Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 37, Issue 3, pp 553–563 | Cite as

Emotional Responsivity in Children with Autism, Children with Other Developmental Disabilities, and Children with Typical Development

  • D. J. Scambler
  • S. Hepburn
  • M. D. Rutherford
  • E. A. Wehner
  • S. J. Rogers
Original Paper


Twenty six children with autism, 24 children with developmental disabilities, and 15 typically developing children participated in tasks in which an adult displayed emotions. Child focus of attention, change in facial tone (i.e., hedonic tone), and latency to changes in tone were measured and summary scores of emotional contagion were created. Group differences existed in the ratio of episodes that resulted in emotional contagion. Correlations existed between measures of emotional contagion, measures of joint attention, and indices of severity of autism. Children with autism demonstrated muted changes in affect, but these responses occurred much less frequently than in comparison groups. The findings suggest directions for early identification and early treatment of autism.


Young children with autism Developmental disabilities Empathy Emotional responsiveness 



First Author was supported by an institutional NRSA Postdoctoral Research Training Program Grant, “Development of Maladaptive Behavior,” # NIMH 5 T32 MH15442-24 and a young researcher’s award from the Developmental Psychobiology Research Group (DPRG). This research was funded by grants from the NICHD, #PO1/U19 HD035468, to Fifth Author. It is part of the NICHD/NIDCD Collaborative Program of Excellence in Autism (CPEA). Third Author was supported by NIH grant 2T32MH15780-20. Fifth Author was also supported by Maternal and Child Health Bureau Grant # 2T73MC00011-04, and by the Administration on Developmental Disabilities Grant # 90DD0414. Thanks to Angela John, Athena Hayes, and Jennifer Stella for their help with coding and to the children and families for their participation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. J. Scambler
    • 1
  • S. Hepburn
    • 2
  • M. D. Rutherford
    • 3
  • E. A. Wehner
    • 2
  • S. J. Rogers
    • 4
  1. 1.Oklahoma State UniversityStillwaterUSA
  2. 2.University of Colorado Health Sciences CenterDenverUSA
  3. 3.McMasters UniversityHamiltonCanada
  4. 4.The M.I.N.D. Institute, University of California DavisDavisUSA

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