How Do We Develop Empathy A Study On Autism Spectrum Disorders
Eleven-year-old Caidos Sapsford loves science particularly his year seven chemistry class. I like seeing things bubbling and frothing, says Caidos. So far in class weve only boiled water with a Bunsen burner, but Im looking forward to the experiments, especially making a battery out of a lemon. It sounds strange, but it can be done.
Caidos excels at maths and science and is, according to his mother Josephine Donachie, very bright. But it wasnt always this way. When he was just five, Josephine was told that Caidos had Aspergers syndrome and that his future would not be easy.
A teacher actually used the word bleak, says Josephine.
Aspergers syndrome is one of the autism spectrum disorders, a related group of conditions that appear early in life and are characterised by difficulty with social interactions, communication, and repetitive or restrictive patterns of thought and behaviour. Individuals with Aspergers are often less severely affected than those with autism.
Contrary to his teachers predictions, Josephine says that as Caidos has grown older, Aspergers has had just a mild effect on his life.
Hes a bright boy, so by default hes minimising the effect of Aspergers, says Josephine.
This ability to recognise what others are feeling and adjust to social situations what we call empathy is essential for communication and building relationships. Experiencing empathy is one of the biggest challenges for children with autism spectrum disorders.
Why Is Asperger Syndrome Officially No Longer A Thing
The American Psychiatric Association decided to no longer include Asperger Syndrome in the latest version of the US “psychiatrists’ bible”, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders . Instead, the form of autism formerly known as Asperger’s became part of a wider diagnosis of “Autism Spectrum Disorder”, and is now considered by many to represent the “high-functioning end” of this new unified diagnosis.
The decision to remove Asperger’s from the DSM was far from widely welcomed, however, and it’s highly unlikely that the term “Asperger’s” will disappear from popular vocabulary anytime soon, or that those who would formerly have qualified for this diagnosis will stop referring to themselves as “aspies”. In addition, the International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision used for diagnostic purposes in many countries outside the US still features Asperger Syndrome .
Neurotypical folks tend to define Asperger’s by what they believe aspies lack:
- Issues with understanding verbal and non-verbal communication, often “taking things too literally”.
- Strange behaviors like repetitive mannerisms or motor movements, having a hard time coping with change, and hyperfocusing on particular interests.
- Seeming insensitive to other people.
- Seeking solitude and not wanting comfort from others when distressed.
- Difficulty befriending people and maintaining friendships.
How Does Being Misperceived Impact On Development
Autistic people have a unique social communication style, which tends to be misinterpreted by neurotypical people, and are associated with neurotypical people perceiving autistic people unfavourably. Neurotypical people thus seem to lack the capacity to empathize with autistic people, just as it is claimed that autistic people lack capacity to empathize with neurotypical people. In this respect, the condition of autism should be understood as a bidirectional failure of empathyâhence, the double empathy problem . Consistent with this theory, and contrary to the predictions of the medical model, autistic people communicate more efficiently with other autistic people than they do with non-autistic people.
The argument above raises the interesting possibility that, if increased cross-neurological social interaction and inclusion were to occur from an early point in development, this could alter the developmental course for both autistic and neurotypical people. Fewer misunderstandings might occur, more favourable cross-group impressions could be formed, and ultimately perhaps a distinctive cross-neurological social interaction style could emerge.
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Autistic people are often the kindest, most compassionate individuals you could hope to meet, deeply committed to their friends and family, with an intense spiritual connection to the world around them. So where does the misconception that theyre emotionless, robotic loners come from? The answer is from a combination of the nature of autism itself and the nature of empathy, both of which are highly complex subjects. To keep things simple, this post focuses on the three main aspects of empathy cognitive, affective and compassionate and how autistic people process, experience and ultimately express them.
Correcting Common Autism Myths 10 Facts About Autistic People
Hey everyone, NeuroRebel here, and there are a lot of things you should know about Autistic people, but Ive narrowed it down for you. So stay tuned.
Hey everyone, NeuroRebel here, and there are a lot of things you should know about Autistic people, but Ive narrowed it down for you. So stay tuned.
The first thing that I would like for you to know about Autism and Autistic people is that each and every single Autistic person is different. We all have our own strengths and our own weaknesses and opinions, and even different ways of processing information, motor skills, and even different and unique sensory processing differences and sensory profiles.
This brings me to fact number two. Sensory processing differences SPD sometimes referred to as sensory processing disorder.
Third fact, calling Autistic people high or low functioning, isnt helpful at all. There are a few reasons for this.
