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Acquisition and Generalization of Complex Empathetic Responses Among Children with Autism

Abstract

Empathy can be defined as a social interaction skill that consists of four components: (1) a statement voiced in the (2) appropriate intonation, accompanied by a (3) facial expression and (4) gesture that correspond to the affect of another individual. A multiple-baseline across response categories experimental design was used to evaluate the effectiveness of a prompt sequence (video modeling, in vivo modeling, manual and verbal prompting) and reinforcement to increase the frequency of complex empathetic responding by four children with autism. The number of complex empathetic responses increased systematically with the successive introduction of the treatment package. Additionally, generalization was demonstrated to untaught stimuli and a novel adult. Responding maintained over time to varying degrees for all participants. The data illustrate that children with autism can be taught using modeling, prompting, and reinforcement to discriminate between categories of affective stimuli and differentially respond with complex empathetic responses.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the families, students, and teachers whose hard work made this research possible. We would also like to thank our colleagues whose feedback was immeasurable.

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Correspondence to Paul J. Argott.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants or their guardians included in this study.

Additional information

• Children with autism can learn to discriminate between affective stimuli from three categories

• Complex empathetic responses can be learned by children with autism

• Complex empathetic responses generalize to untaught stimuli and individuals

• Prompting and reinforcement can effectively be used to teach empathetic skills

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Argott, P.J., Townsend, D.B. & Poulson, C.L. Acquisition and Generalization of Complex Empathetic Responses Among Children with Autism. Behav Analysis Practice 10, 107–117 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40617-016-0171-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s40617-016-0171-7

Keywords

  • Autism
  • Empathy
  • Social skills
  • Adolescents
  • Discrimination
  • Complex responding