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.