showing empathy

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological condition that affects social interaction, communication, and behavior. While individuals with autism may struggle with empathy and emotional understanding, recent research has shown that their capacity for empathy may be more complex than previously believed. Understanding the relationship between autism and empathy is crucial for creating more inclusive and supportive environments for individuals with autism.

This article will explore the connection between autism and empathy, examining the ways in which individuals with autism experience and express empathy. We will also discuss the challenges that individuals with autism may face in understanding and responding to the emotions of others, as well as the strategies and interventions that can support the development of empathy in individuals with autism. By gaining a deeper understanding of the relationship between autism and empathy, we can work towards creating a more empathetic and inclusive society for all individuals, including those with autism.


What is Empathy? 

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. It involves both recognizing and responding to the emotions of others, and is a key component of social interaction and communication. Empathy allows us to connect with others on an emotional level, to feel their joy or their pain, and to respond in a way that is appropriate and supportive.

Empathy vs. Sympathy

While empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably, they have distinct meanings. Empathy involves understanding and sharing the feelings of others, while sympathy involves feeling compassion or sorrow for someone else’s situation.

Empathy requires a deeper level of understanding and connection with another person’s emotions, and involves putting yourself in their shoes and feeling what they feel. Sympathy, on the other hand, involves acknowledging someone else’s situation and expressing concern or support, but doesn’t necessarily involve feeling their emotions.

For example, if a friend is going through a difficult time, empathy involves feeling their pain and sadness and expressing understanding and support for what they are going through. Sympathy, on the other hand, involves acknowledging their situation and expressing concern or offering help, but doesn’t necessarily involve feeling the same level of emotion that they are experiencing.

Both empathy and sympathy are important for building and maintaining relationships, and can help us to connect with others and offer support when it is needed. However, empathy involves a deeper level of emotional understanding and connection, and can be particularly important for individuals with autism who may struggle with social interaction and communication.


What Elements are Needed to Show Empathy for Others?

  • Cognitive empathy is comprehending why a person would feel a certain way.
  • Emotional recognition scine 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. 

How is Emapthy Measured in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Measuring empathy or a lack of empathy in people with autism can be challenging, as the experience and expression of empathy can vary widely depending on the individual and the specific circumstances. However, researchers have developed a variety of methods for measuring empathy in individuals with autism, including both self-report measures and observational measures.

Self-report measures typically involve asking individuals with autism to complete questionnaires or surveys that assess their emotional understanding, perspective-taking, and ability to respond to the emotions of others. These measures can provide insights into an individual’s subjective experience of empathy, and can help to identify areas of strength and weakness.

Observational measures, on the other hand, involve observing individuals with autism in social situations and assessing their ability to recognize and respond to the emotions of others. These measures may involve rating the individual’s facial expressions, body language, or verbal responses, and can provide valuable insights into the individual’s ability to express empathy in real-world situations.

Ultimately, measuring empathy in individuals with autism requires a multi-faceted approach that takes into account the individual’s unique strengths and challenges, as well as the specific context and social environment in which they are interacting. By developing a more nuanced understanding of how empathy is experienced and expressed in individuals with autism, we can work towards creating more supportive and inclusive environments for individuals with autism and their families.


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 and reading other’s facial expressions. Therefore , it may seem like they have a lack of 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 spectrum disorder. 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 have a Lack of 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 judgmental, 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:



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, New Jersey or Indiana, 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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