Parents, have you ever seen your loved one upset but not know what they are feeling? Studies show that Autistic individuals have a harder time showing and expressing their feelings.
Autistic children show their feelings in a lot of different ways. Some common ways of showing negative emotion involve crying, yelling, screaming, grunting, making weird noises, hitting things, tapping at their body or an item very aggressively, banging their head on things, etc. These are all things that I have done in the past. The most common occurrence for me was banging my head on the wall. When I was upset, I used to bang my head so hard until I had a headache. Along with negative emotions there are also positive ones. Stimming can be positive and makes me feel better afterwards. I may be very anxious or nervous and then after stimming, my nerves calm down. Also, when I am very excited or overjoyed about something, I may become hyper. Even though being hyper is something that some parents want to reduce or eliminate, it really could mean that your child is happy!
Since my brain works differently than others, I tend to not think about the cause and effect principle behind my actions when I am upset and in the moment. For instance, about a year ago I was in the car riding towards my speech therapist a few miles away from my house. I was upset because I didn’t really want to go and I would have rather been doing something else. At some point I got so mad that I started pushing the front window with my feet. This is one thing for me that in the past made me calmer by applying pressure to something. As you might be thinking, yes, I ended up kicking too hard and cracking the windshield. Obviously, my mom was very upset and I had to pay about $600.00 of my own money to fix the damage. This is an example of something that I knew was wrong but in the moment I did it anyway.
In addition to having trouble expressing my feelings, I also have trouble understanding what others are feeling. For instance, when my brother and I were playing a game and he said to stop. But part of the game was when I tickled him. He was laughing but saying stop so I thought that he was just joking when he was really upset. This situation has happened many times.
I have lots of trouble reading body language. One way that I was taught how to appropriately show my emotions and read the emotions of others was with flashcards with faces on them. I had to demonstrate or act out the face, and then say what feeling that person is showing. I have also spent many years in social skills groups and speech therapy learning how to do both of these things. While these get easier for me the older that I get, I still struggle with these issues at times. It will probably always be a struggle but I’ll keep working at it.