in media and the medical literature. It has been only relatively recently that the medical community has begun to catch up to what Autistic adults already know - that there is a world of difference between the lack of empathy ascribed to us and the difficulty in communication that we actually experience (Rogers, Dziobek, Hassenstab, Wolf & Convit). However, it is nonetheless important that the record be corrected. This stereotype and similar mischaracterizations of the nature of the autism spectrum is the basis for much of the fear, stigma and prejudice faced by Autistic adults in society today. We encourage ESPN Surfing to correct the record by posting this letter and an accurate explanation of social communication issues faced by Autistic adults on its website.
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network