Does Empathy Begin with a Name?

CHICAGO MED -- "Brother's Keeper" Episode 204 -- Pictured: (l-r) Colin Donnell as Connor Rhodes, Ato Essandoh as Isidore Latham, Brain Tee as Ethan Choi -- (Photo by: Elizabeth Sisson/NBC)

How often are we with people that irritate us? A new television show, Chicago Med, features a brilliant physician named Dr. Isidore Latham. Most of Dr. Latham’s encounters with others depict him as an annoying, difficult person who has a very hard time working as a team member. With that in mind, many co-workers do not have kind words to say about Dr. Latham. That is until he realizes that he has a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, and he chooses to share that discovery with a co-worker, Dr. Connor Rhodes.

Prior to disclosing his diagnosis, Dr. Latham’s behavior confounds Rhodes. However, their relationship quickly evolves once Dr. Rhodes learns that Latham has an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. As an example, Rhodes observes Latham showing tenderness for a patient, and is struck by his thoughtfulness. To this Dr. Latham says, “Just because I don’t have empathy doesn’t mean I can’t have compassion.” Interestingly, Dr. Rhodes’ reaction to this seems to be pride, and maybe even love. As a Special Educator, this interaction made me wonder if it is easier for people to have empathy for someone when their quirks or oddities have a name attached to their behaviors.

In another moving interaction between Drs. Latham and Rhodes, the hospital’s emergency room is inundated with victims of a massive automobile crash. Difficult decisions about who to treat, quickly begins focusing on emotions instead of reason. Dr. Latham easily takes control, and directs the other staff in a clear and concise manner. At the end of the crisis, Rhodes expresses that he is envious at how well Latham handled himself. With that, Latham asks, “Are you saying that you are jealous that I am Autistic?” It was a perfect scene that gave me goosebumps! Still, I was left wondering if these two characters would have become friends if one did not disclose the diagnosis of “Autism” to the other. The decision to share deeply personal information about ourselves is a difficult one to make. I hope that people diagnosed with ASD feel the confidence to trust others when they believe that they need to do so. More importantly, I hope that those that learn this personal information appreciate the risk attached, and how difficult it can be to voluntarily place oneself in such a vulnerable position.

As someone that values “uniqueness” among people, I appreciate individualism. Seeing things in a different way helps lead us towards the path of personal and communal growth, and excellence! With this in mind, the bond that began with personal disclosure between these two Chicago Med characters is a fascinating one to watch grow. It also serves as a model for true diversity in friendship and the workplace.

 

Errol Seltzer is the Executive Director of “Infinity Tomorrow,” a non-profit agency that supports college graduates that are diagnosed with ASD. Errol can be reached at 201 220-7822 and at errol@infinitytoday.com. This is a exclusive follow-up from Errol’s Bazinga piece for eParent.com.