Emotional Self-Awareness in Children with Autism

by Amanda Ng (’17)

Fig. 1: Though Autism can cause individuals to experience a lower level of social functioning, some believe they are still aware of their own emotions.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is one of the most common developmental disorders found in children, and while there has been progress in research since its first diagnosis, there is still much that remains to be discovered. Individuals with ASD have trouble communicating and interacting, and even the highest-functioning ASD patients can have trouble picking up social cues or others’ emotions. However, researchers are still working on finding how well individuals with ASD understand their own emotions.

In a recent study conducted by Dr. Esther Itzchak of Ariel University, the ability to gauge emotions within ASD patients was tested in 43 male participants between the ages of 8 and 11, 23 of who were on the spectrum, and 20 of who were typically developing. Individuals in both groups were subject to the “Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised”, which diagnoses Autism, and the “Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale” (ADOS), which measures social function and communication in individuals that may have ASD. Statements given on the ADOS were first sorted based on coherence and regularity (“What makes you sad?” “When my toy is broken”: coherent, “When my heart wants to relax”: irregular) and then separated into different categories depending on the emotion they seemed to exhibit best.

By using ANOVA and MANOVA tests for data analysis, the researchers were able to make several notable conclusions. Though both ASD and typically developing (TD) groups could give coherent responses for the majority of the prompts, the ASD group gave more incoherent responses or sometimes failed to give a response at all. In terms of emotion, both groups seemed to perceive happiness adequately, but only the TD group succeeded in identifying the proper occasions to express sadness, fear, and anger. That said, individuals with Autism appeared to be much less emotionally self-aware than those who were typically developing, but this correlation grew stronger with more severe cases of Autism.

In order to confirm these findings, a bigger sample size should be used, and future research should incorporate females in the study as well.



  1. E. Ben-Itzchak, et al. Understanding One’s Emotions in Cognitively-Able Preadolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 46, 2363-2371 (2016). doi: 10.1007/s10803-016-2769-6
  2. Image retrieved from: https://pixabay.com/p-49361/?no_redirect

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