Thursday, July 11, 2024

How To Teach Empathy To Autistic Child

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Encourage Empathy Through Stories

Borba encourages adults to help kids build their empathy muscles through play-acting, reading books that let them get inside characters minds, and watching inspiring movies. Activities that allow careful reflection on how others are feeling in a given situation help build the skills needed for moral action.

The right book can stir a childs empathy better than any lesson or lecture ever could, writes Borba. And the right book matched with the right child can be the gateway to opening his heart to humanity.

Try A Smart Goal Challenge

If a student with autism is having a hard time with school, sit down with them and pick a SMART goal to work on over the next month or semester. SMART goals are an effective way to help children with autism reach their potential, and they are:

  • Specific
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Suppose, for example, that your student with autism is having trouble learning how to recognize emotions. You could make a goal with them to practice flash cards with emotions on them every day for five minutes and for the student to recognize each card by the end of the month. As long as the SMART goal hits all of the criteria, it can help your student focus on ways to make progress.

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.

Board Games With A Twist

Teaching children manners can be a helpful way to boost social skills and explain the importance of being polite. This simple, but effective activity puts an etiquette-related twist on a simple game of chess, checkers, or mancala by requiring players to wish their opponent good luck or good game before and after they have played.

Kids On The Autism Spectrum And Their Siblings

4 Ways to Teach Empathy to an Autistic Child

Like all kids, boys and girls on the autism spectrum feel various feelings. Sometimes, kids or adults find it hard to understand the feelings and thoughts of kids on the autism spectrum, and sometimes these kids find it hard to understand the feelings and thoughts of other kids or adults. It could be frustrating not to understand others, or be understood by others. Many times, kids on the autism spectrum want to acquire new friends, but find it difficult. Therefore, they receive support from professionals such as speech therapists, psychologists, and occupational therapists. They are able to learn and practice areas they find difficult, and become better at tasks that are challenging for them. Other children in the kindergarten or class can also improve their own abilities in playing with kids on the autism spectrum when they receive support to better understand others who might have different minds and experiences.

  • Figure 1 – Siblings sharing a secret.
  • Illustration: Ori Rum Zemet.

Teaching Empathy Tip #3: Seize Everyday Opportunities To Switch On Your Childs Empathy Mode

From infancy, kids display a capacity for empathy. But like us they dont always use it. So how do you encourage a child to practice empathy?

Research suggests we need only ask. A simple question asking kids to reflect on what other people are feeling can make a difference.

For example, in an experiment on more than 400 Dutch school children , Jellie Sierksma and her colleagues presented kids with a hypothetical situation about a classmate.

Half the students were told to imagine that the classmate was a friend. The other half were told to imagine that the classmate was not a personal friend. And the situation was this:

Its your classmates turn to stay late and clean up the classroom. But she wants to go home as soon as possible because her mother is quite ill. She asks you to help her. Would you do it?

What did kids say?

It depended on friendship. Children expressed less willingness to help when the girl wasnt depicted as a friend.

But the results changed when researchers added an extra step to the procedure a step that made children stop and reflect.

Instead of immediately asking children if they would help, the experimenters first asked kids to think about the girl, and rate how sad or upset she was likely to be.

After rating emotions, the children showed no bias in favor of the friend. They were equally likely to say they would help the girl, whether she was a friend or not . The extra reminder was enough to change childrens judgments.

Using I Feel Messages

Teaching students with autism to clearly describe their feelings is another key to helping them develop empathy. Teach your students the following protocol: I feel… when… because.

Then, have them practice saying sentences using this framework. For instance, ‘I feel angry when someone pulls my hair because it hurts!’

Lastly, pair students up and challenge them to think of how they would respond to each other’s I feel messages with empathy.

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Calming Activities To Prevent Autism Meltdowns In Class

When students with autism are feeling overwhelmed, the intense response that they feel may cause them to lose control of their emotions. This is called an autism meltdown and is different from when students without autism act out in class. While the best strategy for autism meltdowns is to seek help from a school specialist, these calm down activities can help to de-escalate stressful situations.

What Can I Say If I Dont Understand Why I Need To Apologize

  • Its OK that you dont understand. I would like to help you.
  • Remember that apologies are common. When you hurt someones feelings or when you damage something, an apology is an appropriate response.
  • Think about times people have told you they were sorry or about apologies youve seen others give. Did you feel better?

Sensory Activities For Children With Autism

Because children with autism are often hyper aware of sensory input, its helpful for educators to provide accommodations so their students can focus in class. These activities involving sensory stimulation can keep kids with autism grounded in the present and comfortable learning with the rest of their classmates.

Remind Them To Be Polite

You may hear them say, that kid is weird or that they act crazy. Please take this opportunity to correct them. Explain that some people have more significant reactions to things than others do. Also, let them know that its never okay to call someone weird or crazy because theyre different. It can be hurtful to the other persons feelings. 


