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Lack of Empathy

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Old 06-24-2007, 09:10 PM   #1
Join Date: Jun 2007
Location: Aurora, CO, USA
Posts: 8
MrsMantis HB User
Lack of Empathy

Hi all -

I'm a mother to a wonderful 6-year-old boy (Tyler) who was diagnosed with Autism two years ago. He's loving, affectionate, and can be quite fun to be with most the time.

He's verbal and attended a regular preschool and kindergarten. He's quite high functioning. As time goes on and I analyze his behavior, I'm realizing that a good chunk of his behavioral issues are because he seems to have almost no empathy for people around him, and even us.

He cares about his needs, wants and desires and doesn't care about how others feel. He attends swimming classes and pushes people out of the way. He couldn't care less about authority. He screams, yells and cries when he doesn't get his way. He doesn't care that he is effecting people around him. He won't play with his little sister. He'll take toys from her if she's playing with something. He's very selfish. It seems like we can't go anywhere without being the "scene-makers." It's caused me to become somewhat reclusive and I know Tyler can't be having a good summer.

I did take him to the theater tonight and he was very good. But earlier today at an air show he was screaming, crying, laying down on the ground, yelling at us....all because he wanted chocolate milk. We finally just had to leave, because the fits wouldn't stop.

I feel sad, desperate, depressed, scared about his future, worried about sending him to 1st grade (as he had many bad days in Kindergarten - many good...but lots of bad ones too.)

I just feel DRAINED.

We are going to get him into behavioral therapy. He's not on medication.

My question - Does anyone else have a child with autism that seems to have no care about other peoples feelings or how their behavior may be disruptive to those around him/her? Will this go away in time? Can a child learn empathy? Any advice will be welcomed. I'm mentally drained.

Last edited by MrsMantis; 06-24-2007 at 09:24 PM.

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Old 06-25-2007, 11:59 AM   #2
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 439
meechieny HB User
Re: Lack of Empathy

This is something that I think I can help you with. Social behaviors need to be taught to children with Autism, they don't seem to come naturally to them. We have been very sucessful with our son in this department. It takes a lot of work, but the results are WONDERFUL!!!!!
So much of language is nonverbal. Being able to read a person's body language is so important to figuring out how to act in a social situation. I really think you can teach this.
How is he reading other's facial expressions?
Unfortunately you can't put links on this site, but if you try to find "facial expressions," many educational sites have drawings and/or real photographs of people's expressions.
Now when I'm upset with him I ask him,"what does my face look like?" and he is getting it.
He notices me all the time now and will say to me "Mommy your'e happy." I JUST LOVE THAT!!!!!
I also use "social stories." Again they can be found on the internet. I am making my own now and have a book of them for school also. I have stories about "why we raise our hand in class." "What is a good friend." "Why are we quite in a resturant."
I watch him constantly with his brother and sister. When he takes something away I ask him "how does that make your brother feel?" When his brother takes something away from him I ask him how does that make YOU feel? I correct him all the time and make him repeat "May I have a turn please?"
It is almost like being a little angel on his shoulder and guiding him socially.

You also have to treat him as if he is typical. Be firm, have expectations of him and if he doesn't do it...... punish him.
Before we go in a store or a resturant I lay down the rules. If he pitches a fit, we take away some perk he has. "If you don't stop it now you will not go in the pool today." I count to 3 and if he doesn't, no pool.
I can honestly say this is working. Maturity does have a big part too. We saw a lot of growth from kindergarten to 1st grade. So hang in there. So many typically kids pitch fits too. Just try to laugh it off. Odds are you will never see any of those people again anyway. If they are going to judge you as a mother or your sweet son they are not worth it.
Have a great summer. Fall will be here before you know it.

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Old 06-28-2007, 03:55 AM   #3
Join Date: Jun 2007
Location: Aurora, CO, USA
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MrsMantis HB User
Re: Lack of Empathy

That was very helpful....I appreciate your reply.

I wrote that when I was pretty upset. My son is such a sweetheart. We use social stories, but haven't over the summer so far. His behavior was really good until he got out of school and it seems that the break in routine sent him into an attention-seeking tailspin, which inspired me to write my first post.

Anyway, we also take privileges away from him too when he acts up. He understands facial expressions and is always concerned about whether I'm happy or sad. If I'm sad, he begs me to smile again. Some puzzle pieces are really falling into place and I feel like I'm understanding where the problem areas are.

He's our eldest child, with a sister that is only two and has Down Syndrome, so I don't have a "typical" model to compare him to, so it's much harder. If I'm around another six year old, the problems with my son are much clearer, as I've grown accustomed to his quirks and hardly notice them anymore.....but to a stranger, it must be so much more apparent.

