Teaching Feelings to Autistic Children

Two smiling children

Teaching feelings to children with autistim can help them relate to the world around them. It can be hard for a child with autism to understand his or her own feelings and the emotional responses of others. A number of therapy techniques and tools can help parents teach their children about feelings.

Therapy Techniques for Teaching Feelings

When children with autism appear aloof or unresponsive, it does not mean that they are not experiencing emotion. Sometimes autistic children express their emotions differently than typical people do. Studies have shown that children with autism do not always recognize facial expressions, which is part of the difficulty in reading the emotional responses of others.

Parents can help autistic children learn to express their emotions in a socially acceptable manner while helping them gain a better understanding of emotions. The following therapy techniques and tools can help parents teach children with autism about feelings:

  • Picture cards: Children with autism learn best with the assistance of visual aids, like picture cards. Picture card systems, such as the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), can build language in place of speech for nonverbal. These types of tools can also provide visual of life skills task, such as how to get dressed. For teaching feelings, the picture card portray illustrations of people's faces expressing different emotions.
  • Social Stories: Social Stories, developed by the Gray Center, help teach social skills to children with autism through stories that provide examples of common social situations. The stories outline how to respond to the situation. Stories about feelings and appropriate emotional responses can help an autistic child learn how to understand emotions in context.
  • Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA): ABA therapy uses positive reinforcement to encourage desired behavior. ABA can also be used to teach an autistic child about emotions by generally providing examples of appropriate emotional behavior for the child to model and then rewarding the child when she gives the correct emotional responses.
  • Play therapy: Play therapy techniques, such as Dr. Stanley I. Greenspan's Developmental, Individual-Difference, Relationship-Based (DIR) model (DIR Floortime), can help children emotionally connect with their parents and bond. The simple act of child led play to teach new ideas is quite effective for children with autism.
  • Online Games: Many children with autism enjoy playing computer games and they can be an effective learning tool for teaching about emotions. The Internet has many games and activities to help autistic children learn about emotions in a way that engages them.

Helpful Online Resources

Some recommended websites and resources for finding emotions games for children with autism include:

  • Do2Learn: Do2Learn provides a number of games that can teach feelings to children with autism. They have a facial expressions game and a feelings game.
  • Symbol World: The Symbol World site has a game with pictures and drawings of people displaying various emotions.
  • ZAC Browser: The ZAC browser provides a safe browser specifically for children with autism that can help them find appropriate games and activities. If your child will be searching for emotion games online, this browser system may be helpful.
  • Use Visual Strategies: This website has free printable emotions cards.
  • Autism and PDD Support Network: The Autism and PDD Support Network has a page of links to sites for online games that teach emotions to autistic children.

Keys to Success

Parents have many resources available for teaching emotions to autistic children. The most important component to teaching a child with autism is to surround the child with love and always be positive.

Teaching Feelings to Autistic Children