Ask a child how they or someone else is feeling and I bet you will get one of three answers: happy, sad or angry. Even if these were totally off the mark, these ‘feelings’ are conditioned into our kids. But they don’t understand them. How can you teach kids on the Spectrum ‘social skills’ if they don’t even understand what people are feeling? Visuals! Visuals! Visuals! It’s the one word that is always used when working with our ASD kiddos. So… do you have visuals to represent Thoughts & Feelings? I am always pushing my social-pragmatic kids to think about what other people are thinking – Theory of Mind is such an integral difficulty with our students diagnosed with Autism Spectrum and Social Communication Disorders.
So I made some really targeted cards focusing on 12 core emotions: disappointed, frustrated, silly, sad, angry, confused, anxious, good, excited, happy, proud and surprised. Having both male and female sets was really important as well – I use the female cards to teach my thoughts and feelings and (usually) the male cards to work with my kids, most of whom are boys, to reflect their thoughts and feelings. The cards can also be used to represent teachers, parents, peers… or anyone in the social situation.
There are 2 different types of cards (48 in total), and that is because while I do think that it can really help if you label a thought or feeling (below, right) I also think that it is equally important not to and have the child name the thoughts and feelings using their OWN language. I LOVE using the the above set as a visual representation for Theory of Mind. Download the set and look at my therapy ideas below to get you started.
- We watch YouTube clips and I might ask the child to tell me a characters thoughts and feelings.
- If they got in trouble at school, I might use the cards to reflect on how they were feeling – and maybe what types of thoughts other people were feeling.
- To help shape behaviour I might show the card with the girl who looks frustrated and tell them that this is what I’m thinking and can they change my thoughts so that I’m happier (and show the girl thinking good thoughts) – this has worked wonderfully and has really eliminated the need for me to use negative tones/language.
- If we are playing a game with cards I might pick one up and act out an emotion (sad or excited) and ask the child to (1). name my feeling and (2). predict what they think I have or what I’m thinking.
If you are looking for some more social-pragmatic inspiration, make sure to check out the FREE Mini Social Stories –When I Can’t Control Myself, When You Cheat, How to Greet People, How to Give Compliments and When You Interrupt.