This is the first of a series of artciles wirtten by Barbora Holkova, Educational Consultant at Kolibri Education.
All children and adults likewise need to be aware of their emotional world in order to live a fulfilling life. Well-developed emotional awareness helps us deal with difficult situations, resolve conflicts in a constructive manner, and build healthy, respectful relationships. Being in touch with our feelings also helps us find inner peace and gives us personal power to make healthy decisions. Lack of emotional intelligence skills is a common trait of Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Many children with ASD struggle to identify, express and regulate their emotions which leads to challenges in social environment and difficulties with social inclusion. Low emotional awareness is also connected to mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, which are common among those on the autistic spectrum. “Roughly 40% have symptoms of at least one anxiety disorder at any time, compared with up to 15% in the general population.”
Emotional intelligence is not a rigid constant set in stone. It is in fact a set of skills and competences, such as self-awareness, empathy, self-regulation, social skills, and motivation. Learning how to identify their own emotions and those of others is a meaningful step towards improving one’s emotional skillset. There are several digital tools and applications which focus on improving emotional intelligence of children on the autistic spectrum. For instance, Autimo TM created by the team at Auticiel is a free application that teaches children to recognize emotions and facial expressions through identification games. Children match faces which express similar emotions in real photographs. Auticiel also designed an application IFEEL TM which helps children express a need or a feeling through pictograms. In the learning platform Smile and Learn, emotional intelligence is one of the core subjects along with science, art and literacy. The platform provides several games and videos focused on recognizing, labeling and differentiating between emotions. In a game called Super Emotions, children match emotions to real-life situations, illustrations, sound effects or musical segments. For instance, children choose an expression appropriate for a specific situation: “Victor’s friends laughed at him because he fell. How does Victor feel?” In another game called Mr. Emotion, children choose an appropriate eye and mouth expression to represent an emotion such as shame, sadness, surprise or boredom.
Children with learning difficulties often face emotional challenges additional to those of their peers. Feelings of frustration and anxiety are common for students with dyslexia or ADHD. To help children deal with negative feelings, the educational team at Smile and Learn created a game called The Calm Corner. This game showcases various everyday stressful situations along with child friendly relaxation exercises and mindfulness techniques. For example, children can see Mica – a little girl who can’t fall asleep at night because her mind is busy thinking about everything that is waiting for her the following day. Mica is told to lay down on her back and put a little object, such as a stone, on her belly. She breathes in and out slowly and concentrates on how the little stone gently moves up and down with her breath. In another situation, a little boy John demonstrates a slow-walk technique – he walks around the room very slowly, paying close attention to each muscle movement, as if he was a robot learning to walk. These relaxation techniques are powerful tools for stress relief and reduction of anxiety symptoms. It is valuable for children to be familiar with these techniques and use them when the need arises.