Recognizing The Emotions Of Others

Different autistic children have different needs with regards to learning empathy.

  • 1Help label others’ feelings for your child. Younger children may need help recognizing others’ emotions. Make observations to help your child learn to notice and think about others’ feelings.XResearch source If you notice them doing something kind for others, praise them for it, and they may do similar things more often.
  • “It was nice of you to invite your sister to play a game with you. She looked lonely before. I think you helped cheer her up.”
  • “I think you hurt his feelings when you took away the toy he was playing with.”
  • “Daddy looks sad right now. See how he is frowning, and sitting all droopy? What do you think we could do to help him feel better?”
  • “That was nice of Poppy to bring you your ball, wasn’t it?”
  • “I saw you giving a picture to your teacher after he had a bad day. That was so nice!”
  • 2Draw a visual web for new people in your childâs life. Part of teaching an autistic child to empathize is teaching them to recognize the emotions, dreams, and goals of others. When your child meets a new person, have them draw a web with the personâs name in the middle, and several spokes radiating out from the center. Then, have your child fill in information about the person on each spoke.XResearch source
  • As your child gets to know the person better, they can add new spokes with new information.
  • “How do you think she felt when her friend ignored her?”
  • Teach Students About Historical Figures With Autism

    4 Ways to Teach Empathy to an Autistic Child

    Although the disorder wasnt discovered until the twentieth-century, people with autism have made important contributions to history, and its important to educate students about themnot just in April but throughout the year. Here are a few well-known figures who are diagnosed with or believed to have had autism to get you started:

    • Greta Thunberg
    • Emily Dickinson

    Getting Help For Emotional Development In Autistic Children

    Theres a wide range of therapies and supports available for autistic children, some of which might be able to help your child with generalising and showing emotions.

    Autistic children will need support generalising what they learn in therapy sessions to their everyday lives.

    Other parents can be a great source of ideas, experience and support. You could try connecting in an online or a face-to-face support group.

    Books And Resources To Teach Kindness And Empathy

    Research shows that teens today are 40% less empathetic than they were thirty years ago , and 62% of Americans say kids are less kind than they were in the past .

    And, for us special needs moms, that scares the heck out of us. I want my disabled son to be included. And, I want my non-disabled child to be kind and to include others.

    A while back, I took my boys to an evening event, a bonfire, and a hayride. I had been working most of the autumn season at a local apple orchard and it was an employee event as an end of the season Thank You party. It was the Thursday evening before Election Day, and it was cool and brisk that evening.

    Once we got there, the more nervous I became. First, I forgot about the steps to and from getting on the hayride. They were difficult for Kevin to manage. I forgot about what the seating is like on the hayrides and how it would affect him. Most importantly, since it was November, it was dark very early. Kevin is visually impaired, the seizure helmet certainly doesnt help.

    But we were managing. When we got to our bonfire place, I sat him on a log, away from the fire of course, so I could go grab some snacks. And in that brief moment, he had a seizure and fell to the ground. Luckily the log he was sitting on wasnt high up and he landed on soft ground. But, I needed some help in having folks watch him while I got us some food and helped Brian with his bonfire fork for hot dogs and marshmallows.

    How They Fit Together:

    Imagine we see one of our close friends crying.

    • Emotional empathy leads us to feel their sadness for ourselves
    • Cognitive empathy helps us understand why our friend is feeling sad
    • Compassionate empathy drives us to take action to do something about it

    If we want to support our pupils with ASD, we’ll need strategies to support each of these layers of empathy.

    Hold A Professional Development Session On Autism

    Its so important to teach faculty about autism awareness, too. If youre a school administrator, consider holding a professional development session on teaching students with autism or sharing a few resources.

    For example, the Regional Educational Laboratory Program has put together a helpful resource for administrators on how educators can support students with autism during remote learning.

  • Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Data & Statistics on Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  • The National Institute for Mental Health. A Parents Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  • Shapiro, L.E. 101 Ways to Teach Children Social Skills. The Bureau for At-Risk Youth, 2004.
  • Dougan, R. Social Emotional Learning Guidebook: Ideas for Incorporating SEL Activities into your Classroom.
  • Shapiro, L.E. 101 Ways to Teach Children Social Skills. The Bureau for At-Risk Youth, 2004.
  • Autism Parenting Magazine. Sensory Play Ideas and Summer Activities for Kids with Autism.
  • Autism Speaks. 10 Fun Summer DIY Sensory Games for Kids.
  • Noelke, K. Grounding Worksheet.
  • Tullemans, A. Self-Calming Strategies. Autism Spectrum Disorder News, July 2013, 23.
  • Q: How Does This Deficit Affect Success With Social Interactions

    A: If a person with an Autism Spectrum Disorder responds with a facial expression or voice tone which is out of sync with what another person has just expressed, he or she may be perceived as indifferent or unfriendly. Statements that minimize or invalidate what another person expresses can result in that person feeling misunderstood, hurt, or annoyed and not wanting to continue a friendship. Social isolation may result which can lead to the co-morbid conditions of depression or anxiety.

