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How can I teach empathy to my child with Aspergers?

One of the most common areas of weakness mentioned to me by moms and dads is empathy. Aspergers causes an individual to lack empathy. Showing emotions and acknowledging another person's feelings are very important skills. Without empathy, a person is seen as cold and unfeeling, therefore making it difficult to develop personal relationships with others.

If you were to complete an Internet search on empathy and Aspergers, you would find a topic that is very well covered. This weakness is quite well-known. The problem lies within the inability to determine another individual's feelings, more so than an actual inability to feel. Once your child becomes aware of another person's feelings, he is likely quite capable in showing empathy of a variety of emotions. The key to teaching empathy is helping him learn to understand and recognize other people's true feelings and emotions.

As a parent, you should definitely teach empathy. Aspergers doesn't eliminate the desire to learn, even though it can make it a bit difficult. Here are some ideas you can use to help your child develop a healthier emotional outlook.

• Social stories can be used to teach a variety of skills. You can purchase books of social stories or create your own personal versions. Feel free to make some of them silly and fun, while others are more sad and serious.

• Occupational and Speech/language therapy practice at home is important to your child's development. Make sure you are meeting with his therapists regularly and working on the goals that help with empathy: sensory issues, social cues and language, and pretend-play, to name a few.

• Social skills groups/classes can be found through your child's school, doctor's office, or your local Autism support group. Good social skills will automatically enhance your child's empathy. If you cannot find a social skills group for your child, speak with the special education department at his school for tips you can use at home. Better yet, convince them of the need to start a social skills group at school, complete with peer buddies. (Peer buddies are neuro-typical classmates who have a desire to help with the challenges some of the special needs students face at school.)

• Video, peer, and self-modeling are all good ways to teach empathy. Using videos, your child can learn to connect feelings by watching facial expressions while listening to the conversations that take place. Once a video has been implemented, bringing in a peer to help re-create the video will bring about a new dimension. Likewise, have your child use a mirror to see different facial expressions while talking about their meanings. Seeing, hearing, and doing will help your child make important connections that will stick with him.

While planning to assist a youngster by teaching empathy, Aspergers specialists and moms and dads must also balance the need for good communication skills. Social cues and gestures are an important part of emotional connection. A good speech/language therapist can help your child learn better social skills and empathy by improving his verbal and nonverbal language skills.

My Aspergers Child: Preventing Meltdowns

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Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

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Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

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