People with autism often struggle with empathy; as a parent of a child who shows little empathy, it may be pretty terrifying to wonder what might happen to your child in relationships or how their morals might develop. A child with little empathy may laugh when another is upset, or take a toy from another child and not understand why they should share, or even be violent with little remorse.

The good news is Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapy has techniques to help teach a child empathy and how to respond to situations appropriately. Which is a huge relief when you’re the parent or even child. The other great news is lack of empathy does NOT make someone with autism an awful person who’s choosing not to care. The issue doesn’t lie in choice (typically seen with people who have autism, it’s caused by abnormal neural connectivity), and when given the option to learn and choose to care, a child with autism absolutely can!

First, the ABA therapist will likely teach your child to recognize emotions. Once they can recognize what an emotion actually is in a simple way, it will be way easier to teach them it in everyday interactions, and how to respond to those emotions. This is done through pictures of faces, the therapist demonstrating or even silent clips of facial expressions.

Apart from recognizing emotion, there are two other steps to mastering empathy. Taking someone else’s point of view into account and controlling how we respond. This can be done through role-playing situations, using life skill books demonstrating situations where empathy is needed, having the child role play another’s emotions through facial expressions, or even asking questions in everyday conversation when an empathetic response is needed.

The other cool thing about empathy is there are actually three types.

Emotional Sharing: Where you feel what another feels
Empathetic concern: Where you want to help others in distress
Perspective taking: Which is when you can see someone else’s point of view

Knowing this as parents of autistic children can help us to understand why your child might run to help their sibling up when they’ve fallen down one second, but call them names and laugh the next.

ABA is a fantastic therapy which can help so many children with autism thrive and live a far more high-functioning life than they would have. The vast amount of things the therapists can teach and help your child with is so worth the time investment and bond you will build with both the therapist and your child.