We all know raising our children has its fair share of ups and downs. For children with autism, emotional development may take a less linear path than typically expected – but that’s okay. The best way to help our children along is to understand emotional development and support them at every stage in their unique situation.
In this guide to emotional development in children, we’ll cover emotional expression, dominant vs. divergent development, and how to work toward developmental milestones for children with autism.
Autism and Expressing Emotions
Children with autism feel emotions the same way everyone else does. However, it is often difficult for them to express themselves to those around them in conventional fashions. Things like recognizing facial expressions and communicative patterns can be difficult for people with autism to understand; therefore, social cues are usually overlooked or missed. As a result, many children with autism become socially withdrawn in irregular social environments if not prepared or encouraged by an ongoing support system in such situations.
To best help children with autism develop these complex emotion patterns, we need to be empathetic to the way each unique child processes and expresses their emotions.
Dominant vs. Divergent Development
Most parents will be highly invested in the timing and quality of emotional development of their child. There is no exact age for when children ought to learn these skills, and the ranges may differ for neurodominant children vs. neurodivergent children. It is important not to measure these two types against one another – and to understand that when it comes down to it, the development of every child is unique to themselves.
Additionally, creating expectations specific to your child and their emotional makeup will relieve both you and them of the stress that comes with comparing your child’s growth with others. Doing this requires support and meaningful evaluation, especially if a neurodivergent child shows signs of developmental delays. The best way to create a plan for your child with autism is to work within an ABA framework provided by an autism clinic.
Emotional Development in Children With Autism
Children with autism often have trouble recognizing and expressing emotions, but they still have the same range of emotions as all other children. The six basic human emotions are happiness, surprise, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust. There are many more complex ones, and each is developed from birth in children of all neurotypes. For more information on how to help your Neurotypical Child Cope, read here today.
Some of the most common issues in emotional development for children with autism include:
- Not showing and managing their own emotions
- Inability to recognize facial expressions and social cues such as tone of voice and body language
- Not understanding and responding to the emotions of others
- Tendency to avoid situations that require an emotional response
Because children with autism are prone to emotional withdrawal, it can be construed as a lack of empathy or disinterest. The reality is that their emotions may not be as developed or easy for them to express. We can help our neurodivergent children overcome these developmental delays by helping them build these skills and manage their growth in a structured and effective fashion. For more help understanding Autism, please read more here today.
How to Teach Emotional Change in Children with Autism
There is no one-size-fits-all plan to teach appropriate emotional responses to any child – neurodivergent or otherwise. However, for children with autism, it is highly beneficial to work within an ABA framework that tracks and manages their growth using evidence-based treatment.
Some of the best ways that parents can help their children with autism within this framework include:
- Using everyday interactions to relate emotions: Even when a seemingly ordinary exchange happens – such as someone smiling at another person – take that opportunity to point out that a smile can mean happiness.
- Creating emotion cards: Using basic pictures of faces and gestures on notecards is a great way to teach a range of emotions to your children.
- Reading social stories: Specific stories, books, and illustrated conversations teach children about emotions and feelings in specific scenarios.
- Responding to your child’s emotions precisely: When your child displays emotions, be responsive to them. For example, if they are excited about a toy, point out how they have acted positively. Similarly, don’t shy away from discussing negative emotions; otherwise, those will go underdeveloped.
- Teaching during calmer times: Some children with autism may find the expression of emotions stressful in the moment. As such, they may not learn as well during the situation. Using downtime afterward to reference responses or to go through your learning toolkit will prove valuable in the long term.
We always recommend that learning and teaching be done regularly and consistently so that your child can generalize across multiple environments. Emotions should be built and developed just like any other skill. For children with autism, this means embracing an ABA approach to emotional development and utilizing the best therapists and clinicians available in your area.
Ally Pediatric Therapy Can Help Your Child with Autism
At Ally Pediatric Therapy, we want to give all children the best chance to develop emotionally. We understand how difficult this can be without proper support, so we’ve spent decades providing ABA programming to families of children with autism. Please reach out today if you’re looking to work with Arizona’s top licensed therapists and ABA clinicians. We’ll work together to create a framework for the long-term growth and success of your child.