By: Sally Burke, M.S. Ed., BCBA, LABA
For the past 25 years, I have worked in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis. As I reflect on Autism Awareness Month, I recognize that working with people is the most rewarding part of my job. In my role as the Director of Specialty Early Intervention Services, I have the privilege of working directly with the clients and families we serve, my fellow staff, and other providers . I value everything that each of them has to say regarding the well-being of the children we serve and services that we provide. The ability to empathize with these wonderful people around me has helped to define me as the professional I am today.
Empathy is the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner (Merriam-Webster, 2019). Or, as the old saying goes, “put yourself in another person’s shoes.”
Demonstrating empathy with families is imperative. Being able to understand what is happening within the family unit not only makes you a better Behavior Analyst but it makes you a better person. You can have the best clinical idea for treatment in mind but if you can’t understand and respond to the individual family’s needs, you have not fulfilled your obligations as a clinician nor have you maximized the potential outcome.
In the workplace, having empathy can show respect for co-workers and communicate that you care about them as a person. This can go a long way in developing meaningful relationships, increasing team morale, and building loyalty. It gives people a sense of being heard and feeling understood. Empathy is a powerful tool in the workforce.
Autism awareness and acceptance starts with empathy. It’s not always easy to understand why someone thinks or feels the way they do about a situation. It takes time and effort to show awareness and understanding. If you work hard at this it will eventually become natural to you.
I’m not saying every day will be perfect, however, if you can focus on this attribute, I guarantee you will enjoy life more and do a better job at whatever you do. Embrace empathy in everything you do, it gets easier and, in my opinion, it’s what matters most.
“Empathy.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, 2019, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/empathy.