    Teaching Empathy Tip #12: Talk With Children About The Rationalizations That People Use To Justify Callous Or Cruel Acts

    Research has demonstrated that average, well-adjusted people can be persuaded to harm otherseven torture themas long as they are provided with the right rationale.

    In a famous series of experiments developed by Stanley Milgram of Yale University, subjects were told that they were participating in a learning experiment that required them to administer painful electric shocks to another person .

    The experiment was a fake, a ruse made convincing with plausible props and an actor who pretended to be in pain after the study participants pressed a button. But the participants were fooled andurged on by an authoritative man in a white lab coatthey dutifully administered shocks to the screaming victim.

    In fact, almost 65% of participants continued to press the button even after the victim had appeared to fall unconscious .

    These people werent psychopaths. They were ordinary people exposed to social pressure from a plausible authority figure. With the right rationalizations, otherwise decent people can disengage their moral responses. And its not just an adult phenomenon. Children can do it, too.

    If were really serious about teaching empathy, I think its important for kids to learn about Milgrams research and about the kinds of rationalizations that people use to excuse callous or cruel behavior. One of the most common is the tendency to view people from out-groups as less human, or less deserving of respect and compassion.

    Teach Your Child Overall Animal Etiquette

    When you are teaching your child how to respect animals, you will want to have many different experiences and interactions on this topic. It is important to show your child that wild animals need to be left alone because they can grow frightened. 

    It is also crucial for your child to understand not to approach strange dogs. Your child should always ask the owner before gently petting the dog. Your child can learn that some animals are afraid of strangers, so it is always best to ask before you approach them.

    If your child feels scared around an animal, teach him or her to stand still and stay calm. Show your child that calm behavior will help to make an animal relax. It is always a good idea to have a healthy respect for animals. Your child may feel some of the feelings that animals feel, and he or she can learn to relate to the animal. This breeds respect.

    Explaining To Children That Autistic Children May Lack Empathy

    4 Ways to Teach Empathy to an Autistic Child


    Reports show that 1 in every 54 children in the U.S. gets diagnosed with some form of ASD. Over half of autistic students ages, 6 to 21 are in a regular classroom for 80 percent or more of their day at school. 

    Proper and clear explanations of autism to other children are essential. Doing so helps make classrooms more comfortable for autistic students. It creates a safer environment for them when the people around them are aware of their needs.


    When explaining autism to another child, keep these tips and ideas in mind:


    Learning Empathy With Asperger’s Syndrome

    My son is fifteen years old and has Aspergers syndrome. As other parents will know, most children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder will have a lot of trouble seeing things from another persons perspective. Examples? Daniel has an obsession with mobile phones and just loves to talk about them for hours. He has a lot of trouble understanding that others will quickly get bored and can fly into a rage or simply not speak to that person for days.

    If his sister is watching her favorite tv program, hell just stroll in and change the channel. I don’t believe it is deliberately obnoxious behavior he just cant grasp that she could possibly like that program because he doesn’t.


    Support Empathy Education In School

    Borba makes several suggestions about ways schools can teach kindness and empathy. For example, at one school, the teachers have implemented a kindness board for listing kind acts; another brought in , a program for teaching cooperation and empathy on the playground. At yet another school, theyve used the cooperative learning program to help students decrease prejudice and increase caring in the classroom.

    A Shift In Perspective: Empathy And Autism

    Past research has suggested people living with autism are lacking in empathy but is this still a commonly-held view? Researcher Rebecca Armstrong looks into past and present research 

    Empathy is simply defined as the ability to identify and understand another persons situation and feelings; it is commonly spoken of as walking in someone elses shoes.

    It allows us to tune into how someone else is feeling, or what they may be thinking. It allows us to understand the intentions of others, predict their behavior and experience an emotion triggered by their emotions. In short, empathy allows us to interact effectively in the social world.

    Empathy is a complex construct and can be broken down into two definitions; cognitive empathy which refers to mental perspective taking, and emotional empathy which refers to vicarious sharing of emotions. This article is going to provide an overview of the complex topic of empathy in relation to gender and autism, particularly highlighting problems with measuring empathy and the misconceptions that result from these measurements.

