Development of Self and Empathy in Early Infancy: Implications for Atypical Development

  • Roth-Hanania R
  • Busch-Rossnagel N
  • Higgins-D'Alessandro A
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It is widely accepted that an essential process in the normal development of infants is their growing capacity to relate to others. Empathy is a unique form of relating to others. It is present at birth and gradually develops during infancy, through childhood, and into adolescence. Infants exhibit various behavioral forms of empathic concern toward others in distress. Empathic responses grow both in frequency and complexity during the first two years of life. Theoretical perspectives on empathy development propose that empathy responses are largely dependent on the development of sense of self. Several empirical explorations have established a correlation between self and empathy development during the first years of life. Understanding the relationship between development of sense of self and that of empathy is crucial not only for broadening our currently somewhat limited knowledge base regarding typical development in these areas, but also for our understanding atypical development. Autistic children are observed to have a general deficit in development of empathic capacity as well as great difficulty in developing both physical and representational sense of self. Specific interventions to enhance development of both sense of self and empathic responses in infants and young children who show deficits in these areas are proposed. These interventions were formulated based on empirical studies of infants' development of self-concept and empathic concern. Copyright © 2000 by Aspen Publishers, Inc.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Atypical development
  • Autism
  • Empathy development
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Self-concept development

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