Emotions can be hard for young children and people on the autism spectrum to understand. It is difficult for children to understand the emotions and perspectives of others. Sometimes, children have difficulty understand how they should feel in certain situations as well or have inappropriate/over-reactive feelings towards a situation. As speech-language pathologists, it is our job to teach children and adults how to understand and portray emotions appropriately to communicate effectively with others.
Teaching basic emotions is all about starting off with words such as happy, sad, angry, and scared. These can be easy to interpret through our senses. We see tears on a person's face when he or she is sad, a person may yell when he or she is angry, and a smile is on a person's face when he or she is happy. These things can be seen, heard, and sometimes felt. Teaching about what different emotions look/sound like is important to start at an early age. It is also important to discuss situations in which a person may feel different emotions.
(Image From: It's Understood Communication)
Advanced emotional words and concepts are more difficult to understand, explain, and see on a person's face. This is why adolescents and adults with Asperger's syndrome have difficulty reading the emotions of their peers. Emotions like jealousy, grief, and giddiness are different extremes on the emotional spectrum and often forms of the more basic emotions. It is important to teach these slight variations as emotions become more complex as we age and are in more social situations. Paying attention to vocal inflection/tone of voice is important for understanding how a person is feeling and whether or not he or she is using sarcasm. Looking at a person's facial expressions and body language also help determine how a person is feeling when they are not saying it outright. It is definitely a leap from basic to advanced emotional use and understanding. In addition, it is a jump from learning emotions to understanding them in conversation/daily life and problem solving situations based on emotional inferences.
(Flashcards available to print at Sparklebox)
Some techniques in which people use to help others understand emotions are flash cards with different faces on them. Having a child/adult look at faces showing different emotions helps students understand facial expressions. I have seen some variations of flash card emotions such as an emotion flip book, photo album, and dice. Printable dice are shown below with links to their websites as well as emotion dice that you can purchase from educational stores:
(Printable from Connectability.ca)
(Printable from Early Learning HQ)
Students may need to communicate how they are feeling. Having a card on a student's desk so that he or she can point to how he or she is feeling can help. Another way to check in with a student's emotions is to have them point on a poster as to how he or she is feeling. Here are some examples of a couple different posters:
(Free printable banners from Sparklebox)
Sparklebox has another unique way of helping students convey their emotions. You can download free printable emotion fans for your students here.
Children's books are another great way to learn about emotions through reading, inferring how different characters feel, reading facial expressions, and reading with appropriate tones of voice for the characters. Be sure to ask your children questions about how the people in the story feel while you read it! Some books do not focus on emotions specifically, but there are many out there that do. Here are a few:
One way to work on emotions with young children is to create faces in food, with finger painting, and using playdough/clay. In fact, Sparklebox and Your Therapy Source have created free printable playdough mats of children's heads so that you can add the emotions with playdough. Create your own eyes, nose, and mouth for these fun printables!:
Some fun ways to work on emotions are to use masks! You can create emotion masks using construction paper, paper plates, and popsicle sticks! Otherwise, if you feel like spending some money for some great emotion masks, I would check out Oriental Trading's 20 Emotions Half Masks! They are reasonably priced and you can focus on the eyes and/or mouths to determine emotions!
(Construction paper/popsicle stick faces from Sunflower Storytime's blog)
(Emotions Half Masks from Oriental Trading Company)
When students get older, we need to begin talking about degrees of emotions, how we use them and being able to understand the degrees of others' emotions. One great book that discusses emotional reactions, how to understand social interactions, and how to control one's own emotions is "The Incredible 5-Point Scale" by: Kari Dunn Buron. This book uses colors and drawings of facial expressions on a scale of 1 (calm) to 5 (angry/frustrated/sometimes unacceptable) in how someone is reacting to a situation. It then discusses how to calm down in situations to bring their emotional level back down to a 1.
Perspective taking of others emotions and the ability to read nonverbal communication is important in conversation. There are lots of great books that have social stories and images of body language that assist in explaining emotions to adolescents/adults. One of these books is The Social Skills Picture Book for High School and Beyond by: Dr. Jed Baker. In this book, there are many images portraying nonverbal communication of adolescents and peers/adults. It goes step by step through different emotions and discusses the right way and wrong way, next to each other in images, to understand and respond to various nonverbal communication, emotions, and situations.
There are some great products on the market for perspective taking of older students/adolescents/adults. Super Duper Publications has a lot of Fun Deck card decks for working on pragmatics and problem solving situations. Friendzee is a great board game for discussing problem solving situations. Speech Room News also created a resource/game titled "In Your Shoes". Finally, here is a YouTube video from the Superheroes Social Skills series about perspective taking:
Here are the applications that focus on emotions and perspective taking that I have found:
FirstWords: Feelings, ABA Flash Cards & Games - Emotions, Touch & Learn Emotions, iTouchiLearn Feelings, Kindergarten.com Emotions, My DPS, The Social Express, Emotion Detective, I Can Do Emotions, Emotions & Feelings Social Story, iReading HD - Emotion Management Stories Series, Micro-Expression Trainer, Odd Face Out, AutismXpress, Autism Xpress Pro, Anger Thermometer, Autism 5-Point Scale EP, The Shredder, e-Positive Spin, e-Catch the Feeling, Funny Face Puzzle for Kids, Moody Jigsaws for Kids, Face-Cards apps, Feelings Book, That's How I Feel, Faces iMake apps, FaceIt, Smurks, Taming the Anger Monster, Anger, Angry Octopus, The Grouchies, emotion x, Moody Monster Manor, Emotions and Feelings, VolaFriends, iVenting, How Are You?, Feel Electric!, Dusty D. Dawg Has Feelings Too, Little Bok About Feelings, Hannah Rose Knows, Calm Counter - Anger Management Tool and Social Story for Autism Down Syndrome and Special Needs, Inclusive Smarty Pants, Our Feelings - Toddler & Preschool Educational Fun Game, Emotion Cards, Teach Emotions, Humor Calendar, iBaldy, Emotionary, Shake a Face, Funny Faces, Abby Emoticons Maker, Micro Expression Training, What's The Expression? For iOS, I Was So Mad, Facial Expression Recognition Training, FERT 2.0, Touch & Say, Squidgy, Baby Look Faces, FaceReader/Female FaceReader, Wonkido Mood Journal, Mister Rogers Make a Journal for Preschoolers, MoodKit - Mood Improvement Tools, Unstuck, Dibu's Monster Maker, Moody Me - Mood Diary and Tracker, Make the Face!, Angry Bird Maker, eTom, I Am Feeling..., Understanding Faces, Emotions Collection, Understanding Inferences Fun Deck, What Would You Do at School If...Fun Deck, Practicing Pragmatics Fun Deck, What Would You Do at Home If...Fun Deck, and How Would You Feel If Fun Deck.
Now crack a smile and get working on these great emotion activities!