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Do Children With Autism Experience Empathy
One of the many questions asked when discussing Autism Spectrum Disorder is whether or not those on the spectrum are capable of feeling empathy. Its a stereotype that has persisted, mainly due to a study by a British psychology professor, Simon Baron-Cohen, who saw autism as an empathy disorder. But what is empathy? Put simply, its the ability to understand what a person is feeling or thinking. And, this stereotype is rooted in the fact that some people with ASD may find difficulty in responding to social situations they may appear to be apathetic, thus impolite.
While its true that those with ASD may struggle with certain aspects of empathy, this doesnt mean theyre incapable of experiencing or witnessing empathy. Many researchers have begun to suggest that it isnt empathy that is impaired, but rather social communication skills . To better understand the separate types of empathy, and how a child with ASD may struggle with them, there is the following:
Fmri Paradigm And Stimuli
In two consecutive functional magnetic resonance imaging experiments, we induced empathy for physical pain and empathy for social pain with stimuli and paradigms that have been previously described and similarly implemented in a study with male participants with a confirmed ASD diagnosis . To investigate the neural correlates of EPP, participants viewed 28 color photographs depicting another persons left or right hand or foot from a first-person perspective in either painful or non-painful, neutral control situations . The photographs were chosen from a pool of 56 validated stimuli . Stimuli were presented for 4.5 s. Subsequently, a fixation cross on a blank screen was presented for 1.5 s. Participants were then asked to respond within 3 s to the question How strong is the pain of the observed person in this moment? and rate the intensity of the depicted persons pain experience on a five-point scale. Following the rating phase, a fixation cross was presented for an average of 6.1 s. Stimuli were presented in a fix pseudo-randomized order with no more than two stimuli from the same condition following each other. In total, the experiment lasted approximately 7 min.
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So How Does Empathy Work For Me
Lots of people have written about autism and empathy and far better than I can attempt to. You may have heard that autistic people dont have empathy because they lack theory of mind and cant imagine how another person thinks and feels you may have heard that autistic people have too much empathy because they feel absolutely everything.
There are different types of empathy anyway emotional, cognitive, and compassionate, for instance. There is no universal definition of how empathy works for autistic or non-autistic people.
Some friends of mine are autistic and feel other peoples emotions so strongly and intuitively they find it overwhelming. They can feel the emotions that others are experiencing in their own bodies and souls. This is not how my empathy works. Were all autistic so why are we so different?
It comes down to sensory processing, and in particular the sense of interoception. When I was at school, I learned about our five senses taste, touch, smell, hearing and sight.
In more recent years, people recognised the importance of proprioception and our vestibular system .
My sensory processing is very different from a typical persons. I hear, smell, and see things intensely and notice the details that others miss in fact, I cant filter any of this out which makes it tough to concentrate or relax. I flinch and jump at a light touch on the arm or an annoying label in my underwear, but dont notice Ive left half my meal on my face!
What Do Educators Say About Autism And Empathy
According to Eric Mikoleit, director of Lakeland STAR School/Academy a charter school in Minocqua, Wisconsin, that specializes in educating autistic students and diverse learners, social communication barriers, narrow interests, and attention to detail are some of the reasons autistic people may have difficulties expressing empathy.
But, he says, they do have empathy however, the levels of empathy vary significantly among individuals.
Autistic people often need direct instruction on identifying the emotional states of others and learning to label their own feelings.
Mikoleit says these skills can be enhanced in autistic students by using modeling, teaching them how to recognize and label the emotions of others, and the actions they must take in response to those emotions.
He says there are curriculum plans specifically designed to help with teaching these skills.
50% of autistic people also have alexithymia a condition characterized by difficulties with understanding and articulating ones emotions, including empathy. So, the coexistence of this condition may partly explain the misconception that all autistic people lack empathy.
However, a 2020 research report indicates that its the presence of alexithymia and not autism that impacts attachments to others, including their parents. Though attachment and empathy arent the same, they are related.
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Empathy And Theory Of Mind
Research suggests a sharp distinction between autism and psychopathy. Persons with autism are described as having problems with theory of mind and persons with psychopathy having intact theory of mind attributes , but when one is dealing with neuropsychology and the brain, the situation is rarely so clear cut, so black and white. There is continuous heterogeneity and variability. In the clinical world, these issues are almost always on a spectrum with greater or lesser theory of mind problems. Indeed, some high-functioning autism persons can pass theory of mind tests . Blair points out that cognitive empathy or theory of mind is profoundly impaired in individuals with autism. These theories have been very seriously undermined by research on high-functioning autism and Scheeren et al. , points out that, counter to what theory of mind theory of ASD would predict, school age children and adolescents with high-functioning ASD seem to be able to master the theoretical principals of advanced mental state reasoning. This is a warning to absolutism in neuropsychology and neuropsychiatry. In short, only some persons with autism have theory of mind problems.
