Identifying and labeling emotions in young children with autism

Identifying and labeling emotions in young children with autism

Children with an autism spectrum disorder can find it very difficult to identify emotions.  In many cases the child will find it difficult to distinguish between their own emotions and those of others.  This often leads to them “acting out” for reasons that confuse.

The child with an autism spectrum may go as far as confusing their feelings during outbursts – for example your child may feel all negative or unpleasant emotions as “anger” when in fact they may be feeling “frustration” or “fear” or even “fatigue”.

The “anger” feeling can be brought on by many factors of which a “lack of communication ability” seems to be the biggest trigger.  Not being understood, not getting their message across or not being able to do something that they want to do all seem to be very big reasons for emotions to flare up.

Identifying and labeling emotions from a young age can help your child overcome some of the negative behaviour and it will help ease the transitions into their teenage years when hormones add a further set of emotions into the mix.

How can you help your child manage their moods?

  • Tell your child what emotions they are feeling by pointing out their emotions to them;
  • Introduce “social stories” about different emotions.  These stories must describe things like: “laughter means we are happy, when something good happens to us, we feel happy, what does happiness look like, what does happiness sound like etc.;
  • Social stories and visuals introduced to the child must also include different feeling of anger such as:
  • A little bit angry
  • Very angry
  • Not angry but frustrated
  • Not angry but tired
  • Not angry but hungry
  • Introduce a variety of visual’s in and around the house, car and at school with PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) that can help your child express their feelings to you.  Make sure you focus on the emotions that taunt us all.
  • Depending on the child’s age you can introduce a variety of Alternative Communication Tools into your daily routines which will aid your child’s communication.

Remember that we all feel a variety of emotions daily and that have learnt appropriate behaviour from a young age. 

Ilse Kilian-Ross

Ilse Kilian-Ross is the owner of Amazing K, a registered ECD and Partial Care Facility in Johannesburg. Amazing K is a private adhd school, autism school and therapy centre for children from age 2 - 6 years where learners receive the best of both the schooling and therapy world. The autism school offers Individualized Education Programs, Speech- and Augmentive Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy as well as a full and adapted Academic Curriculum.