Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Autism - The Importance of Facial Expressions to an Autistic Child

Part of the problem that Autistic children face in the area of communication is that they are unable to decipher facial expressions in others. A child with Autism will watch you cry, sometimes even wipe your tears off, but for the most part, will have no idea that you are unhappy. A large part of communication for most people is their body language and this includes facial expressions so the fact that the Autistic child can't understand this increases the difficulty in communication.

There are methods whereby you can actually enable some Autistic children to read facial expressions thereby increasing their own awareness of how people around them are feeling.

Repetition can help the child with Autism learn. By going over the same thing in different settings and at different times you are rooting it in their brain for them to pull out as necessary.

You can make a list of the different frequently used expressions and have it on a small card with the picture beside it for them to refer to in the beginning. The most common being a smile, sad, angry, laughing, scared and thinking face. This helps the child with Autism reference to something.

Another thing that you can do is discuss it with them in language that they can identify with e.g. "When you pat your puppy, you smile right, that means that you are happy." The child identifies good things like patting the puppy, eating ice cream and other things that he/she enjoys as being happy.

Then you can start to reference it to other people so the Autistic child will actually start to look to other people's faces to see what their expressions are saying e.g. "When you throw food on the floor, does that make your Mom smile?." When you get a no answer, you could say, "Then your mom is not happy, what does your Mom's face look like?" And then go on to discuss with the Autistic child the possible meanings of what their mother's face meant, angry, sad etc.

By doing this, you are reaffirming to the child with Autism that he/she can have more of an idea what a person is feeling by looking at the other person's face. It actually works two-fold as it also increases eye contact while increasing the Autistic child's communication skills.

Sometimes the Autistic child will expand on this on their own by asking people if the expression on their face is actually what they are feeling which is great as it shows that they are learning and starting to read expressions for themselves.

Long term, it will lead to the Autistic child being able to understand and communicate more effectively. This will lead to fewer miscommunications and more chances that the child with Autism has to explore not only their own feelings but, to be more sensitive to the feelings of others.

Donna Mason has been a Registered Nurse for the past 16 years. She is the mother of 6 children, 3 of whom have varying degrees of Autism. For more information on Autism signs and symptoms, and to learn more about this mother's battle in the fight against this misunderstood condition, visit us on the web at:

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