Does My Child on the Spectrum Have No Feelings for Others?

“Is it common for children with an autism spectrum disorder to come off as rude? My son will say and do things that can be inappropriate (especially to his younger sister), which makes him appear as if he has no feelings for others.”

It is fairly common. But this isn’t to say that kids with Asperger’s (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA) are heartless. These children have difficulty using non-verbal behaviors in social interaction.

Here are some examples:
  • Body postures regulating social interaction may be affected. A very common example of this difficulty is that kids with AS and HFA may not know how to judge social distance and may stand too close.
  • Eye contact may be impaired, meaning that the youngster may not look at others upon greeting or during conversations, and may not respond when others try to catch his eye. It’s easy to see why others might inaccurately perceive the child to be rude for not paying attention.
  • Facial expressions used to communicate may be odd. Sometimes the expressions are limited or flat. Sometimes they are inappropriate. At other times, they are exaggerated. Is the child trying hard to be impolite in this case? Probably not.
  • Social smiling may be impaired. In this case, AS and HFA kids may not smile back at someone smiling at them, may not smile during greeting, or may not smile in response to something someone else said. This, too, may seem rude to others.

Again, it's easy to see why others could misread what the AS or HFA youngster is thinking or feeling. For example, Kevin, a rather sweet and kind 7-year-old boy with Asperger’s, broke out into laughter when his sister fell down the stairs. Clearly, his response was inappropriate to the situation and would not be expected.

Does this mean Kevin can’t empathize with others’ pain? I don’t think so. How many times have we busted out in laughter while watching a TV show like America’s Funniest Home Videos after witnessing someone falling or slipping? It’s funny at the time, but that doesn’t make us heartless, uncaring viewers.

When your child says or does something that seems rude or inappropriate, rather than punishment, a simple reminder to respond differently the next time may be all that is needed (e.g., “I know you thought it was funny when your sister fell down the steps. But she banged her knee, which was painful. A better response would be to help your sister get back up and ask if she is O.K.”).

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


•    Anonymous said...  My 17 year old grandson has aspergers, it's been quite a journey, especially before he was diagnosed. Since he lives far away, I only have snap shots of his life, but he seems to have come a long way!
•    Anonymous said... I agree with this I am having lots of trouble with school over my son as he is in a main stream school and the teachers don't understand him so they just say he is spoilt and so rude which just isn't the vase but when I try to explain they think I am just trying to make excuses for him.
•    Anonymous said... lol - my husband says, "I never saw him/her before in my life." Ugh ... not aspergers though ... or is it? hmmm
•    Anonymous said... My 5yo is halfway through kindergarten. He goes to a big public school and also knows a lot of children in his on-site after school program. Many of the other kids seem to want to be his friend and when they see him they respond very warmly- but about half of the time he's not in the mood for their greetings and turns his head away or refuses to say hi or hi-five them back. I just hope they keep giving him chances instead of deciding he's unfriendly. I talk to him gently about it but he likes to run his own show.
•    Anonymous said... My 7 year old son is the same way. Very blunt. We work with him constantly but his social interactions stay the same. It has gotten to where he is now hitting and kicking teachers and getting kicked out of after school care programs. We are lost at this point. He sees a psychiatrist and we have tried so many medications... This has to get better. I adore him and hate to see people judge him so harshly.
•    Anonymous said... My daughter gets lots of lectures at school how it is polite to look at people in the eye when they talking to her. She finds this too difficult.
•    Anonymous said... My son concentrates better when he is not forced into making eye contact, teachers think he is not listening..but he is one of the smartest kids in his year...they are not listening or seeing.
•    Anonymous said... My son just turned 22. You will live through it, I promise. It's a long difficult journey that's ongoing to this day. At a young age they are not able to understand why they think the way they do. They just plain can't help it. My son was almost 19 before he would go into a store and pay for anything. If he had a $10.00 and the total was less, he would throw down the ten and leave the store. Since he's been able to research for himself and realize that it's a social disorder ONLY, that he has an IQ of 135, and only he can control himself, things have gotten a lot better. Be patient with your child. Be good to yourself. Your child is awesome for their uniqueness. Your child is brilliant and oh so funny. Will never lie to you when you wish to heaven they had just a little tact! It's hard but I wouldn't have a different child for anything and I know you wouldn't either.
•    Anonymous said... Oh is the one for saying "dont speak to him/her"when we are out and someone enages conversation. ..I do have to tell them "hes stilll learning the social rules".
•    Anonymous said... People think my 7 yr old has bad manners. Not the case he has aspergers
•    Anonymous said... Plenty of "wish the floor would open up and swallow me" moments with master 8. We saw a doctor that knows him luckily and he asked him "why he was so fat", only problem was we were 1 side of the surgery and the dr was the other, and it was said very loud. He often speaks his mind in a loud voice on making comments about other people. He is improving and now I am very quick with covering his mouth when I pick a rude comment about to come out.
•    Anonymous said... Yes and we are still working with my 10 year old with this. Some adults think I need to teach him manners but they just don't understand that aspies are blunt and to the point.
•    Anonymous said... Yes, many people judge quickly with us who are dealing with AS. Partly because there is no obvious disability and they just feel we, as parents, have done our job. Our awesome 3rd grade MVCA teacher is working 1:1 with our son and actively teaching him appropriate social behaviors and etc. WONDERFUL!
•    Anonymous said... YES. I agree 100% with you Amber Dingman. Because there is nothing obvious the general observer who does not know the situation will judge and often scold an Aspie. Happened a week or so ago at school. A teacher called my Aspie "dear". He said "please don't call me that." He was brought into the hall for a "talk". I of course explain to him about terms of endearment, but he doesn't want anything to do with it. Just one of his things that irritates him. I told him to always be polite. Learning social cues and skills is a 24/7 task.
•    Anonymous said... Yes. My 10 year old once said to some friends at church, "why do they act like they know me? I don't know them" (old family friends who knew her as a baby) ugh. That's one of dozens of stories.
•    My 10yo Aspie has empathy, but he lacks a social filter. He doesn't notice the small cues that show when he has hurt someone's feelings unless explicitly pointed out. We have done a lot of modeling, standing behind him like a puppet and feeding him a script to diffuse the situation.

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