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Hi, I’m Craig Kendall, the author of The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide. In today’s issue we will discuss…

How to Teach Your Child with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome to Understand the Feelings of Others 

Do you know a child or adult with autism or Asperger’s syndrome who seems to be blind to the feelings of others? Do you ever ask yourself…

Ultimately, this is a problem of lack of empathy. Your loved one on the autism spectrum simply does not understand other’s feelings or how to empathize with others.

Tips to Help a Child or Adult with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome Develop Empathy

To try to help you understand how you can help your child with autism or Asperger’s syndrome to understand and feel the emotions of others, I have asked a young adult with Asperger’s syndrome to share her live experiences with us. Hearing the words and experiences of a young woman with Asperger’s syndrome hopefully will give you insights into how people on the autism spectrum think and how their brain works.

With these insights you will be able to help teach your loved one to better understand others.

This is part of a series of “Friendship Academy” newsletters written by a young adult with Asperger’s.

Young Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome Accommodate Each Other’s Needs

Last night, I found myself going to a play with some friends (who also have Asperger’s syndrome), most of whom I had known for many years. We did the things for each other that most people who had known each other for many years would — mainly, we accepted and worked around each other’s quirks. We knew each other well enough to know how to do this.

One of our friends with Asperger’s syndrome has a challenge with traffic. Another has time issues etc. We accommodated one friend’s need to avoid traffic in driving to the play, made sure to give extra explanation of what we were doing to a second friend, and made sure to leave on time for a third friend who hates being late.

I was allowed to choose our seats, because I can be pretty particular about where I’m sitting.

Accommodating the Needs of Others is a Skill that Those with Asperger’s Syndrome Have to Learn

This may seem pretty commonplace to you, but it’s actually a skill that takes a while to grow in most people with Asperger’s syndrome — considering the needs of others, and making a sacrifice, however small, in your own comfort to accommodate them.

More and more I have been considering the matter of empathy in people with autism and Asperger’s syndrome. I am sure many of you parents have been considering it too. “How do I get my child with autism to consider the needs of others?” you may think. “How do I get my child with autism to see that the world doesn’t revolve around him?” “How can I get my child with autism to help out around here without constantly nagging him?”

What Affects A Person’s Ability for Empathy – Whether or Not they have Autism?

A big part of being able to empathize with others depends on a person’s age and emotional readiness. Theory of mind, the theory that others have thoughts and needs other than yours, takes a while to develop. In people with autism or Asperger’s syndrome in can take longer yet, as we are talking about a development delay here.

Sensory Overwhelm in Children with Autism

One reason that children with autism often do not empathise with others is sensory overwhelm — when the world is so overwhelming to you on a daily basis, it’s really hard to think about others. A person with Asperger’s syndrome may feel that they can just barely keeping your head above water. But we find that even children with autism and Asperger’s syndrome, when they get old enough and learn better coping strategies, they eventually have more energy to expend on others–and begin to appreciate the feelings of others.

But part of it is experience. I’ve come to believe that since kids with autism and Asperger’s syndrome don’t have the same social experiences as others. Therefore, it can be really hard for these children with autism to relate in what would be called a normal way to “common” experiences that others have.

As one young adult with Asperger’s syndrome I know puts it, “I have great theory of mind with other Aspies. I can read them just fine. It is typical people I have trouble with!”

Children with Autism Don’t Learn In Early Childhood How to Relate to Others

Think about the childhood of a typical child. Lots of rough and tumble games, competitive sports, team building activities, slumber parties — endless opportunities for the neurons in the brain to make connections of “This is how it’s done, this is what other people are like.”

If I poke my friend Jimmy, he’ll say Ow. If I share my candy bar with Jimmy, he’ll smile at me. If we both score the winning goal on a soccer team, I feel good about him and he feels good about me — a sense of connection. These basic connections are the building blocks for a sense of belonging, for self-confidence, and for being able to relate to others and understand their needs. But this is often not the case for children with autism.

Children with Autism May Never Develop Social Skills

Now think of a child with an autism spectrum disorder. Maybe he just prefers to play alone, and the diagnosis is not caught until much later, especially if he does well in school. Maybe he is diagnosed, but due to sensory issues and developmental delays cannot handle playing with other kids.

