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.