Dr. Jeanette McAfee, author of the curriculum, Navigating the Social World: A Curriculum for Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome, High Functioning Autism and Related Disorders, has created this five step process to help children with mild autism and Asperger’s 1) recognize and label their own positive and negative emotions, and 2) help them understand nonverbal, tone of voice, and situational clues to feelings.
- an empty photo album
- a digital or Polaroid camera
- a mirror
- Video Camera
Step 1: Identity and label emotions using photographs.
Using your digital or Polaroid camera, take a picture of the child displaying a variety of emotions in all sorts of naturally occurring settings (you can enlist grandparents, teachers, therapists, teachers in taking these pictures). As soon as possible after taking the photo, let the child choose from a list of emotions to help him/her label the emotional expression in the photo. (In McAfee’s book there is an appendix with a complete list of emotions, as well as pictures depicting those emotions. You can also order a board book/chart from Amazon: Feelings WITH Feelings Chart / Mood Meter Magnet (Emotions, Moods, Emoticons) [Board Book and Magnet Chart Combo] . Whether using a digital picture or Polaroid, have the student write a label for the emotions and put the picture in an album. In this way, the child will start building a recognition of a wide variety of emotions.
Step 2: Identify and label nonverbal clues and situational clues using photographs.
In these five steps, you will primarily be working with the Asperger’s child to understand nonverbal cues within his/her own environment, and centered on her/himself. In later posts, I will write about helping the Asperger’s child understand others’ nonverbal cues. Help the child look at the specific expression on his/her face, at what else is going on within the picture. Work with the child to help him/her label the picture with nonverbal and situational cues seen in the picture. (e.g., “confused” my eyebrows are raised, my forehead is wrinkled, the corner of my mouth is turned up, my friend is trying to explain, I am looking at a book). These can be written around the picture that’s placed in the album.
Step 3: Identify and label emotions and related nonverbal, tone of voice, and situational clues using role play.
Once the student has internalized steps 1 and 2, you can role-play different emotions and the nonverbal, tone of voice, and situational cues that go along with the emotions. Work one on one with the child, taking turns doing the role play, and guessing the emotion. You might call this ‘emotions charades.’ At different points, ‘freeze the action’ to point out facial expression, body language, tone of voice, and situational cues. It may be helpful to let the student use a mirror to observe him or herself along with the different facial expressions. This will help him/her form a reference point for each emotion.
Step 4: Identify and label emotions and nonverbal, tone of voice, and situational clues using videos.
At this point, just as with the pictures, videotape the child in a number of naturally occurring situations. Enlist the support of as many involved caretakers as possible (teacher, occupational or speech therapist, counselor, parents, older sibling). Again, treat this as a game of charades that can help you teach the child. Freeze the video at different points, discussing the expressions, non-verbal cues, situational cues, and see how specific the child can be at naming the emotions s/he is experiencing in the videotaped situations.
Step 5: Follow Up
Once steps 1-4 have been completed to the student’s and your satisfaction, continue to help the Asperger’s child (or child with mild autism) label his emotions, both in and out of school. When s/he talks about the emotion/s s/he is feeling, and comments on why s/he feels that way, reflect it back to him/her as a reflective statement. Identifying and talking out emotions can be a great way to help the child validate his/her emotions, and will also help reduce stress effectively.
I hope that you will find this simple 5 step process to be helpful. You can implement it immediately to help your child with Asperger’s or mild autism form a solid foundation for emotional intelligence.
As a therapist working with children with Asperger’s syndrome, I find it most helpful to begin teaching social skills with an explanation of what I will be helping them do in our sessions together. A child with Asperger’s is usually average to very smart in the areas of facts and black-and-white rules. Unfortunately, people smarts has to do with recognizing and understanding emotions, which are much more hard to pin down. And so, I explain, I will be working to help them increase their people smarts.
By the way, emotional intelligence is a hot topic in business circles as well. And we find that children with Asperger’s are not the only group of people that need help in this area: we all need it, young and old! It’s just that emotions too often just make no sense to children and adults with Asperger’s. I am currently reading through an excellent learning and teaching tool called Navigating the Social World: A Curriculum for Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome, High Functioning Autism and Related Disorders, byDr. Jeanette McAfee. I use a lot of the material from this book when I am teaching children with high functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome, and I’d like to share some practical tips you can apply immediately to increase yours and your child’s emotional intelligence.
