Childrenwith Autism very often cannot fully comprehend feelings. They generally do not understand how to read facial expressions on others and how these expressions can indicate emotions. As a result, they have problems learning how to express their own feelings and then can become frustrated. This frustration can turn into meltdowns because they have difficulties communicating those feelings and then frustration grows out of control. One of the best ways to teach children with Autism to communicate feelings is to use or create visual aids so that they can begin to recognize these more fully.
Making flashcards together can be an effective way for children to relate and recognize feelings. Gather magazines, stickers, scissors, index cards and glue to create your own flashcards. You can use pictures of favorite characters and actors and then cut out each one and paste it onto the card. You can also use stickers of different characters. Then go through the flashcards with the child asking him how he feels about the different pictures. See the nonverbal reactions as well. You can write the correct emotion or feeling on the back and let him know what that emotion is. Or you can write it on the front to encourage the verbal.
During your sessions, when emotions arise, ask the child for the appropriate card that corresponds to the feeling. Or model for him, for example when he gets angry, tell him that it seems that he is angry and show him the right card. Do this for each card until he starts to understand. Then you can praise or reward him for getting the right card.
Use the words “I feel” along with the card, as in “I feel…” and then show the appropriate card. Or if the child is showing a particular emotion, say “I feel…” and show that card. Encourage the child to say the same phrase and show you the card. He doesn’t have to verbally express the emotion yet, but try to have the child show you the emotion card and if verbal, eventually say the phrase.
Continue to teach the child to say the emotion with the phrase. The goal would be that after some time, he will be able to show you the appropriate card along with saying how he feels. However, if verbal skills are limited, at least the cards will help him communicate these feelings. You can use the cards less as the child is able to express the emotions in other ways, but generally the visual aids can be useful to keep on hand during all therapeutic activities.