When it comes to having a child with special needs, there is one thing that you need to deal with and that is emotions. It is definitely hard to read, understand and deal with it. If typically developing child still gets confused with emotions, then it is twice as hard to a child with special needs. At times, even more. This because these kids have difficulty recognizing emotions. For some, they are not even aware of all these.
One of the major fallouts of these challenges can be picking up on social cues. Teaching students with special needs to not only identify emotions and facial expressions but the associated feelings and scenarios that go along with that can help our students fit in better and have more successful social lives.
Our children will need us to listen to them. They need someone to sit down and listen to what they have to say. They need someone who would acknowledge every emotion they are feeling. If your child is non-verbal, help validate their emotions by giving voice to what they may be feeling.
How can we understand our child’s emotions better?
Let them know what the different emotions are.
Most of the children with special needs have less awareness on this aspect. Therefore, you must show them the different kinds of emotions. Let them be aware of this. Let them see how these various emotions look like through pictures, videos and role-playing activities. Label these emotions and make this part of their vocabulary words. Even though they aren’t ready to use these words, show them all of these consistently. Make is visible to them so that they will be reminded that they are also able to feel these emotions.
Every day, we would ask our children how they are feeling through pictures. For verbal kids, we would ask them to share their experiences why they feel such. While for non-verbal kids, we would show them pictures and let them choose the picture. (given prompting when needed).
Identify the stress triggers.
Write your observations about a child a child when showing feeling of uneasiness. If they got upset or angry, identify the cause or the stimulus of that behavior. If they are more aware, create a checklist that students can complete about their school stressors. Use pictures that correspond with emotions so it will be more understandable. Once causes are identified, create a structured environment that will lessen all of these possible triggers. This will help us to understand them and help them to understand themselves as well.
Create emotions booklet
This is a great activity to let our children know their different emotions. Before-hand, you can take photo of your child on random days where they actually show different emotions. For example, when they throw tantrums, take photo of them and explain to them that this is how they look like when they are upset. On the other hand, take their photo when they are playing with their favorite toy and when they are eating their favorite ice cream. Tell them that is how they look like when they are happy. Make a booklet out of it and scan thru it every day if possible.
Establishing Skills in Real Life Situations
And finally, take a leap on those teachable moments. When an event happens naturally in class, challenge a student to identify the emotion they feel, or another student is feeling “in the moment”. All these MUST be taught in real-life situations for our students with special needs to use those skills in the real world. You can also create opportunities for them to show their emotions. For example, they accidentally threw the ball on you, pretend & act like you are hurt and sad. Ask them to say sorry. They would eventually acknowledge that you got hurt and they also will learn how to say sorry.
Not all times they are able to acknowledge your feelings. Not all times they can control their emotions. That is why it is still best to give them a safe environment or a sensory room where they can feel, manage and regulate themselves.