We Need To Dispel The Myth That Autistic People Lack Empathy
Theres a myth that autistic people dont have empathy, that theyre too self-absorbed or uncaring. Thats simply false. They do have empathy. Id like to raise the issue of double empathy, and the additional question as to whether non-autistic people, neurotypicals, have empathy for autistic people.
Theres at least two kinds of empathy, cognitive empathy and emotional empathy. Cognitive empathy is seeing the perspective of someone else emotional empathy is having feelings for the feelings of someone else. They dont necessarily go together. A narcissist can have cognitive empathy see another persons perspective but not care how that person feels. Research has shown that autistic people do more poorly than neurotypicals on tests of cognitive empathy but score the same or even have more emotional distress at the distress of others than neurotypical people.
In a recent court case, the prosecutor argued that the autistic defendant didnt show remorse because of his lack of facial expression or tears. This was despite the fact that the defendant had said that he was devastated by the impact of his inadvertently causing an accident in which someone was badly hurt, and that he would do everything he could to help the person and his family.
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Moderating Effects Of Empathy Impairment In Individuals With Ascs
Although cultural differences in empathy and autistic traits have been confirmed by many studies, it is still difficult to obtain a good explanation for the cross-regional and transnational differences in the pathological symptoms of ASCs from a cultural perspective . According to existing studies, the causes of cultural differences in the pathological symptoms of ASCs may be related to the different conventional standards of social behavior in different cultures . Specifically, it is likely that different behavioral reference criteria for ASC identification in different cultures lead to potential cultural differences in the overall symptom score of ASCs.
According to previous studies, the pathological symptoms of ASCs have gender differences in both structure and degree. Structurally, females with ASCs exhibit fewer repetitive behaviors and more intellectual impairments than males . At the degree level, female ASC individuals have more attention preference for social stimuli and less social communication impairment than males . However, neither gender differences in structure nor gender differences in degree are absolute they are affected by a series of other factors, such as sample size and age .
Elements Of Empathy And Sympathy
A lack of expressed sympathy or empathy may not be the result of a lack of emotion in someone who has autism, but rather due to underdeveloped skills. There are several elements involved in showing empathy to others.
To connect with another person in these ways, one must:
- Recognize the other person’s feelings
- Understand the other person’s hopes, dreams, and/or expectations
- Have the emotional experience to relate personally to another’s feelings
- Have the tools to physically and verbally express empathic feelings
People with autism who struggle to show empathy and sympathy may have difficulty with one or more of these.
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How Should Society Change
In considering how society should change, we begin by identifying societal features that currently prevail. A chief feature of society is the dominance of the medical model which implicitly views autism as a maladaptive condition that needs to be cured. This view locates the problems of autism within the individual, with the assumption that the individual must be treated to effect change in order to make the problem go away. Common approaches have been to apply behaviour techniques, to administer medication, implementing programmes of therapy and offering dedicated teaching on how to understand other peopleâs minds . Such interventions are likely to cause autistic people to feel they are defective and that they need to change in order to fit into society. Being subjected to these interventions could lead to a sense of thwarted belonging and, associated with that, a desire to camouflage autistic features. If so, ironically, and despite all good intentions, these interventions might put the individual at risk of mental health issues and even increased risk of suicide.
Treatment Of Psychopathic Traits
Taubner et al. , pointed out that, psychopathic traits alone only partially explain aggression in adolescents. Mentalization may serve as a protective factor to prevent the emergence of proactive aggression in spite of psychopathic traits and may provide a crucial target for intervention. Viding , points out that, callous/unemotional traits are malleable,respond to warm parenting and that Dadds et al. showed that they might benefit from training in emotional literacy and emotional recognition.
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People Call This Integrity
My belief system has developed out of a sense of doing the right thing, in being kind, and empowering people to be themselves so long as they are causing no harm. I am absolutely solid and unwavering in my beliefs.
People call this integrity. This is what causes me to be the person speaking out against injustice. It means that I can regulate my own behaviour and act in a fair and consistent way towards other people because I have no ulterior motive, and Im not doing it just to conform or fit in, or because Im frightened of getting into trouble if I dont.
I have considered various religions, philosophies, and ideologies, and whilst I share many of my values with other individuals or groups, I dont follow any particular way of life other than my own. Its the only way I can guarantee that I do the right thing!
There is a place for the things weve got in common aspect of empathy and I respectfully ask that if you are not autistic, you dont assume that because we have things in common we must all be a little bit on the spectrum.
An autism diagnosis involves identifying a lifetime of characteristics and experiences of the world that are radically different to those typically experienced by neurotypical people.
My partner has backache at the moment and is feeling exhausted, he is not however pregnant. Or even a bit pregnant!