Humans have six basic emotions: happiness, surprise, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust. We also experience more complex feelings such as embarrassment, embarrassment, pride, guilt, envy, joy, trust, interest, contempt, and anticipation.
The ability to understand and express these emotions begins to develop from birth.
By about two months of age, most babies are laughing and showing signs of fear. By 12 months, a normally developing baby can read your face to understand how you are feeling. Most toddlers and young babies start using words to express feelings, although you may experience a tantrum or two if their feelings get too big for words!
Throughout childhood and adolescence, most children continue to develop empathy. They also develop skills to manage their emotions and to recognize and respond to other people’s feelings.
In adulthood, people are often able to quickly identify subtle emotional expressions.
Emotions and Autistic Children
Autistic children often find it difficult to:
1. recognize emotions, facial expressions, and other emotional cues such as tone of voice and body language
2. show and deal with their own emotions
3. understand and respond to other people’s emotions: You may lack or appear to lack empathy for others.
Babies who are later diagnosed with autism can recognize emotions in a similar way to babies who are normally developing. But these children develop emotional responses more slowly than normally developing children. By age 57, many autistic children can recognize joy and sadness but find it more difficult to express fear and anger subtly.
Adolescents with autism are not as good at recognizing fear, anger, surprise, and disgust as normally developing adolescents.
As adults, many continue to have difficulty recognizing some emotions.
Showing and Understanding Their Own Emotions
Babies later diagnosed with autism may show similar feelings as normally developing babies.
School-age children with less severe autism can express their feelings in ways similar to normally developing children, but describing their feelings can be difficult. They might say they don’t feel any particular emotion. At the same age, many children with more severe autism appear to have less emotional expression than normally developing children.
Autistic children may not seem emotionally responsive, or their emotional responses may sometimes seem exaggerated. This is because autistic children have trouble controlling their emotions. For example, they may get very angry very quickly or have a hard time calming down from strong emotions.
Fostering Emotional Development in Autistic Children
Autistic children can develop skills to recognize and manage their emotions. You can use everyday interactions to help your autistic child learn about emotions and improve their ability to express and respond to emotions.
You might also find the following tools useful:
- Emotion cards have pictures of faces, either real or cartoon, which you can use to teach your child basic emotions.
- The Transporters is an animation series that uses transport characters to teach emotions to autistic children aged 2-8 years.
- Social stories are a way of explaining social situations to autistic children. An illustrated story or comic strip conversation that incorporates how your child feels and how others feel might be useful for your child.