He may memorize the A-L section of the Encyclopedia Britannica and be able to recite full movie scripts, but other kids just seem like foreign objects which he has no idea what to do with. Those connections, therefore, are never made for many children with autism and Asperger’s syndrome.

Sympathy versus Empathy in Children with Autism

It is often said that sympathy is when you feel sorry for someone but can’t really relate to what they are going through. Empathy is said to be when you can relate to what they are going through because you went through the same thing or a similar enough experience that you can feel their emotions. Many children with autism or kids with Asperger’s syndrome may have one or both of these things, but just show it differently.

Why Don’t Kids with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome Develop Empathy?

The reactions of a child with autism may be delayed due to having so many things going through his or her head all the time and being over focused on their environment. The subtleties of understand another’s feelings and emotions are lost as he or she simply tries to survive the over-stimulating environment in which they live. They might understand and sense another’s feels and think “That’s rough” but forget to say it, or it may occur to them hours later when they are processing the conversation.

One Adult with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome Relates Her Experience

I recall a phone conversation I was having with someone not long ago. We were talking about some issues I was having, and then suddenly the person said she had to go because her elderly mother had just had a fall and she had to call to check up on her. I continued talking about my situation for a minute and then said goodbye. After I hung up I realized I hadn’t commented on the situation with her mother or expressed any concern — and I was concerned! It’s just that it took a few minutes for my brain to switch gears between thinking about me and thinking about her.

On another note, if a person’s empathy comes largely from shared experiences and a person with autism or Asperger’s syndrome is lacking many common social experiences, it is easy to see why this sense of empathy can be often absent or delayed.

We can see here the different ways that empathy may be slow to develop in someone with high functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome. It is still there, but it needs the right circumstances to come out. 

What Can A Parent of a Child with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome Do?

A parent can help their child understand other’s emotions. As you watch your child, think to yourself…

If you sense that your child misses emotional cues, ask your child to focus on what the other person is thinking and feeling. How is the other person feeling? How would YOU feel in the same situation?

After all, most children with high functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome are quite intelligent. They can be taught. But many parents forget or do not notice that their children with autism miss the signals that a neurotypical child sees. By pointing out to your child that another child is worried, scared, sad or happy, it will help them develop the skills necessary to develop a sense of empathy for others.

And for further tips and techniques to help your children and loved ones with Asperger’s syndrome live a happy and fulfilled live, see Craig Kendall’s books.

19 Responses to Understand feelings Children with Autism-Aspergers Syndrome-84

  1. victoria murphy says:

    he will be turning 20 years old. i;m worried that he won’t be able to take care of himself once we are gone. we are older parents. we are looking for some kind of support group for him. any suggestions.

  2. victoria murphy says:

    How do i help my son make friends in person. rather than communicating consistantly on the internet, he needs friends like himself desperately. he;s with my husband or myself 100% of the time. He wants friends in person

    • Craig Kendall - Author says:

      Your son needs social skills training. If he is still in public school in the U.S. and is under 19, then he qualifies for assistance through the IDEA which is a federal law helping students with a disability get an education. Your son will likely benefit from a therapist working with him to learn how to improve his social skills. Start by going to his school and saying that you want your son evaluated because you feel he has special needs, and may have high functioning autism. Explain the lack of social skills and how this is negatively impacting him. You may have to get an advocate if the school system is unresponsive. The school should help pay for some of the therapy and provide some or all of it.

      These articles may help:
      504 Plan Accommodations for Students with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome

      How does a 504 Plan Differ from an IEP for Students with Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome

  3. Ann says:

    Sometimes being a career for someone with ASD can be overwhelming and frustrating. Your info above reminds me it’s not personal and there are strategies.

  4. Mel says:

    Thanks for your information. Do you know how I can translate to spanish?

    • Craig Kendall - Author says:

      I suggest you try and use the Google translate feature. It will not be perfect but it will give a good approximation.

