Tag Archives | empathy

When a child with autism first starts to recognize bullying

I find that movies are great ground breakers for my son Cameron as he tries to learn and understand social situations. We try to point out who is sad, who is happy and why.

ParanormanThis week, we watched ParaNorman for the first time. It’s a fun animated ghost movie where Norman, a quiet little boy, is able to see and talk to the dead.

This causes him all sorts of grief as the adults shake their head when he walks by and other children call him “freak” and laugh at him.

Near the beginning, introducing the main character and his life, he gets caught up in what the dead are doing, completely missing what his teacher is saying and the other children laugh at him. Other accidents happen, they laugh some more and it ends with him sulking away from his locker that says “freak” on it, for the second time that day.

It was at this point that Cameron, completely on his own, said “aww… poor kid.”

Now, I’m not going to get into the whole “do children with autism lack empathy” thing because, they don’t. However, one aspect that is quite common is the difficulty in being able to look at a situation from another person’s perspective. This is something that is difficult for all children. It’s just more so with autism.

When a child sees another child do something funny, they laugh. They don’t recognize if it’s embarrassing, hurtful or mean.
When a child sees another child as strange, odd or bizarre, they treat them as such.

Many times, it’s fully intentional and they truly are a bully. But sometimes it’s simply a lack of understanding that what they say and do is so hurtful.

I find, the best way to teach Cameron that what he says and does, while funny to him, could hurt someone else, is to show him from an entirely fresh perspective, as a 3rd party.

And that usually works to a point. He sees it, recognizes it… doesn’t truly understand it.

So when this part in the movie came on and he not only recognized the bullying but expressed his emotions about it, I was a bit shocked.

Of course this sparked a whole conversation with him about bullying and how bad someone can feel when you call them names or laugh at them but not as a lecture but rather, as something he was starting to understand and even explain back to me.

For any child, this is a great step. For a big brother, this is a momentous occasion, especially for his little brother. And for a child with autism… this is huge.

He gets it. And he expressed it.

I’m very proud of my boy.

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Autism and empathy – Here’s another way to look at it

The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

There really is a severe lack of empathy where autism is concerned. Allow me to demonstrate.

  • You’re at a grocery store and your child has a complete meltdown and someone says “Can’t you control your child?”
  • You go to a restaurant and your child has trouble sitting still and someone says “Those people really need to discipline their child.”
  • You look really tired and worn out and someone says “Parenting can be tiring. You’ll get it eventually.”
  • You’re explaining the struggles that having an autistic child can bring and someone says “Oh please. All kids do that!”

Do I need to go on? Are you starting to see where the lack of empathy comes into play?

And this is just for the parents. Here’s a new list, from the autistic’s point of view:

  • Just go and play with the other kids. You’ll have fun if you just make yourself do it.
  • It’s not that loud. Just deal with it.
  • You’re doing it my way whether you like it or not.
  • Look me in the eyes when I’m talking to you. Stop being so rude.
  • You have to give me a hug or you don’t get what the others got.

Again, the list could go on and on. But I think you’re starting to get the picture.

I won’t even go into the whole bullying thing. I think it’s safe to say we can all figure out where the lack of empathy comes in when someone is bullied, autistic or not.

Yes, there’s a very distinct lack of empathy but it’s not necessarily coming from the autistics themselves.

Sure, some autistics might not understand the thoughts or feelings of others. But then again, some autistics might just not care. Maybe it’s because they don’t understand but maybe it’s because it just doesn’t matter all that much to what they’re doing at the time. Then again, maybe some autistics care very deeply and are just unable or incapable of expressing it.

That’s a very basic and rudimentary way to look at it. For more details and examples, check out Autism and Empathy.

The bigger problem, as I see it, is the lack of empathy towards autistics, not from autistics.

Instead of wondering if someone is caring about you or your feelings, consider how you can care for theirs.

That’s the great thing about feelings. You don’t need to get them to give them.

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Sleeping with autism

By the title, you’d probably be expecting a post on how some children with autism struggle to sleep through the night or what techniques people use to get more consistent sleeping patterns… actually, this post isn’t about that.

Actually, what I do want to write about is something a bit unexpected, not a huge surprise but certainly wonderful. See, if you were to check in on my boys right now (at night), you’d see that they’re both crammed into one single little bed, asleep together.

Don’t want to sleep alone

My boys have always slept in the dark, in the quiet and on their own. We’ve never used night lights or anything and so they’ve never had any issues with needs or fears. They just go to bed at bed time and that’s that.

However, recently, my little one (Tyler, 4) has been asking that he have someone sleep with him. Usually me but sometimes my wife. It’s not because he’s scared… he just wants us with him.

Now, these are small beds… I don’t fit in one when I’m by myself, much less with a child beside me.

So there has been a couple of times that I’ve laid with him, usually I can’t because I have other things to do and then some other times I just won’t because I don’t want him becoming dependent on that sort of thing happening every night.

Autism and Empathy

Cameron and Tyler

Cameron and Tyler

This is where his big brother, Cameron (6 with autism) comes in.

The other night, I went to check on them and they were both crammed into Tyler’s bed. It wasn’t pretty. Neither one of them stays still for long in their sleep.