Thank you for your input tho and we are going to focus in on social stories again, targeting the area of empathy and see if we can start teaching him acceptable social behavior.

Old 06-28-2007, 11:27 AM   #4
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 439
meechieny HB User
Re: Lack of Empathy

This is all pretty hard to deal with at times isn't it? It isn't until now for me that I'm able to look back and think of all we were going through and really see how far we have come.
Your babe sounds like he is high-functioning. I think the higher functioning kids have a real chance of outgrowing a lot of these behaviors and some of the interests that they have for example.... is going to make them dynamic adults. My father who is 68 had a friend who's brother was obsessed with planes, could only say plane while growing up...grew into a very successful air-nautical engineer. I keep that in the back of my mind all the time.
Some thing I wanted to ask is if your son was ever offically diagnosed with autism? Does he have a IEP in place? If so, you might want to call the special ed department in your school district and see if they have a "extended year program." That is a half day program at the school that is designed for kids who would have regression during the summer break. If they don't have that program you might want to request that they have a therapist or teacher come to your house a couple of hours a week to work with him.
Also you could call your local "Autistic Support Group" and see about special workshops available to kids during the summer.
Good luck to you.

Old 06-29-2007, 09:17 AM   #5
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Location: Ohio, USA
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Callista HB User
Re: Lack of Empathy

He probably doesn't have a clue what other people are feeling... Empathy is something autism doesn't make easy, but by no means is it impossible. At the age of 6, your boy has a lot of growing up to do yet--a lot of normal kids don't have a lot of empathy at that age, either. Autism just means he's got to be taught, because he probably won't pick it up on his own.

I've got Asperger's, and I've never had empathy. I define "empathy" as naturally being aware of, and to some extent copying, others' feelings and thoughts. When other people are happy or sad or angry, I don't copy their feelings. I have my own feelings, unaffected by others'.

A lack of empathy doesn't mean a lack of compassion, though. It just means compassion has to be learned. For me, that means trying to figure out what the other person might be feeling, by logic instead of face-reading and all that fuzzy social telepathy I'm just not all that good at. It means that I have to put all the factors together, decide how I would react to them, and then figure out whether the other person's reactions might be different, because they are different from me. This is quite a sophisticated process, and I'm still not 100% good at it. At six, I had no idea other people thought differently at all.

Eventually, what evolved was a sort of impersonal altruism--a knowledge that other people can be upset just like I can be, and a desire to prevent that from happening. It's always easier for me to help others if the need is material--a glass of water for somebody who's thirsty, or help carrying something, or whatever. But I've gotten some basic procedures for comforting people, too; rules like "don't talk about astronomy with somebody who's sad" or "sitting very close to someone of the same gender can be comforting" or "ask questions about what they're sad about, and don't say a lot because they want to talk" or "don't try to figure out a solution because that makes people think you don't think their problems are serious".

Being considerate of others can come earlier than actually understanding others, though, if you follow social rules. It won't be true compassion; but it'll smooth down the interpersonal relations so that he can try to watch and understand people at his own speed, without constantly being in conflict with them. Teaching him those rules is probably the best you can do for him now--he'll figure out the rest on his own, given time and nonthreatening interaction with other people.

Old 06-30-2007, 08:54 PM   #6
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GatsbyLuvr1920 HB UserGatsbyLuvr1920 HB User
Re: Lack of Empathy

I still get confused about what empathy is and whether I have it or not. The definition I usually use is a distinction between sympathy and empathy that I once read somewhere. It said that sympathy is feeling badly for somebody, like you being sorry if somebody's grandfather died. They defined empathy as you personally feeling badly because the other person felt badly. By that definition, I don't have empathy. I don't get past simply saying, "Sorry that happened," and, "I hope you're okay." I do hope they're okay. I just don't feel sad because they do. I rarely feel sad to begin with. I usually have three moods: giddy/excited, angry, or upset/frustrated. If empathy also involves offering comfort to somebody, I don't do that, either. Other than saying the two mechanical phrases I listed above, I don't know how to offer comfort. I don't know what else to do or say.

Like Callista said, autistics may not be empathetic but it doesn't mean we don't care or don't have feelings. Rather, we don't know how to respond appropriately. We respond, but it's either too much or too little for a given situation. Our feelings get hurt like everyone else's. We care about loved ones like everyone else. We just may not be able to show that we care.
"Not everything that steps out of line, and thus 'abnormal,' must necessarily be 'inferior.'"
-Hans Asperger

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