Regardless of our age, we have all had trouble with emotional expression. Sometimes, it can be difficult even to put a name to our feelings. Or maybe societal pressure prevents us from expressing ourselves freely. If your child has autism spectrum disorder, it might be especially difficult for them to identify and articulate the way they feel. As parents and behavioral therapists, here are a few techniques we can use to help children with autism express their emotions.
Review Facial Expressions
For many children, the first step toward emotional expression s is identifying emotions in others. One of the biggest misconceptions about children with autism is that they cannot understand the emotions of others. In reality, they just might struggle to pick up on social cues that indicate how others are feeling.
We can use principles of behavioral therapy to help. The next time you find the opportunity, try making a few different facial expressions to your child, and ask them to identify the emotion you’re trying to express. If you find this difficult or uncomfortable, there are plenty of emotion flashcards on the web that you can try out. Positively reinforce them every time they get a question right!
Point Out Emotions Organically
Once your child has progressed in the previous exercise, you should take some time to point out these emotions when they pop up organically. You might start by doing this when you see emotions being displayed on television. Point out an emotional character and say, for instance, “They’re smiling, so they must be happy!” or “They’re crying, so they must be sad.”
From there, start identifying these emotions to your child when they appear in real life—such as when a sibling becomes emotional, or you do yourself. Putting a name to these emotions when they pop up in the real world can help your child with emotional expression themselves!
Use a Feeling Chart
Even when your child learns to recognize certain emotions in others, it can still be hard for them to identify when they feel it themselves. This is especially true if they have a communication delay, which is not uncommon among children with autism.
If this is the case with your child, then a feeling chart could be a better avenue through which they can express themselves, and you can begin to empathize. Ask them to point to the spot on the chart that best depicts the way they feel. There is a wide variety of these available—ranging from numbers, to faces, to words. See which one your child responds to best.
The Connections Therapy Center
The Connections Therapy Center serves families of children and adolescents with disabilities and special needs. We are a team of experts in the fields of pediatric speech, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, and behavioral sciences. As a team, we offer intensive hands-on therapy for children and adolescents, as well as informative and useful resources for families. If you are interested in learning more about what we can do to help your family, visit us online or give us a call at (301) 577-4333. Want to get more information on how to help your child thrive? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and Pinterest.