The next day, I asked him why he was in Tyler’s bed and he said “I just wanted to make Tyler happy.”

Now, there are strange rumours and beliefs by some people that people with autism, especially children, lack empathy. Meaning that they can’t understand how others feels, don’t identify with them and most absurdly… don’t care. This is obviously not true. I mean, not always… there certainly can be times that they won’t understand or even care, just like anyone, but when you add it all up, it’s not true that autistics are completely incapable of it.

This was certainly a great testament to that… Cameron, wanting to make his little brother happy, got out of bed and climbed in with Tyler so that he could have someone to sleep with.

They don’t do it often, thankfully, but when Tyler is really upset about it, Cameron goes on over and hops into Tyler’s bed. How can I get upset about that?

It’s awesome!

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Autism Study of the Month: Insensitivity to social reputation in Autism

mind reading

Insensitivity to social reputation in Autism

Source:  http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/10/04/1107038108.abstract?sid=19d9696a-a416-43f0-9b10-a62f5560e0bf


People act more prosocially when they know they are watched by others, an everyday observation borne out by studies from behavioral economics, social psychology, and cognitive neuroscience. This effect is thought to be mediated by the incentive to improve one’s social reputation, a specific and possibly uniquely human motivation that depends on our ability to represent what other people think of us. Here we tested the hypothesis that social reputation effects are selectively impaired in autism, a developmental disorder characterized in part by impairments in reciprocal social interactions but whose underlying cognitive causes remain elusive. When asked to make real charitable donations in the presence or absence of an observer, matched healthy controls donated significantly more in the observer’s presence than absence, replicating prior work. By contrast, people with high-functioning autism were not influenced by the presence of an observer at all in this task. However, both groups performed significantly better on a continuous performance task in the presence of an observer, suggesting intact general social facilitation in autism. The results argue that people with autism lack the ability to take into consideration what others think of them and provide further support for specialized neural systems mediating the effects of social reputation.


People are more inclined to make a donation to charity when someone is watching them… and less likely to do so when not being watched. In the case of persons with Aspergers or High Functioning Autism, this was not the case. They remained unaffected when a person did watch or did not watch.

This indicates a lack of need or desire for social reputation… or are unable to take into consideration what others will think of them.

My Opinion

This is simply my opinion of the story, stop reading if you do not want opinions and are happy just having read the details of the original study itself.

This seems quite interesting to me because other studies, as well as general observation, indicates that depression, anxiety and fear are often quite common in those with Autism, as they tend to feel, not just a disconnect, but a general rejection from society. This feeling of being an “outcast” results in being teased, bullied and otherwise put down/insulted.

The resulting depression, anxiety and fear must surely be attributed to a very strong consideration of what others think of them.

Still though, a general “feeling” of how others think of you versus a need to build one’s own reputation are two entirely different things.

While much of what this study makes perfect sense, being very easily witnessed in many individuals with Autism, I still can’t help but think that this over generalization and lack of deeper study only serves to confuse matters more for those who try to explain Autism to the uninformed.

It is my opinion, and just my opinion, that those with Autism very much do consider what others think of them, they just may not fully understand what it is that others are thinking nor why… making it so that they wouldn’t fully understand and/or care if someone else saw them donate to charity.


“Autism Study of the Month”
The purpose of the Autism Study of the Month series is to provide unpolluted (by the media) information about the studies released at least once a month in the study of possible Autism causes or risks.
You will find links to the actual studies, get to read the “abstract” of the study and, when possible, get the PR release from the source.
When it comes to science, let’s leave the media out of it.

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When your autistic child says to you “Can I talk to you about feelings?”

A couple of days ago, my wife and youngest child were out of town, leaving Cameron and I to play video games and spoil ourselves with treats.

Three Little PigsI’m not sure if it’s just because it was the two of us or if he was just in the mood for it but at a completely random point in the day, he decided to tell me about the three little pigs and the big bad wolf. While telling me the story, he suddenly stopped and said “Dad? Can I talk to you about the pigs feelings?”

If you have a loved one with Autism, you can imagine how off guard this caught me.

Luckily, I didn’t have to do a lot of talking, he took over. He explained to me how mad the pigs would be, he explained to me which ones would be happy.

My first thought is on how proud of him I am. That he’s working so hard to understand the feelings of others… more so, feelings of three little pigs who, after all these years of being in this story, no one has ever stopped to think about their feelings. He’s trying to understand, he’s trying to know why.

The more thought I put into it though, I begin to realize what a true testament this is to his teachers at his school as well as to my wife, his mother. While it is true that he’d never reach this point unless he wanted to and was ready to… it’s also true that he wouldn’t be acquiring the abilities nor desires to reach these milestones if it wasn’t for the hard work of those who work so closely with him.

If you know my story at all, you know that my family picked up and lost virtually everything to move here so that he could be at this school… and in all he does, I know we made the right choice. But in little moments like this one… where he completely catches me off guard… I know that it was the best choice we have or could have ever made.

To my wife Natalie and to the wonderful women at Cameron’s school that are doing so very well with him, thank you so very much.

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