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Emotional Problems in Autism

While typically developing children begin learning to understand and express basic emotions starting at birth, children with autism are often delayed in developing these skills. Common difficulties children with autism face include recognizing emotion, showing and managing their own emotions, and responding to other people’s emotions.

Recognizing Emotion

Children with autism who are early in emotional development may face challenges recognizing emotion in others. This can include difficulty or inability to understand facial expressions, body language, tone of voice or other emotional cues.

Preschool-age children with autism may struggle to recognize basic emotions. Although adults with autism may have difficultly recognizing complex emotions, in many cases emotion recognition improves over time.

Expressing Emotions / Emotional Regulation

While some young children with autism display emotions similarly to their typically developing peers, children with more severe symptoms may show little or no emotional expression in scenarios that would illicit an emotional reaction from a neurotypical child.

Conversely, a child with autism may react disproportionately when triggered. Colloquially known as a meltdown or tantrum, it is common for children with autism to display intense anger or distress when unable to adapt to changes in routine, or in situations where they lack the ability to communicate effectively or meet expectations set for them. ABA therapy can help children with autism find alternatives to these challenging emotions or behaviors.

Responding to Other People’s Emotions

Due to challenges recognizing and processing emotions, children with autism often struggle to respond to the emotions of others in a way that would be considered socially appropriate. Because of this, a neurotypical individual may sometimes interpret the behavior of a child with autism as lacking in empathy.

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