How can I help my child with autism understand and communicate emotions?

William Stillman
Health Education
Start by identifying your child’s most passionate of interests with reference to what she prefers to watch or play. In a recent consultation, I mentored a professional facing the same issue. The 11-year-old girl in question was fascinated with Barbie dolls and had a number of Barbie DVD videos. My idea, in keeping with making the process objective (detracting the attention away from her in a non-threatening manner) instead of subjective (making her feel shamed or interrogated), was to recommend that the professional carefully review this young girl’s favorite videos with an eye toward selecting specific scenes that portrayed interactions involving clear emotions, such as anger, sadness, elation, and so on.

Once the scenes were identified, the professional made a game of it by reviewing the scenes with the girl -- which was pleasing for her -- with the intent of gently prompting her to articulate what was going on between the characters. For instance, if there was a quarrel between Barbie and Theresa, how would it feel to be Barbie or what do we suppose Theresa was feeling just then? It’s a great way to begin to deconstruct particular social interactions that can then be transferred to real life, such as, “Does what happened between Barbie and Theresa remind you of anything that’s happened to you?” Not only that, because it builds upon the child’s passionate, she’s engaged, interested, and personally invested in the process.

Once your child becomes adept at identifying emotions and feelings of her favorite characters, you can better practice preventative measures such as aiding her to recognize her own feelings and articulate them before the overwhelm her. Giving her key phrases to use (maybe even lifted from the videos) or a word or two to convey her emotions should prove beneficial to all. Even when incidents do occur (and they likely will, as they do for us all), you may be better poised to deconstruct what just occurred with her in terms of feelings akin to her fictional friends.

Continue Learning about Living With Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

How does autism affect a child's eating habits?
Joane GoodroeJoane Goodroe
Eating habits may be affected in children with autism spectrum disorders. This is believed to be rel...
More Answers
How can I keep my child with autism safe from strangers?
Chantal Sicile-KiraChantal Sicile-Kira
It is crucial to teach the same safety rules you would to any child, such as, “Don’t open the door f...
More Answers
Can People with Autism Improve Their Social Skills?
Can People with Autism Improve Their Social Skills?
How Can I Help My Child with Autism Have Better Relationships?
How Can I Help My Child with Autism Have Better Relationships?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.