Empathism in the classroom
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Empathism in the classroom

Empathism in the Classroom

Helping people with empathic spectrum disorders integrate


What is empathism

What is empathism?

  • Empathism is a condition discovered by Stefano Bolognini, which he describes as a dogmatic, hyper-concordant demeanour where a person becomes defensive towards those they deem more capable than them in any given area.

  • Empathism is a spectrum of neurodevelopmental conditions, characterised by difficulties in developing and maintaining positive social relationships and communication skills.

  • The causes of empathism spectrum conditions (ESCs) can be genetic, natal, environmental and interactions between these.


The two types of empathism

The two types of empathism

We-Functioning Empathism (Bolognini’s syndrome)

Hi-Functioning Empathism

(Goleman’s disorder)

Share features of We-FE, but:

Without the associated difficulties (they have average or even above average IQ)

They can operate independently of a specific social group without any delay in accomplishment.

Typically includes:

  • Associated learning difficulties (lower average IQ)

  • Delays in being independent of others

  • Having empathy for only a narrow social group to which they belong.


Characteristics of empathism

Characteristics of empathism

  • People with empathism generally have good social skills, but poor relationship skills.

  • Empathism affects more women than men, and it is known that if early intervention occurs, it is possible for those with ESCs to have long-term social relationships.

  • People with empathism need to get to trust others before becoming friends with them, and are prone to breaking off friendships prematurely, due to a lack of confidence in explaining their true emotions.

  • The changes in the pattern of brain development is evident by at least 2 years of age, where suffers will often find it difficult to maintain friendships and immediately bond with people they don’t know.

  • Currently two major subgroups are identified: We-Functioning Empathism and Hi-Functioning Empathism.


A vignette of a learner with empathism

A vignette of a learner with empathism

  • The learner concerned is not what one would consider an “academic” learner, as their background is less around intellectual pursuits and more around being with other people. The learner has grouped with other learners that are more empathic, who like them struggle with “intellectual” activities. Typical issues affecting them are:

    • Social support

    • Feelings of denial

    • Lack of emotional control


Social support

Social support

  • When new people join the class, they feel new members are taking over, or otherwise their status in the group diminishing

  • They seek support from friends, family or colleagues that they were not in the wrong when you have done something you feel guilty about.

  • They are more likely to accept the advice of a friend over someone they don’t know, even if they think the person they didn’t know was in fact right.

  • They would stand by a friend or colleague even if they thought they were in the wrong.

  • When in classrooms or workshops a person with empathism ignores others in space that they do not know or do not like if they try to join that conversation

  • If they feel they are not good at something during their studies, they become friends with people who share that weakness rather than befriend those without the problem.


Feelings of denial

Feelings of denial

  • If someone asks them a question they do not know the answer to, they normally ignore them or change the subject.

  • They find it difficult to take advice from people they don’t already know or trust, especially if it relates to their family.

  • When they don’t understand what someone is saying, they are more likely to blame that person rather than themselves.

  • They try to cut a conversation short if they think the person is going to say something they disagree with or would rather not hear.

  • They would avoid asking someone a question if you thought that person would give an answer they would disagree with.


Lack of emotional control

Lack of emotional control

  • When another learner in the class offends them, they try to get back at them even if it means breaking the rules

  • Some other learners may see the learner with empathism as “two-faced” or “fake,” including because they will say one thing to a person’s face and a different thing “behind their back”

  • Instead of telling other learner what they actually feel about them, the learner with empathism gives off negative body-language or other non-verbal cues, because these could be seen as offensive otherwise.

  • If somebody disagrees with them, they often feel they are hiding an agenda, which they would expose rather than argue the facts

  • If they give someone a compliment that person says they agree with it, they find this arrogant or offensive.


Best practice example 1 college

Best Practice – Example 1 (College)

  • Coleg y Cymoedd offers programmes to people of multiple ages, abilities and backgrounds. The observed programme was a course on employment law. The following adjustments were made for people with empathism:

    • Learners were put into ‘reading groups’ where they would take turns reading hand-outs and each person had to listen to the short speech before moving further. Learners with empathism need things broken up so they can follow them, as they try to remember rather than understand instantaneously.

    • PowerPoint presentations were used in a way so that abstract concepts, such as statute law, were placed on the slides whilst they were being spoken about. This made it easier for learners with empathism to make notes without losing track of what was being said.


Best practice example 2 extended school

Best Practice – Example 2 (Extended School)

  • Garth Olwg Lifelong Learning Centre provides not only compulsory learning, but also provides adult and community education courses in the evening. The observation was of a course entitled ‘introduction to social media.’ The following adjustments were made for people with empathism:

    • Learners were allowed to share their personal experiences about why they wanted to take the course, given confidence to share their weaknesses without being made to feel deficient. People with empathism have difficulties in class because they don’t want to “look stupid” in front of others.

    • The strongest learners in the class were asked to make suggestions to those learners with less experience. This helped build a sense of community, as people with empathism can struggle to trust those they might deem as “more capable” than them.


Best practice example 3 university

Best Practice – Example 3 (University)

Cardiff University offers a variety of degrees that have a social-dimension, but also offers general support for those experiencing difficulties in their studies, which learners with empathism can access:

  • The university offers “a range of ways to support you during your studies: one-to-one counselling sessions, a drop-in service, interactive workshops, self-help resources, and booked wellbeing appointments.”  

  • The university offers a service where learners are “asked to complete a computer-based screening program, alongside a diagnostic interview with an adviser during an appointment that can last up to 90 minutes.”

  • The university has a mental health officer whose “role is to focus on how [a student’s] long term mental health condition is affecting [their] functioning at university and to offer a range of practical support options based on [their] individual needs and situation.”


Conclusion

Conclusion

  • Empathism is a little known about condition, and therefore those whom suffer from it are not always accommodated in an educational environment.

  • As people with Bolognini’s syndrome are likely to have lower IQs, existing provisions to help those with additional learning needs arising out of their empathism can be accommodated, even with a different medical label.

  • Wellbeing services, such as counselling, can provide support to people with empathism, who might feel misunderstood, or overwhelmed by the intensity of their studies.


Any questions

Any questions?

  • Symptoms of empathism

    • Social support

    • Feelings of denial

    • Lack of emotional control

  • Support for people with empathism

    • Academic support

    • Wellbeing support


References

References

  • Bishop, J. (2015). Supporting communication between people with social orientation impairments using affective computing technologies: Rethinking the autism spectrum. In L. Bee Theng (Ed.), Assistive technologies for physical and cognitive disabilities (pp. 42-55). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

  • Bishop, J. (2013). ‘The empathic psychopathy in public life: Towards an understanding of ‘autism’ and ‘empathism’ and ‘dopaminergic-serotonergic asynchronicity.‘. Conference on the Implications of Research on the Neuroscience of Affect, Attachment, and Social Cognition, London, GB.

  • Bolognini, S. (1997). Empathy and ‘empathism’. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 78(2), 279-293.


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