The broad idea here is that recognizing and coping with one’s own emotions is the foundation of emotional intelligence. The very first step I want to introduce to you is to be able to identify and label your own emotions, starting with the simple emotion of happiness. The first thing that both you and your child can do is to create a scrapbook (you can also call this a “Pleasures Book”) by collecting and entering into the book the following:
- diary entries
of events of things that make you and your child happy. These items could include written descriptions of happy events, to the box label of a favorite game, photos of a special friend, or lyrics of a special song.
Assignment: Create a scrapbook or even an online website (I have used weebly.com to create free websites) dedicated to emotions. Your first step is to create a book of Pleasures, or a book of Happiness, and include all the items listed above. Get creative. Do this exercise together as a family, or one on one with your child who has Asperger’s. This is a fun way to get the basics down of identifying emotions, especially positive ones, to begin with.
Categories: Social Solutions Tags: aspergers children, children with aspergers, parenting children with aspergers, parenting my aspergers child, social skills for Aspergers, teaching children with autism
While reading about some of the social challenges that young people with Aspergers face, I came across a letter written by a young man in a private high school. He wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper. He realized that he was different from his peers, and he was embarrassed that he had no girlfriend.
“I feel so miserable that I want to sit down and cry. I have considered using alcohol and amphetamines to overcome my shyness but the first makes me sick and the other is a Class B substance. My thoughts are often violent, resentful and increasingly suicidal.
Is there anything else I can do? I don’t think I can live my life like this: no social satisfaction and no prospect of happiness or starting a family.”
This young man’s cry for help is speaks for thousands of young people across the nation and across the world. Professor Tanya Byron, a clinical psychologist in England, provided some very helpful strategies to help this young man turn things around. I would like to share some of them with you.
- Define yourself in terms of your thoughts, feelings, strengths, and beliefs, rather than by your diagnosis. In other words, realize that young people everywhere, with and without the diagnosis of Aspergers, struggle with making social connections. Yes, it will be more of a challenge to young people with diagnoses of Autism and Aspergers, but there are solutions available.
- Seek out help in the form of professional counseling, if and when your discouragement over your social difficulties leads to depression or anxiety, as with the example of the young man at the outset of this post. You need to have constructive ways to think about your challenges, as well as specific social strategies and ways to manage your emotions. All of this can be obtained with a collaborative partnership with a skilled therapist who is well acquainted with Aspergers syndrome. Patricia Robinson is one example of many compassionate and competent therapists and coaches who increasingly offer specific help and tips both in person and online, to young people and adults with Aspergers. She writes a blogs tailored to both children and adults.
- Your social skill challenges are likely to be around communication; inflexibility of thought and behavior; difficulties with relationships and empathy; and discomfort with eye and body contact. Here are some suggestions and resources offered by Dr. Byron: Socialeyes: Exploring the Social World with People on the Autism Spectrum. This resource is a program that can help young people with Aspergers acquire skills such as how to start and carry on a conversation, as well as maintain eye contact. In the course of watching the teaching and the DVD’s, you can start to re-train your brain to think in ways that will help you relate to others.
- Dr. Byron also recommends two very useful books that you should obtain, read, and study. The first resource, by Dr. Jed Baker, is called Social Skills Training for Children and Adolescents with Asperger Syndrome and Social-Communications Problems. This workbook contains a wealth of information for you, if you are diagnosed with Aspergers, and for those who are working with you, such as a coach or a therapist. The second great resource is called The Asperger Love Guide: A Practical Guide for Adults with Asperger’s Syndrome to Seeking, Establishing and Maintaining Successful Relationships (Lucky Duck Books), written by Genevieve Edmonds and Dean Worton.
In my next post, I will include more resources, tips, and solutions to help you bridge the seeming divide between yourself and meaningful friendships. Until then, I do hope that you will check out these resources and apply them!