Emotional regulation is a key area of development.
Being able to emotionally regulate means being able to effectively manage and respond to an emotional experience
For children with autism, understanding emotion and knowing how to appropriately respond and help themselves regulate can be very challenging. This therefore needs to be a main focus for teachers.
I have tried different ways of teaching children with autism to recognise emotion and respond appropriately to an emotional experience. Here are some of the more effective strategies I have seen have impact.
In order for children to learn the word (name) for an emotion, they need to hear it. Labelling an emotion by telling a child they are “happy”, “sad”, “scared” or “excited” at the time they are obviously feeling that way, will enable them to hear and learn the correct word.
If your child looks scared, tell them “(name) is feeling scared”. If they are looking obviously excited, tell them “(name) is feeling excited! I use symbols and sign to further enhance what I am saying, so I would show the corresponding symbol and then say and sign “(name) is feeling (emotion)”. Sometimes, this wouldn’t be appropriate depending on what kind of emotional experience you are dealing with. The main theme though is to label the language you want the children to learn.
Prompting the child to have a break
For some emotional responses that can escalate and lead a child to become dysregulated, it will be necessary for a child to have a break, in order to regain control and be in an emotional state where they are able to learn and engage in an activity.
If a child is to too excited, angry or upset, they will not be in an emotional state where they are able to learn and engage.
It is important to identify the most suitable place inside or outside the classroom for a break, that is safe and calming for the child. Consistency and familiarity will really help a child to calm when necessary. It may not even be a specific space for a break, but more so a specific calming activity, such as looking at a book or drawing. Prompting a child to have a break by telling them as well as using a visual support to provide extra clues, will show the child they need to have a break.
Pair emotion with a response on a visual support
This type of visual support can be available in the classroom and prompted by an adult to support a child to know what to do when they feel a particular emotion. The visual support can give a child one response or a choice of what to do. This both allows you to model and emphasise the emotion name and symbol, as well as give a visual choice to the child.
Activities involving identifying the emotion of a familiar person in context
Here is an activity where the child looks at one photo and identifies the emotion of the familiar person by selecting a symbol or saying a sentence. The photos are more realistic if they are in context rather than just the face.
Please comment with other activities and resources on this page or my Facebook page!