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Teaching autistic children expression may help them develop empathy

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Posted January 19, 2016

Children with autism struggle with social relations and usually have lower empathy abilities. Now scientists from the University of Aberdeen say that there are ways to help these children improve their social communication skills. New approach is based on assumption that more expressive people are better at understanding emotions of other people, which was found out in a new study.

More expressive people are more empathic as well. Children with autism struggle with empathy, which is why drama-type activities should help them create and maintain social relations. Image credit: Julio Nohara via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

More expressive people are more empathic as well. Children with autism struggle with empathy, which is why drama-type activities should help them create and maintain social relations. Image credit: Julio Nohara via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Researchers created a questionnaire to investigate how expressive actions used to communicate to other people correlate to ability to understand emotions of others. Study revealed that there is a direct connection – more expressive people tend to be more empathic. Dr Justin Williams, leader of this research, said: “empathising is a skill associated with the experience and expression of actions such as gesture and facial expression. Children with autism have difficulties in these kinds of social communication.  The results of this study suggest that it may be possible to promote empathic ability using drama-type activities that teach social actions like facial expressions and gestures”.

Everyone imitates each other in order to understand the feelings better, but some people are more expressive than others. This is a fundamental mechanism how we understand emotions of others and when it is impaired it is very hard to create and maintain social relations.

People with autism usually can pick up other people emotions very well, but cannot understand them nor interpret them in the context of social relations easily. They also struggle expressing themselves. Scientists say that being empathic is more about being empathic really is about being “touchy-feely” – it relies heavily on having an awareness of bodily sensations and being able to express emotions and feelings in actions.

Teaching autistic children activities, filled with gestures and facial expressions, should help them develop better empathic abilities. However, this is a new approach and it is still not clear if drama-type activities would help children with autism develop and maintain social relations easier.

Source: abdn.ac.uk

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