“Awareness ofEmotionsis a category title that refers to skills that are related to the receptive comprehension of non-verbal communication cues in facial expression, body language and tone of voice.This also refers to comprehension of emotion categories, emotional vocabulary, and gradations of emotions. “Management of Emotions” refers to how a student expressively communicates emotions and how a student uses non-verbal communication cue when they communicate with others.In essence, think of the “awareness” aspect as being receptive language, and the “management” aspect as being expressive language.

Facial Expression and emotional comprehension develops in four hierarchical levels:(Ford and Milanksy, 2003)

  1. Photographs of faces only
  2. Line drawings of faces
  3. Scenario/Social Context scenes
  4. Characters in story context

There has been interesting brain-based research on how students with an autism spectrum disorder interpret facial expressions.Functional MRI neuroimaging studies reveal that individuals with ASD attend to specific parts of the face, not the whole face for facial recognition tasks.(Klin, 2002).Brain research shows that individuals with ASD may process facial features using the same brain regions as they use to process objects.Further, research shows that people with ASD showed more difficulty identifying facia expressions with photos over line drawings. (Schulte, 2000) Photos are more personal with a subtle social demand; whereas line drawings are most akin to objects with limited social demand.

One particular emotion skill that students with an ASD would have difficulty with is the skill called, “disassembling emotions”.This refers to occasions where a person may feel one emotion, but shows another emotion publicly to be sensitive to other people’s feelings.An example of when a person would do this is when they receive a birthday gift that they really do not like.“Unwritten social codes” say that the recipient should still show joy and gratitude over the gift.Researcher Brinton et. al.(2007) researched this concept.Brinton indicates that there are “hidden display rules” people follow when the experienced emotion differs from the expressed emotion.In order to do this, people need to have adequate Theory of Mind skills to take other people’s perspectives, use a social filtering process to inhibit the experienced emotion, and be cognitively flexible enough to mask true feelings.It is my experience with elementary students that this is a tremendously difficulty skill for learners with social language deficits to do.Research shows that typically developing elementary school age students without social language deficits are able to do this. Brinton (2007) studied 19 students with social language deficits and 19 typical elementary students on this task.The study found that 19% of social language deficient students showed disassemble knowledge in hypothetical stories, versus 60% of typically developing students.

Lastly, students with social language deficits often interpret information in a very literal, concrete manner.It either is, or it isn’t.This translates into emotional understanding and expression as well.For students with social language needs, there is one level or “degree” of emotions, and it is typically the most intense level.Thus, if a student is mad, they are usually furious, no matter what the antecedent is.There is one level of anger and it is intense.Likewise, there may be one level of happiness and it may be euphoria.There may be one intensity level of sadness and it may a state of tears.While students can certainly have difficulties regulating their emotional reactions due to other factors, these same students often do not understand that there is a gradation of emotions and scenarios that elicit emotions.Teaching strategies that focus on teaching synonyms of emotion words (i.e.anger can be :miffed, annoyed, mad, furious, irate) that demonstrate gradations of reactions can helpful.

Teaching strategies that focus on increasing a student’s receptive comprehension of emotions and non-verbal communication skills should be a part of programming for students with social language needs.Concurrently, a focus on helping a child be able to expressively manage emotions and use non-verbal communication cues to communicate should also be pursued.

The Teaching Ideas section under this Emotion Awareness and Management skills page contains ideas for you to explore and PDF documents you can download and use. Check back often to find new ideas!

© Jill D. Kuzma, Minneapolis MN, 2008. All Rights Reserved.
Neither this document nor its concept may be duplicated, distributed, or re-published in any format without written permission from the author/owner.