    Empathy and autism

    Theory of mind and extreme male brain

    Empathy and gender

    Measuring empathy

    What the extreme male brain theory means for girls

    It is evident that the extreme male brain theory is based on gender stereotypes and influenced by how boys and girls are socialised. These presentations of behavioural, cognitive or emotional gender differences can be highly misleading.

    Lived experiences


    How To Teach Kindness

    How do you teach something as important as kindness to children? This likely sounds like a very daunting task. The good news is that kindness is a natural human response that likely wont need much prodding or encouragement. However, it is something that should be practiced regularly to ensure that it will stick with kids throughout childhood and into adulthood.

    Kindness can be taught at home or in the classroom, and preferably, its taught in both contexts.

    There are many strategies for teaching kindnessfar too many to include them all herebut below are six solid strategies to start with .

    Take Time To Watch Animals In Nature

    One part of respect for animals is leaving them alone in nature. You can go outside and watch the rabbits or birds in your yard, or you can go to a park nearby. Point out their interactions and what they might be doing. Teach your autistic child that it is important not to frighten the animals. These are all valuable lessons that reinforce the need to respect animals.

    In Our Age Of Narcissism A New Book Offers Research

    We live in the age of the selfiethe ubiquitous symbol of narcissism.

    But this focus on the self to the exclusion of others is harmful to our children, according to Michele Borba, author of the new book . More than the photos themselves, the idea behind themthat we are the center of our worldis the problem, reflecting a decreased focus on others and a lack of .

    According to Borba, low levels of empathy are rampant in our culture, and in kids thats associated with bullying, cheating, weak moral reasoning, and mental health issues, like anxiety and depression. Her book is a call to parents, teachers, and other caring adults to help encourage children to develop empathy and generosity toward others, and its full of research-based tips on how to do so.

    From the GGSC to your bookshelf: 30 science-backed tools for well-being.

    Some tips are focused on increasing emotional literacy in general, by helping kids to better understand their own emotions and the emotions of others. Others involve helping kids to foster a sense of themselves as caring people, by engaging them in activities where they can be generous and by modeling generosity toward others ourselves. Still others involve helping kids to become moral heroes, in school and out of it. Below are some of Borbas suggestions.

    Teaching Empathy Tip #6: Understand The Importance Of Perspective

    When we talk about empathy, we often focus on affective empathy sharing another individuals emotions.

    This emphasis is understandable. Affective empathy seems like the very bedrock of emotional intimacy. But it comes with a cost.

    Sharing another persons emotions can make us want to back away, especially when we encounter someone in pain or distress. It can also distract us. Instead of paying close attention to the needs of the other person, we become preoccupied with our own emotional plight.

    So feeling affective empathy isnt enough. To be good helpers, we also need something that psychologists call cognitive empathy the ability to imagine another persons perspective, and accurately identify what that person needs.

    The process is more dispassionate and cerebral, and less stressful. Its also leads to more accurate judgments.

    In brain scan studies, individuals who score high in cognitive empathy tend to experience less stress reactivity when they witness distress in others. And they are actually better at responding in helpful ways !

    How, then, do we foster cognitive empathy?

    Emotion coaching is a good start.

    Kids also benefit from games and activities that require them to think about what other people feel, think, want, and need.

    For example, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed and tested a 12-week classroom program called the Kindness Curriculum .

    When Do Children Learn Empathy

    4 Ways to Teach Empathy to an Autistic Child

    While research suggests that kids arent fully capable of taking a walk in someone elses shoes until they are about 7-years-old, a childs experiences early in life are said to play a much bigger role in developing empathy than we think. When parents take the time to teach their kids simple emotions, model empathetic behavior, and provide positive reinforcement when their child shows compassion, they are helping to build the foundation needed to identify with the feelings of others.

    Method 3 Of 4:encouraging Them To Care For Others

  • 1Explain the actions you take in response to othersâ emotions. One of the best tools for teaching autistic children to explain your emotions and reactions. This pairs modeling behavior with coding social actions so that your child can both see and understand why others react certain ways to different emotions.XResearch source
  • For example, if a family member falls ill, you might say, âWhen Grandma got the flu, I was worried. You know how you feel when you get sick? I wanted to help Grandma feel a little better. So I offered to take her to the doctor and help make some special sick-day meals, like soup and mashed potatoes.â
  • 2Build a model of apology, making amends, and then doing something nice. For autistic children who struggle with empathy, it is generally easy to say, âIâm sorry,â but often more difficult to make amends. Pairing these actions together can help your child understand what it means to fully apologize. Set up a model where they say they are sorry, make a plan to address the problematic speech or behavior, then do something to put a little good back into their environment.XResearch source
  • If, for example, your child yells at their teacher, first have them apologize for yelling. Then, have them work on a plan to use words instead of volume in the future. Finally, have them put a little good back into the class by volunteering to stay an extra 15 minutes to help organize classroom supplies.
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