A free online resource developed to support the inclusion of autistic learners in Scottish Early Learning and Childcare settings, Primary and Secondary schools.

Emotional Literacy

When planning emotional literacy and learning opportunities for autistic learners it is important to be aware of the key factors that facilitate emotional learning and promote emotional wellbeing generally. One factor necessary for healthy emotional development is that children experience positive relationships with attentive, attuned and responsive adults and are given opportunities to experience and express meaningful communication about emotions.


For many autistic learners, accessing these supportive processes may be challenging due to the nature of the differences they experience relating to social interaction and communication. It may be necessary to plan for autistic learners to have additional opportunities to establish a positive relationship with a key adult, and to make sure that they have access to resources that offer additional communication support around the topic of emotion.

Many emotional literacy programmes tend to be talk-based around scenarios and stories which require empathy and the ability to understand social perspectives. This perspective taking may be difficult for many autistic learners and care should be taken to adapt the approaches to meet the needs of the individual. It is important to consider individual differences in social and emotional functioning and communication. Autistic learners will benefit from visually supportive communication aids around social and emotional topics, even if they don’t require communication support in other areas of the curriculum. Learners with more severe communication difficulties may need a focused approach to firstly establish emotion word meanings and related concepts in real-life contexts.

All autistic learners will benefit from a more individualised approach being taken to explore or discuss emotional events and experiences that are relevant to them. For this, it is important to ‘tune in’ to the particular, and sometimes unusual or unexpected emotional responses, emotional triggers and regulation strategies of an autistic learner. Planning activities based on this information will ensure that emotional learning is meaningful and relevant to a child’s needs.

  • Promote emotional learning in the context of positive relationships with key adults who have a good understanding of the autistic learner.
  • Consider the particular differences of autism that make emotional literacy activities difficult for autistic learners.
  • Don’t assume that basic emotion vocabulary is established. It may need to be a focus for learning.
  • Offer visually supportive communication, especially for emotional and social topics.
  • Ensure that emotional learning experiences are appropriate to individual learning needs.