Empathy for Students with Autism
At eLuma, one of our core values is empathy. We encourage our clinicians to always strive to understand others’ perspectives. Each student, parent, school administrator, and staff member they encounter has their own unique experiences and challenges that influence the way they interact with others.
When working with students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) often include activities to help the students understand and empathize with their communication partners. But what about empathy for the students with ASD?
Be a Hero! Be a Friend
ASD comes with many communication and sensory challenges that may be difficult for individuals without ASD to understand. In the July issue of the American-Speech-Language-and Hearing Association’s ASHA Leader, one SLP shared her experience creating an event to simulate the unique challenges of ASD. Charisse Wright, MS, CCC-SLP, hosted the program, “Be a Hero! Be a Friend,” after watching her 3-year-old son with ASD endure bullying for his condition.
Ms. Wright wanted to help others be more understanding and supportive of children with ASD. Her event took place in Pearland, Texas on April 27th. It had a superhero theme and included stations that simulated the communication and sensory challenges often experienced by students with ASD.
At the communication station, participants attempted to communicate with the use of augmentative and alternative communication devices. They used a picture exchange communication system to request items, both those pictured and ones that were not pictured. Ms. Wright hoped that this challenge would allow the participants to better empathize with the frustration caused by communication difficulties.
In order to simulate sensory processing challenges, Ms. Wright asked participants to complete simple tasks, such as drawing a basic shape, in an environment with distracting flashing lights and loud noises. Participants also had sandpaper attached to their shirt tags to demonstrate the heightened sensory experience faced by many children with ASD.
Some participants of the event said that they attended in order to better understand — or help their children to empathize with — individuals with ASD. Ms. Wright hopes that events such as this one will help to build a better world for her son and other children with ASD. She is planning to host a similar event this summer in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Wright, Charisse (July 2019). Showing a Community What It Feels Like to Have Autism. ASHA Leader, 24 (7), 40-41.