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Minerva Pediatrica 2018 Jul 02

DOI: 10.23736/S0026-4946.18.05228-3


lingua: Inglese

Empathy and behavior in children affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders

Martina M. MENSI 1, 2, Linda GASPARINI 2, Matteo CHIAPPEDI 1, 2 , Franca R. GUERINI 3, Marika ORLANDI 1, Chiara ROGANTINI 1, Umberto BALOTTIN 1, 2

1 Child Neuropsychiatry Unit, IRCCS Mondino Foundation, Pavia, Italy; 2 Child Neuropsychiatry Unit, Department of Brain and Behavioral Sciences, University of Pavia, Pavia, Italy; 3 Don C. Gnocchi Foundation IRCCS, Milan, Italy


BACKGROUND: Many studies have already shown that individuals suffering from Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) present low levels of empathy: in fact, reduced emotional reciprocity is considered a clinically significant indicator of autistic functioning. We decided to investigate the role of empathy in determining pathological behaviors in children affected by ASD considering parents’ point of view and to evaluate the presence of differences between mothers and fathers’ perception of their child’s empathy and behaviors.
METHODS: We compared empathy levels in a sample of 58 patients with ASD as reported by a parent-filled questionnaire with the results of a global evaluation conducted by means of play observations, clinician-rated scales, a semi-structured interview with both caregivers and parent-filled questionnaires.
RESULTS: The majority of ASD patients have low levels of empathy according to both parents’ points of view; noteworthy, mothers and fathers are highly concordant in this respect. Children’s levels of empathy negatively correlate with many behavioral problems, both internalizing and externalizing. Furthermore, we found that mothers tend to perceive more internalizing problems, while fathers are more willing to notice externalizing ones.
CONCLUSIONS: Involving both caregivers in children’s diagnostic assessment could deepen patient’s evaluation and finally the therapeutic results. Mothers and fathers seem to be highly consistent in describing the psychological characteristics of their child, but not in respect to symptoms.

KEY WORDS: Autism - Empathy - Parental perception - Child - Behavior

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