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Kids on the Autism Spectrum & Lack of Demonstrated Empathy

“My son with high function autism is almost completely heartless when it comes to dealings with his younger sister. He’s rude and mean and sometimes aggressive with her. Is it common for a child with this disorder to have no empathy? Will this aggression become more violent over time?”

The lack of “demonstrated empathy” is possibly the most dysfunctional aspect of High-Functioning Autism (HFA). But I do use the term “demonstrated empathy” for a very important reason, and I want to be very clear about this: It’s not that these children have no empathy – they do. Rather, they often “give the impression” that they do not care about others. 
 
However, this is due to their “mind-blindness” and “sensory sensitivity” issues, and has little to do with their ability or willingness to have feelings for others.

Kids with an autism spectrum disorder experience difficulties in basic elements of social interaction, which may include the following:
  • lack of social or emotional reciprocity
  • impaired nonverbal behaviors (e.g., eye contact, facial expression, posture, gesture)
  • failure to seek shared enjoyments or achievements with others (e.g., showing others objects of interest)
  • failure to develop friendships

Unlike those with Autism, youngsters with HFA are not usually withdrawn around others. Instead, they approach others – even if awkwardly. For example, a child on the spectrum may engage in a one-sided, long-winded speech about a favorite topic, while misunderstanding or not recognizing the listener's feelings or reactions (e.g., the need for privacy or haste to leave). 
 
This social awkwardness has been called "active but odd." This failure to react appropriately to social interaction may appear as disregard for other’s feelings, and may come across as insensitive.

The cognitive ability of kids with HFA often allows them to articulate social norms in a laboratory context, where they may be able to show a theoretical understanding of other’s emotions; however, they typically have difficulty acting on this knowledge in fluid, real-life situations. 
 
Youngsters with the disorder may analyze and distill their observation of social interaction into rigid behavioral guidelines, and apply these rules in awkward ways (e.g., forced eye contact), resulting in a demeanor that appears rigid or socially naive. Also, childhood desire for companionship can become numbed through a history of failed social encounters.

RE: aggression. The hypothesis that children on the autism spectrum are predisposed to violent or criminal behavior has been investigated, but is not supported by data. More evidence suggests that kids with HFA are victims rather than victimizers. One review found that an overwhelming number of reported violent criminals with Aspergers ALSO had coexisting psychiatric disorders (e.g., schizoaffective disorder).

In a nutshell, what you’re dealing with may have more to do with good old fashion sibling rivalry than it does your son’s inability to empathize with others. But, having mind-blindness and sensory sensitivities does not give him a license to be aggressive with his sister. Aggressive behavior should be disciplined regardless of any autism-related deficits.


More resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
 

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

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How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...

Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

Click here to read the full article…

Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…

Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

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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to read the full article...

Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

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.

Click here for the full article...

My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content