Emotions & ToM

The complex world of emotions can be challenging for the average joe. For students with learning disabilities who often have delayed social development or students with Autism who have atypical social development they can be down right perplexing.

There are a number of issues to consider when teaching students about emotions. Teaching students to identify basic emotions is just the first step. They need to understand the context of emotions. In addition to reading emotions in others, they  need to display the correct emotion themselves.

Students also need to learn about different intensities and degrees of emotion. It is essential to teach how different events correlate to different levels that we experience the emotion. The Incredible 5 point scale is a wonderful tool to use with students and can be adapted to a very wide rang of ages and ability levels.

Understanding mixed emotions is another challenge that typical and neurodiverse students struggle with. For example, I can feel anxious and happy about something at the same time. Many students struggle to understand how they are feeling because they are experiencing mixed or conflicted emotions.

Another very challenging facet to emotions is masking.  We are constantly masking our emotions for all kinds of reasons. Perhaps I don’t want to talk with someone but I  keep smiling to be polite. Or maybe I am having a bad day but mask my sadness at work. Friends recognize when people they care about are masking emotions and ask them if they are ok. In business or relationships we have to recognize when some one is really done speaking with us and adjust our behavior accordingly. We use our ability recognise masked emotions to tell is someone is telling us the truth or trying to take advantage of us.

There are a number of issues to consider when working with students on emotions.  For example It is  important to point out subtle differences in facial features that vary from emotion to emotion. There has been some interesting research that has indicated that students with autism process faces in the same region of the brain as objects whereas neurotypical individual process facial expressions in a different region of the brain. Student’s attention to abject detial can be used to an instructional advantage if we point out the right detials to look for.

Another issue to consider is real-time vs static and exaggerated teaching. While it can be helpful to teach students using photographs and role playing it is often difficult to transition this to the real world.  Photos are static and allow considerable time for analysis and processing in the real world we flash emotions called micro expressions for less than a second. Role plays are nice but the emotions are usually exaggerated. For this reason I am an advocate of using shows and movies with professional actors to work with students when they are ready. It is still artificial but emotions are flashed and masked.

Here are some materials and resources I use for working on emotions and body language with student. Many of these are based off of other author’s curriculum and used to supplement lessons.

Emotion cards 1

Lie to Me Faces