How do you explain other kids' crying? — The Bump
Special Needs

How do you explain other kids' crying?

Hi ladies and happy Monday!

Quick question: how do you manage/explain to your ASD child when another child is crying (loudly and for a long time)? We have an ABA  program where DS needs to show empathy (therapist and I pretend to get hurt and he is asked to give us a hug/pat our back, that kind of thing). Works during ABA.

Well, this weekend we were with a group of NT kids his age and this one little guy just kept crying and whailing and screaming. I told DS that X was sad, got hurt, fell down, etc. But DS was so strartled and scared that he did not know how to react. He kept hiding (probably reacting to a very loud sound) and I know that as we start more community programs DS will be exposed to this more. What do I tell him? How do I react? Do I try to console another child to show DS how to do that?


Re: How do you explain other kids' crying?

  • My ds actually is a model child for being able to generalize his ABA, but I will share anyway. DS typically will approach his friend and ask if he/she is okay and what's wrong? It has taken some coaching for him to learn how to do this, and it has been helpful to have his sister around so he can practice with her. Anytime we had/have a situation in the natural environment with one of his friends or his sister and they are crying, I always use that as an opportunity to teach ds.
  • I agree with auntie and also was going to comment on the ABA teaching empathy program.  Sobachka, I don't remember exactly how old your son is, but I think he is pretty little bitty....less than 3, right?  I just want to remind you that NT peers that age do not have fully intact theory of mind and perspective taking skills and are not is still emerging. So, to expect a toddler with ASD to have those skills (perhaps the most challenging aspect for a person with autism) may not really be age or developmentally appropriate.

    But of course that doesn't mean you aren't still trying to scaffold the understanding and teach the skills needed to develop empathy.  Be careful though with an ABA program that is teaching a behavior when really the skill is much more complex.

    But to answer your question.  I think you keep explaining the situations to your child.  And I think you expect a pretty big learning curve for notable progress.  Start simple.  Johnny is crying.  He is sad.  He will be okay.  And then also talk about your son's feelings.  It is loud, isn't it?  He will stop when he feels better.  Sometimes you are loud too. And whatever else - in language you think he can get the gist of.  Instead of you trying to console the other child, I would show him (visually direct him when the sensory stuff as subsided) that his mom is helping him - and even label the "behaviors" you see: she is rubbing his back.  She is holding him and hugging him to make him feel better.  At this point, I think the best you can do is feed him the information to make some sort of sense out of what he is seeing, hearing, and being scared about.  I wouldn't expect anything out of him (in real life - play may be a different deal) for a good while.  And I do think the more it happens, the more he will tolerate it, but not necessarily the more compassionate he will be at this age. 

    THIS is one of those things that can not be measured, IMO.  Empathy can't be measured very easily.  Nor can it be observed many times.  I may feel empathy, but unless I tell someone, you may not know.  I could feel empathy without hugging/patting or having a sad look on my face, etc.   

    Also, I work in a preschool class with NT 4-5 year olds.  And just want to add that when a peer cries, the other kids all stand and stare and one or two run to report in to the teacher.  Preschoolers aren't really patting and hugging each other and reassuring them that they will be okay.  They do that in pretend play, and with baby dolls, etc., but for the most part these NT (older than your child) kids don't fully show empathy.

    It is a tough concept but oh so important to have in mind.  Good for you!! 

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  • Thank you guys for your advice. Agreed, that first and foremost we deal with sensory issues of someone else crying.

    Also agree on empathy. I just do not want him to freak out and do want him to learn that another person is in distress and he may help the other person.

    Susanmosley - thanks for a great point on NT kids and their empathy skills. Yes, DS is 26 months,  still young.

    Thank you all so much!!

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