PSY – 241 TH1
Low Empathy Capacity in Toddlers Could be an Early Sign of Autism Autism is a well-known disorder that impairs a person’s social, verbal and behavior development. In my general psychology class, we briefly went over the Autism disorder and discussed the spectrum of severity. At the mild side of the spectrum the individual might be socially under developed, might not be as verbal as others and may display some unusual behavior. At the severe side of the spectrum the individual will more than likely not be sociable at all, will be either non-verbal or unable to complete words, sentences or thoughts, and will show repetitive, restrictive or harmful behavior. Asperger syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified are also included on the spectrum. Although this disorder can cause many problems for many individuals and their families, there are also other individuals who suffer from different levels of this disorder but are also extremely smart. I am interested to learn more about this disorder and the early warning signs in infants and toddlers. My mother works for the public school system in Newport, NC and specifically works with the special needs children. Almost all of the children she works with every day are suffering from mild to severe Autism. Many of her students do not want to follow directions, yell, hit, cuss and suffer from major stress or depression problems. This makes teaching and every day school activities much more strenuous for not only the students but for the teachers as well. I can definitely tell it is a job that takes a lot of patience, love and determination. My mom loves her job and enjoys helping these children because she knows she is making a difference in their lives. The name of the journal publication I chose is Empathic Responding in Toddlers at Risk for an Autism Spectrum Disorder and it was written by Nicole M. McDonald and Daniel S. Messinger. This journal begins by explaining that a deficiency in empathy is an early symptom of an ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder). In the first few days of life it is said that an infant’s natural empathy has already started to develop. This is shown when an infant begins to cry because of another infant’s cries. This shows empathy for another’s distress. By age 2 or 3 a toddler can recognize distress and pain in an adult (mainly a parent or caregiver) and can express empathy toward them. This was one of the first studies to observe children with a high-risk of an ASD before they have been diagnosed. These children are considered high-risk because they have an older sibling that has already been diagnosed with an ASD. These trial studies were observed among 38 children, some being high-risk and some being typical developing children (the control group). These empathy tests were given to the toddlers at 24 and 30 months of age and were observed by 2 licensed psychologists. Both trials consisted of a parent or caregiver, mainly mothers, sitting and playing with the child and their toys like normal. After about a minute, the examiner would enter the room, without being seen by the child, and motion to the mother to begin to act like something was in their eye without addressing the child by name or asking for help. After another minute the examiner would step back into the room and let the mother know to act like her eye is feeling better.