I think generally, people understand that most people with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) cannot (easily) put themselves in "another person's shoes". That is, they have a hard time understanding what that other person may be feeling or thinking and how things may be for that person. Many cannot even conceive of "walking a mile in your shoes".
They are stuck in their own shoes
My son Joe, who is (high functioning) Autistic, would probably pass by someone who had collapsed on the street, thinking that person maybe chose to lay down right then and there; and if that is the case, who is he to say anything? An Autie such as Joe doesn't tend to factor in things like "normal behaviour" or "likelihood" into these scenarios, because to him, NTs are all so weird anyway. There is no telling what we might do! So who is he to question? However, if I explained to Joe that the person might be in trouble or distress, he would move Heaven and Earth to help them if he could.
Perspective is a funny thing.
Of course, most NT people in the same scenario would instantly figure there is something wrong -even if the person had chosen to lay down right there! (OK the odds are that they didn't. But I'm just saying...)
Most of us non-autistic people, think we have good... whateveritis you want to call it: Theory of mind, empathy, perspective-taking. Most of us think we can place ourselves in another person's shoes and understand where they are coming from.
Sometimes we can. Sometimes we can't.
I have been thinking about this a lot recently. One of the comments on the piece I wrote about Caster Semenya was written by a man trapped in a woman's body. I tried to imagine what that might be like (and I tried to imagine if I were trapped in a man's body). I couldn't do it.
I can only imagine my body: My "shoes".
I didn't realize I was quite so unimaginative until now. Now, I know that some experiences cannot be imagined or described, but I thought I could manage simple enough ones like "male" and "female".
But I can't because they are not that simple at all. At least not for humans.
I remember years ago, reading an interview with Stevie Wonder and he; although born blind, was saying that he does "see" things in his head. Of course he cannot describe them to anyone, having no knowledge of a sighted person's concept of (say) "color"; indeed, having no sight references at all. So we cannot know what he sees. I do wonder if he shares it, wittingly or unwittingly? I wonder if his vision colors (pun intended) his music?
Recently, I watched the season premier of Season 6 of "So You Think You Can Dance", which is one of my favorite shows. Allison Becker, A deaf dancer auditioned in Phoenix. She was great. What got me was that the judges were so flabbergasted that she was great. They danced (pun intended) around the core issue until Mia Michaels finally came out and said in a somewhat roundabout way what everybody else was thinking (I'm paraphrasing here):
"Why do you (how can you) dance when you can't hear the music?"
The answer was simple.
"I hear it differently"
Then Nigel was waffling on about wanting to see how she would do in choreography and again she just said
"I'll be great"
And she was. She killed the choreography. Here is a link to the video.
(And although somewhat off topic, I have to give a shout-out to the same-sex ballroom couple, whose video is here.)
There are some shoes we cannot occupy. Some scenarios we cannot understand, no matter how we try. We cannot understand how a deaf woman hears or a blind man sees. We cannot fully get what it is like to have Autism, ADHD, Dyxlexia or OCD. We can try and understand it on an intellectual level, but we cannot truly get it.
In a funny way, I thnk Joe has an advantage in this over me. He KNOWS that he doesn't get other people. Therefore instead of trying to understand them, he usually just accepts them. He has no problem at all with the concept of a deaf dancer. She's deaf, she dances: So what?
Whereas I, who consider myself an empathetic person, find myself trying to understand instead of simply accepting. And then I realized that I have been guilty of "Murakab" in my attempt to teach Joe about putting yourself in other people's shoes. I had assumed that I could always do it, and that one always should do it. I didn't fully realize that there are times when one CAN'T do it. I didn't fully understand that: Hence murakab, which means 'complex ignorance"; I didn't know that I didn't know (as opposed to simple ignorance, where you know you don't know).
I have now realized that there are times when Joe's approach is better than mine. There are times when I cannot -simply CANNOT place myself in another person's shoes. That does not mean their experience is invalid (not that I ever thought it was). It just means that instead of trying to project myself onto them, I will choose to accept them on blind faith, like Joe does. That isn't easy for me.
Having just said that, however, if I ever do see a person collapsed on the
street, I will not assume they chose to lie down and take a nap.
(All the art in this piece is by Renee Magritte, 1898-1967)