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Emotional Literacy and Learning

When planning emotional literacy and learning opportunities for pupils with Autism 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. Another important factor contributing to emotional learning and wellbeing is providing children with opportunities to experience and express meaningful communication about emotion.

In the case of learners who are on the autistic spectrum, accessing these supportive processes will always be challenging because of the nature of the impairments they experience relating to social interaction and communication. To address these support needs in a school setting, it may be necessary to plan for pupils with autism 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 of the more formal emotional literacy programmes currently delivered in schools tend to focus on activities that extend emotional vocabulary, develop emotional understanding and practise social and emotional skills in abstract ways. Most activities tend to be talk-based, and discussions are based around scenarios and stories requiring social perspective taking skills and empathy. Such learning activities are difficult for pupils with Autism.

Planning for emotional literacy and emotional learning for pupils with Autism needs to be mindful of particular impairments in social and emotional functioning, and also the difficulties experienced around social and emotional communication. Pupils with Autism will benefit from visually supportive communication aids around social and emotional topics, even if they don’t require communication support on general topics. Pupils with more severe communication difficulties may need a focussed approach to establishing first emotion word meanings and related concepts in real-life contexts.

All pupils with Autism 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 a child with autism. Planning activities based on this information will ensure that emotional learning is meaningful and relevant to a child’s needs.     Claire Murray  Emotion Works

Think about
  • Promote emotional learning in the context of positive relationships with ‘tuned-in’ adults
  • Consider the particular impairments of Autism that make emotional literacy activities difficult
  • Don’t assume that basic emotion vocabulary is established, it may need to be a focus for learning
  • Offer visually supportive communication support on emotional and social topics
  • Ensure that emotional learning experiences are appropriate to individual learning needs



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