showing empathy

Many people believe that children with autism cannot be empathic people, and that empathy cannot be learned. That is not true, however, and there are many ways to help children struggling with autism learn to better listen to and understand those around them. 


In this guide, we will go through what empathy is, how children can learn it, and what you can do to help your child struggling with empathy.


Empathy vs. Sympathy

The dictionary definition of empathy is “the ability to imagine and understand the thoughts, perspective, and emotions of another person.” This is a broad definition which generally refers to the capacity to put yourself in another person’s shoes. 


Sympathy is defined as understanding why a person feels a certain way. It is seeing their situation and comprehending the emotions that come along with what they are dealing with. 

What Elements are Needed to Show Empathy for Others?

  • Cognitive empathy  is comprehending why a person would feel a certain way.
  • Emotional empathy is feeling the emotions as someone else by putting yourself in their situation. 
  • Compassionate empathy is a mix of cognitive and emotional empathy. By understanding a person’s feelings and thoughts, you are motivated to help them. 


Do Children with Autism Lack Empathy? 

Children with autism do not necessarily lack empathy. While it may be more difficult for children with autism to recognize emotional and bodily language, it does not mean that a child with autism is incapable of cultivating and maintaining skills of empathy.


Most children with autism have difficulty expressing their emotions. Therefore , it may seem like they lack empathy. However, just because they cannot communicate empathy, doesn’t mean they don’t possess it. 


Can Empathy be Taught to Children with Autism

The short answer is yes, empathy can be taught to children with autism. The idea that children with autism are incapable to feel and have empathy for other people has often been a lack of proper research done on the subject. It is also due to a very restricted conception of empathy which does not allow for different presentations of empathy.


Explaining to Other Children that Autistic Children May Lack Empathy

The ways autism affects individuals is diverse and multifaceted. This is why teaching young children to be sensitive to peers who have autism is an important step towards helping awareness of autism. 


There are certain behaviors that children with autism may engage with that children without autism may not understand, or find strange such as:


  • Not responding to their name when called
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Not smiling back when smiled to
  • Becoming upset due to a taste, smell or sound
  • Repetitive movements
  • Little to no talking
  • Repeating the same phrases


Teaching children to be aware of these signs and learn to not be judgemental, and rather, be open-minded, is an important part of autism education. 


It is equally important to tell the truth to the child, and explain what the disorder is, and why it may cause certain behaviors which may seem strange or uncommon to occur. The more education is taught regarding what autism is, the more likely children will be sensitive to it and know how to identify it. 


ABA Therapy and Teaching Empathy 

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is a type of therapy designed to “teach functional behaviors and new skills” by focusing on patterns of behavior in the therapeutic process. The goal is to reward positive behavior and discourage negative behavior in children. It is a popular form of therapy used to help with children who have autism.

How can ABA Therapy be Used to Help Teach Children with Autism Empathy 

Golden Care Therapy uses ABA therapy to help children set and reach behavioral goals in a sustained and supportive way. ABA focuses on skill acquisition techniques, and empathy is one of those skills. Some skills which ABA therapy works on include:


  • Language Skills
  • Skills Acquisition
  • Behavior Modification
  • Activities of Daily Life (ADL) Skills
  • Social Skills
  • Executive Function


Golden Care Therapy is designed to involve parents or loved ones of the child in the process of identifying issues and behaviors which need to be worked on. They also offer a Social Skills Group which provides children with the opportunity to meet and play with other children with autism in a supervised environment with professional therapists.



Much of what has led people to believe that children with autism cannot learn empathy has been due to misinformation, lack of research, and little time spent trying to find new ways of helping children who may have particular struggles learn to better listen and be sensitive to others. 


If your child is struggling with empathy, reaching out to an ABA therapist is a great first step to help them improve their behavior and acquire skills of empathy.


If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York or New Jersey, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.


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