Facial Expressions & Emotions

Hey parents! This blog post comes courtesy of Lori Stuart's write up for parents regarding goals that address facial expressions and emotions:

Some children with autism display a limited amount of facial expressions and struggle to label their emotions in words. There can be several reasons for this. For instance, some children with autism don’t display happy facial expressions because their immediate surroundings do not initially hold reinforcing properties that suite a child with autism. Feeling relief or happiness typically comes from controlling your environment in some extent. This is quite difficult if you do not have social communication skills.

Teaching about facial expressions and emotions can have many separate steps. For instance, early in programs you will see your child labeling facial expressions and matching and sorting facial expression pictures. This builds familiarity with facial expressions.

Next, you can anticipate a goal for your child to be aware of cues in contexts or situations that arouse different feeling states. What cues demonstrate that someone feels happy? excited? frustrated? As your child gains fluency in these building blocks, you can anticipate goals that help your child express their own feelings. For example, if a therapist contrives a situation to have your child do something funny ('show me how you quack like a duck!'), they might label their feeling as silly and prompt them to say “I’m feeling silly!”

Right now, what can you do? If you see your child in a certain situation that would arouse an emotion, you can help them by providing the language that expresses their emotion. Kids who are learning functional communication skills are soaking in the information we provide-- you can use everyday interactions to give your child the words he/she really wants. For instance, if they hit their head on the table, say “Ouch, that hurts!” rather than “Are you okay?” (By the way, if you keep saying “Are you okay?” there is a good chance that at some point that will be what they will say when they get hurt.) If you see their sibling or friend grab a toy, say, “I’m mad!” When you are laughing, label your own emotion as “Daddy feels silly!”

This is deep, I know!