MYTH BUSTER! : Children with Autism Do Not Lack Empathy
With the CDC reporting that 1 in 68 children are diagnosed on the Autistic Spectrum, knowledge and awareness of Autism is growing. Unfortunately, so are the myths.
I often say that my son’s Autism was the rock I was forced to break myself upon. Rather than allowing myself to break into bits, I chose to be like water and move around the rock, and learned to embrace the rock and all it’s smooth and jagged edges.
In other words, I became more flexibe and decided to change my perspective. In my opinion the only hope for change was to realize resistance was futile and meaningful improvements meant getting really positive and creative too.
I had to learn to see things in a different way-from my son’s perspective.
MYTH: Children with autism are not affectionate
and are not interested in social interaction.
FACT: Autism doesn’t make an individual unable to feel the
emotions you feel. They simply express it in different ways.
The most difficult Autism myths that
I struggle with as a parent, are those concerning emotional empathy and affection. My son’s verbal abilities did not emerge until about 5 years of age. Until then, we didn’t have the same “I love you” verbal exchange as parents of neurotypical children may have. Instead, I would touch my hand to my heart with two pats and then touch his heart two times. It was something I started when he was an infant. I can’t explain how his eyes would light up when I did this special bonding gesture with him; as he was unable to speak his feelings. Today, even though he is talking away and can verbally express “I love you”, we still use this gesture, even from across a room to express our feelings without words.
As much as children may appear to be the same, we parents understand that each one is inherently unique. The same is true for children diagnosed on the spectrum. Autism can present differently and each child will have a unique pattern of symptoms. The difficulties associated with autism spectrum disorders can be obvious, such as lining up toys, language delays, or physical movements such as walking on the toes or hand flapping. However, the growing numbers of children diagnosed along the spectrum have deficits which are extremely subtle and only become apparent in social situations, such as problems with play or initiating conversation. This can sometimes create confusion, and myths about autism sprout up.
Click the image or link above to see a beautiful video on children diagnosed on the spectrum expressing emotion.
Autism often affects an individual’s ability to understand unspoken interpersonal communication, so someone with autism might not correctly interpret anger based upon one’s body language or sarcasm in one’s tone of voice. HOWEVER, when emotions are communicated in a more direct manner, children with autism are more likely to feel empathy and compassion for those around them.
Most autistic people are incredibly capable of feeling and expressing love. Autistic people are exceptionally more empathetic than the average person, though they may express their empathy in unique ways. They may appear cold or detached, but it does not mean that they lack interest or desire to be affectionate. Some children don’t understand the purposes of hugging and need to be taught this social convention. For other Autistic children the act of hugging may induce unusual responses to sensory stimuli and be oversensitive to touch or hugs, even though they appear to have a high threshold for pain when injured.
Most children with Autism are enthusiastic to have friends and socially interact with their peers, but often have difficulties knowing how to initiate and maintain relationships. Social graces don’t come naturally to people with autism, so they often need to be specifically taught how to navigate with social cues and rules. We achieve this through role playing activities with peers, parents or therapists, and ABA support in the inclusion setting.
Children with Autism can, and usually are, very aware of their interpersonal ability differences. Due to this awareness of their social awkwardness, children with autism can become socially anxious and even withdrawn, despite wanting friendships and social contact. This is a life-long problem for people with autism.
If we just learn to change our perspective, we just may learn a whole lot more about the growing population of autistic children.
Resources To Help Teach Emotions
- Free! Printable Emotions Game for kids with Autism and tons more resources to boot!
- Social Skills Activities
- Social Stories by Carol Gray
- Emotion Cards – Buy or Use as a reference to Make your own!
- Emotion Images (Pecs)
- How to teach autistic children about emotions article by Jillian E. Shepherd
Autism Speaks has an article on more myths associated with Autism if you would like to learn more. 11 Myths About Autism