  5. Mary Gallagher says:

    I am a mother that is struggling in this department, big time. I have a 17 yr old daughter diagnosed just last week and a 10 yr old son diagnosed 1 yr ago. We seem to have autism traits in the 2 other children. My son saw me struggling this week in cleaning up the yard and so did my daughter it dawned on me to use emotions that i was feeling to try to get them to help but it didn’t get through to them and the fact that i was starting to tire from the nagging i started to give up trying to get them to help out. I get really frusrated from having to nag at them but this story i hope really will help. I am overwhelmed at this point and really need some advice for my husband is away at the time doing some training 4 weeks for law enforcement. The kids just want their way with me but it takes tooth and nail to say no and they don’t take to it very well and fights and choas comes with it.

    • Craig Kendall - Author says:

      I suggest that you have a family meeting. Sit down when everyone is calm. Announe the family meeting at least one day in advance. Tell everyone that while their dad is away some things need discussing. They tell them the problems you are having and say that they are all a team, a family, and you all have to work together. Try and get them to make suggestions. Get their participation. Ask them what difficulties they are having while their dad is away and what help they need.

      Come up with a set of rules that everyone has to follow. It can be that they take turns washing dishes, or whatever. PUT THESE IN WRITING and put them on the refrigerator door so everyone can see them. Start implementing the rules after 24 hours notice. Do not implement them immediately. Again allow everyone to know that things are changing. Then stick to the rules. Stay calm. If they say they do not want to help, say that everyone agreed to the rules and they have to. Kids with Asperger’s syndrome/autism are very rules based and like routine. With your husband gone that upsets the routine. Establish a new routine and allow everyone a few days to get used to it. Then stick to the new routine and NEVER MAKE EXCEPTIONS. Good luck.

    • Minda Leszcynski says:

      I understand my 17 is the same way (yard work)! I don’t know how to help him!! I have been looking for ways and I talk to him all the time and just cannot seem to get through to him. I’m very scared as he will turn 18 next year if he cannot take care of himself now how is he going to in a year? I have found no one to understand me or him! Thanks for your post it helps me know that I’m not the only one overwhelmed

  6. jayne says:

    really helps me understand where my son is coming from, and is good as it gives good practical advice which helps me to help him rather than me having to try and invent or devise the help from the theory as usually happens.
    v grateful

  7. Carrie Ballard says:

    I also have to process conversations afterwards and have immediate empathy lapses! Very insightful and interesting articlr – it gives hope. My son temporarily hurt his back recently and it made him ask “Mum is this what it’s like for you all the time?” as I have had constant daily pain for some time. He was impatient with me before he hurt himself.

    • Craig Kendall - Author says:

      Truthfully, these children simply do not understand. They lack the ability to easily feel your pain and frustration. When explaining things to someone with autism be very specific. Be calm. Use direct language. Do not use nuanced or subtle language. If you feel sad, say so. If you are frustrated say so and explain why. The more direct you are the greater the likelihood that your son or daughter will understand.

  8. Connie Watson says:

    Dear Mr. Kendall
    I just wanted to say hello and thank you again for your devotion and help. I have bought all of your books, read them and passed them on. I have bought them for my daughter too. My grandson is progressing, although suffers alot still, with this disability. Your books and your newsletters are tremendous help. I continually look forward to them since I joined a few years ago. I appreciate you so much Mr. Kendall.
    Sincerely,
    Connie Watson

  9. Eileen says:

    My husband is an Aspie, but his condition went undiagnosed for most of his life. We only learned what his true condition was two or three years ago. His inability to emphathize was a wonder to me–a 100 percent social animal–and often times became a point of conflict in our relationship. Now that we know, it is so much easier for me to emphathize/sympathize w/him around this deficiency and to patiently help him see and understand how another person might feel in a certain situation. In the past, I considered it a character flaw and it disturbed me greatly. Now I see it for what it really is…a challenge unique to him and other Aspies which can be understood and accommodated. Thank you, Craig, for helping me understand and become more loving toward my wonderful husband.

  10. Lila Penner says:

    Upon reading this I realized how I also forget to empathise with people until like you say much later when I am rehearsing the conversation in my head.

  11. Claudia Garcia says:

    Excellant information. I really appreciate your insight and find your written thoughts helpful!

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