Teaching Autistic Kids to Talk About Their Feelings
In the journey of supporting children, especially those on the autism spectrum, to talk about their feelings and internal states, it's crucial to understand the prerequisites. Let's explore the essential steps:
1. Building a Solid Foundation in Visible Concepts Before delving into emotions and internal states, it's essential to ensure that your autistic child has a robust vocabulary that includes words related to their visible world. This means they should be proficient at identifying and naming things they can see. From basic objects like books and cows to everyday items like bananas, a diverse vocabulary for the visible world is the first step in helping autistic children express their feelings.
2. Understanding Emotions in Others The next critical step is to help autistic children understand feelings as they relate to others. This involves recognizing emotional cues in people's expressions and actions. For instance, they should understand that laughter signifies something is funny, crying represents sadness, and injuries lead to pain. By teaching them these emotional language skills, you're building a foundation for them to express their own feelings.
3. Bridging the Gap: Teaching Autistic Children to Express Their Feelings Once your autistic child has mastered these two prerequisites, you can start helping them talk about their own internal states and emotions. However, there's a unique challenge here – unlike visible objects, internal states are not directly observable.
Using Public Accompaniment: This strategy involves identifying visible clues associated with the private event. For instance, if your autistic child has a toothache, observable signs might include red and swollen gums, increased salivation, or bad breath. By connecting these visible cues with the internal state, you can teach your autistic child to express their discomfort using the relevant language. For example, "Your gums look red and swollen; it seems like your tooth hurts. Can you say, 'Ow, my tooth hurts?'"
Leveraging Collateral Responses: Sometimes, autistic children display other behaviors that indirectly hint at their internal states. In the case of a stomachache, your child might hold their belly, grimace, or avoid food. These behaviors can serve as cues to understand what's going on inside them. You can use these cues to provide the appropriate language for their feelings, making it easier for autistic children to express themselves. For instance, "You're holding your belly and avoiding food. It looks like you have a stomachache. Can you say, 'My stomach hurts'?"
By employing these strategies, you're effectively pairing language with the internal states your autistic child is experiencing. While it might take some time and patience, this process is how autistic children, just like neurotypical children, learn to articulate their internal states. Remember that everyone's internal experiences are unique, and teaching these concepts requires waiting for the right opportunities to naturally present themselves. Just as you taught your autistic child to identify visible objects, you can help them describe their feelings using cues from the visible world around them.
Helping autistic children express their feelings through language is a vital aspect of their development. By building a foundation in visible concepts, teaching them to understand emotions in others, and using strategies like public accompaniment and collateral responses, you can empower your autistic child to communicate their internal states effectively. This language development journey is essential for all children, including those on the autism spectrum, as it enables them to express their feelings, thoughts, and needs more confidently.