ABA Therapy and Teaching Emotions

Emotional behavior — more specifically, emotional expression and receptiveness — is certainly an area pediatric applied behavioral analysis has been shown to make improvements. Common treatment goals associated with this include:

  • Perceiving and understanding emotional expression in others
  • Expressing emotions in a constructive, communicative way
  • Developing verbal and non-verbal skills to support emotional expression
  • Reducing problem behavior, such as tantrums or self-isolation
  • Improving social interaction

Many families seek improvement in at least one of these categories. This is because many children with autism spectrum disorders have trouble controlling, recognizing, and presenting emotional reactions.

Why do autistic children have trouble with emotions?

Many neurotypical children learn to express and recognize feelings through interpersonal interaction, without special instruction. For children on the autism spectrum, acquisition of these types of communication skills sometimes gets delayed. This delay often presents in the form of problem situations, such as emotional reactions that do not seem correct or in violent outbursts of frustration.

How do you teach emotions to a child with autism?

It is a common misconception that children with autism have different, diminished, or more intense emotional reactions. Some people even believe children with ASDs do not experience certain feelings.

Everyone has emotions — they cannot be taught. Instead, ABA therapists teach various methods of processing the inner experiences nearly everyone has.

Every child is different, so the exact strategies and techniques depend on theory, case study, and observation of practical results. This detailed, continuous analysis is essential to ABA. In short, each child gets the most effective treatment based on personalized data and established clinical studies. Here are some common strategies to promote and reinforce positive emotional behavior:

  • Consistent, exaggerated emotional expression and engagement from ABA therapists
  • Show and label emotions using pictures, video, or specialized toys
  • Identify opportunities for real-world teaching moments
  • Discuss personal feelings
  • Consistently reinforce emotional management strategies

Depending on the child’s development in other areas, such as verbal communication, some emotional teaching techniques would be more effective than others. ABA professionals address these needs and constraints in each treatment plan they create.

How can you tell if a child needs ABA therapy for emotions?

Determining whether and how to teach emotional skills is an important part of setting up an ABA treatment plan. For parents who are unsure whether their child needs treatment for autism, the best course of action is probably to seek a consultation with a professional.

Even if it is just a suspicion, and even if the child is relatively young, we would urge parents to make an appointment. Getting an early start with ABA therapy has been linked to improved outcomes.

Many children have trouble expressing emotions. In fact, many common school lessons focus on this — but few if any provide the intensity, analytical basis and personalized attention children on the autism spectrum need to fully grasp the concepts of emotional perception and communication. Please contact us soon to make your first appointment.