Can babies help teach empathy?

Something wonderful has been happening in our family since the arrival of my baby niece a year ago – our son’s interaction with her.  You may wonder what’s so special about that.  Well, my 12 year old son is autistic and has difficulties in empathising with other people which means he doesn’t always respond in the most appropriate manner.  However, what we are witnessing is our son responding to his baby cousin in a loving and gentle way, without any prompting by us.  He cuddles her when she is tearful, he plays with her, talks to her and helps to support her when she sits on her toy pony.  To see this interaction almost brings a tear to my eye for my son usually needs a lot of help to recognise and respond to other people’s feelings.  For my son though, I do wonder whether the limited speech of his baby cousin makes it easier for him to bond with her, unlike older children who have developed more complex language and social behaviour which he finds confusing and unpredictable.

Nevertheless I was really interested to hear about the Roots of Empathy programme which is being used in schools in various countries across the world.  The aim of the programme is to help children to recognise feelings and emotions in others and to respond appropriately.  What is so unique is that the programme centres on a baby as a teacher.  What happens is that a parent and baby visit the classroom and with the help of an instructor the pupils are encouraged to observe the baby and to identify its feelings.  By doing this the children are helped to recognise their own feelings and the feelings of others and to develop more positive behaviour towards one another.  Research suggests that the programme reduces aggression and anti-social behaviour.

I don’t know whether such a programme would specifically help autistic children but nonetheless such an innovative scheme is clearly benefiting other children and the wider society.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
This entry was posted in Autism Spectrum Disorder, Behaviour and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Can babies help teach empathy?

  1. Aspie in the family says:

    >Hi Fiona and thanks for commenting. It must be very hard to have a child that shows no empathy to others. I have to admit to feeling quite relieved (and surprised) that my son responded to his baby cousin in the way he did. I was interested to read about the Roots of Empathy programme because it looked like a good way to try and alleviate some of the bullying and aggression that is going on between children. x

  2. Fiona says:

    >J's lack of empathy or theory of mind is the one thing that I used to find the hardest to cope with. To have a child you love so much and cannot relate to on an emotional level, hurt. Over the years he hasn't developed any signs of empathy. I can sit in front of him and weep and he's remains blissfully unaware, wrapped up in his own world.
    I think the Roots of Empathy programme definately has a place teaching children on the spectrum though. I'm sure that some of my friends would find it invaluable for use with their children with aspergers. xx

  3. Aspie in the family says:

    >Hi Brenda; thankyou for dropping by and commenting. I'm also concerned about this idea that autistic people lack empathy; certainly my son has shown evidence of it. For my son I think it is language, how it is used and social behaviour that confuses my son plus he can't express himself either.

  4. Brenda says:

    >Hi, there! Enjoying reading some of your posts for the first time. It bothers me when doctors say that our kids lack empathy. The way I like to think about it is … our kids need more experiences, lots more experiences with emotions and relationships, than other kids. I think my son has always had empathy. He just didn't know how to read other people or to express it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>