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Empathic responsiveness in autism

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Previous studies have shown reduced empathic responsiveness to others' emotions in preschoolers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and an intellectual disability. However, age and intelligence may promote children's empathic responsiveness. Therefore, we examined the empathic responsiveness in normally intelligent school-aged children and adolescents with a clinical diagnosis of ASD (n = 151) and in a typically developing comparison group (n = 50), using structured observations and parent reports. Based on the observations, participants' responses to the emotional displays of an interviewer were surprisingly similar. However, compared with parents from the comparison group, parents of a child with ASD reported significantly fewer empathic responses, particularly when the child received a high score on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule. Even though parents report a reduced empathic responsiveness in school-aged children and adolescents with ASD, it may be difficult to find these empathic limitations during brief observations in a structured setting.

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