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Got Empathy?

Oct. 26, 2022

Recent research coming out of Israel sheds some light on the “empathy question” in autism. Parents and caretakers have long noticed that individuals with autism seem to be more affected by what others are going through, but their responses are often unusual. While the scientific community and general public believed that individuals with autism lacked empathy. This research shows that while most neurotypical people have a similar amount of emotional and cognitive empathy, individuals with autism show an imbalance between emotional and cognitive empathy, called empathic disequilibrium. Emotional empathy reflects our ability to identify with someone else’s feelings or experiences. However, cognitive empathy is our ability to formulate a plan to help and carry it out. For example, we see a friend crying and identify with them because we recognize the pain. This is emotional empathy. Cognitive empathy is what allows us to think a hug might help and go over to give our friend a hug. For someone with empathetic disequilibrium, they may be able to identify with the feeling of crying and know their friend is hurting, but they can’t formulate the plan of giving them a hug to make them feel better. This may lead the friend to believe that the person has no empathy because of their reaction to the situation. The truth may be that seeing their friend crying may make the person with autism feel even worse than the neurotypical person. The researchers were looking to identify markers to predict symptoms that might develop, but this line of research also highlights the importance of community inclusion. The misconception that individuals with autism don’t relate to other people and have social needs is disproven. Being a part of a community is just as important for individuals with autism as it is for individuals without autism. For more information about this study, go to . (Shalev, I., Warrier, V., Greenberg, D. M., Smith, P., Allison, C., Baron-Cohen, S., Eran, A., & Uzefovsky, F. (2022). Reexamining empathy in autism: Empathic disequilibrium as a novel predictor of autism diagnosis and autistic traits. Autism Research, 15( 10), 1917– 1928.