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Is this lack of empathy age appropriate, developementally appropriate, or atypical?

(12 Posts)
Lougle Fri 30-Sep-11 22:57:24

I won't bore you with an extensive history, some of you will know it anyway.

DD1: 'MLD' 'Widespread subtle cortical dysplasia' 'epilepsy' 'gdd'

School intervention: Mum draws sad or happy face in book according to DD1 behaviour. DD1 has to explain why Mum is sad or happy (relay the behaviour).

Intention: DD1 sees that school and home are united about behaviour, so that DD1 can't just be 'good' at school and 'naughty' at home, and think that home doesn't matter as long as she is good at school.

Ok, so I thought it was perhaps just an expressive thing, but today, I had a frank discussion with DD1.

She started to take her shoe off in the car. I asked her not to, so that she could walk into the house. When I unlocked the door, I came back to find that she had not only continued to take her shoe off, but also her sock. I said 'DD1, I'm not very happy with that'.

She said 'that mean I get a sad face at school??'

I said 'No, that means that Mummy is feeling sad because you didn't do as I asked.'

She said 'Oh good, then I get happy face?'

I was a bit shell-shocked by the coldness with which she had analysed the situation, and I said 'Is that all you care about, that you don't get a sad face for school?

She said 'Yes'.

I said 'Aren't you bothered that Mummy is feeling sad because of what you did?'

She said 'NO.'

So, to me, that is a clear lack of empathy. But my question is:

1) Would an average NT child of 5.9 years have this empathy that I perceive to be missing from DD1?

2) If so, should I be considering DD1's developmental level rather than chronological age for whether the lack of empathy is 'age-appropriate'


3) Is this a 'significant' impairment?

DD1 does have empathy, but I am increasingly noticing that it is very ego-centric. i.e. She doesn't like blood, so she will be very sympathetic if someone cuts themselves. She isn't so empathetic if someone is upset about something that wouldn't bother her, IYKWIM.

cory Fri 30-Sep-11 23:19:43

It would depend on whether it is a genuine lack of empathy (as in, I don't get this concept at all) or sheer bloody-mindedness.

Some sensitive children can react very negatively to suggestions that they are making mummy said: I can imagine ds replying NO to the question about whether he cared about making Mummy sad- because he cared far too much and it made him angry, so he would want to say something hurtful. Ds is NT and of normal development but a little sensitive.

Then again, in another child it might genuinely mean they didn't understand. Hard to tell.

Claw3 Sat 01-Oct-11 07:52:14

Ds would be upset if i told him i wasnt happy with him, not because i was sad, but because he is overly concerned with being 'good', like your dd he is more worried about himself. He is 7 years old and i think most 7 years old or 5.9 year olds are self centred.

I wouldnt say ego-centric as such, your dd is able to have empathy with others if its something that she doesnt like, its easily to feel empathy when you can relate and 'can put yourself in someone elses shoes', thats what empathy is all about. I would think that most 5.9 year olds are not developed enough to go beyond basic empathy.

justaboutstillhere Sat 01-Oct-11 09:30:01

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

oodlesofdoodles Sat 01-Oct-11 10:03:00

My children are a bit younger than yours, so I can't comment on age appropriate. But is she just testing the boundaries/winding you up? Not doing as they're told and going in the house with one bare foot is irritating, but does it really matter? Can you genuinely claim to be 'sad' about it? I've noticed that my DS (4.5) is empathic when someone is genuinely upset for a good reason, but he wouldn't go along with someone being 'sad' because they didn't get their own way.

Lougle Sat 01-Oct-11 19:03:31

mmm. Well, of course I wasn't sad that she had taken off her shoe. It's a shoe.

I was 'sad' because I had specifically asked her to stop at a point where it was easy to do so (she had just started to undoe her lace) and she had not only gone on to completely unlace it (it has hooks that the laces go into, rather thank eyelets, so to do it up, you have to relace it every time), but had gone on to take her sock off, etc.

So, I was sad because she had wilfully disobeyed me AGAIN.

I wasn't trying to 'get my own way', but I am her mother. I make the rules, she needs to learn at some point before she's 80 that she needs to do as she's asked/told. hmm

doigthebountyeater Sat 01-Oct-11 19:28:25

My DS is 6 and happily disobeys me every day. I thought that was normal! If I asked him if he cared that I was sad, his answer would depend upon what kind of mood he was in. Sometimes he will say the meanest thing if he is tired/grumpy etc and wants to pick a fight. Maybe you should post your thread on chat and get a wider variety of responses? DS by the way is NT (but does have epilepsy) - he is bright and a difficult wee bugger at times!

oodlesofdoodles Sun 02-Oct-11 09:16:27

Hi Lougle - I thought afterwards that my response wasn't very empathic either! I guess I see this as an obedience issue rather than an empathy one, so rather than beating yourself up that she lacks empathy you could view it as fairly normal boundary testing issue. My NT child is 2.5 and she can be a right pain in the neck about getting out of the car/putting clothes on/taking them off.

Lougle Sun 02-Oct-11 10:01:23

Thank you oodles. I think that the issue isn't so much the disobedience, it's the reaction to the disobedience. I wouldn't be so bothered if she just disobeyed me. It's the fact that she now sees poor behaviour=sad face at school. That isn't quite true, in that I have quite a high threshold for the sad face. If I gave a sad face everytime she was naughty, she would never get a happy face!

What shocked me is that she is more bothered about a line drawing in her book than genuine sadness in a person.

BarbarianMum Sun 02-Oct-11 11:51:00

<<What shocked me is that she is more bothered about a line drawing in her book than genuine sadness in a person.>>

Well that, I think, is age-appropriate. My boys (nt 5.11 and 3.8) most definitely care much more about the consequences than about me being sad. I mean if I was sobbing and distraught they would probably try and comfort me but being bothered that I am upset that they have (yet again) disobeyed me - well that happens several times a day (each) at least and they know I will get over it in no time hmm.

justaboutstillhere Sun 02-Oct-11 11:57:46

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Lougle Sun 02-Oct-11 13:26:22

That's where I was coming from Justa.

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