Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Emotion Cups

A common misconception that existed not so long ago, about individuals on the autism spectrum, was that they were not capable of feeling emotions. In time that assumption, which was to a large degree due to the way individuals on the spectrum process emotions, was proven to be incorrect. Current research continues to be ambivalent about the subject. Below is a link for those of you who are interested in further reading (a bit academic but I thought it was quite comprehensive).

I have written about an occurrence in my book ‘Wrapped in Blue’ where Mo aka. Zaki makes a connection between his tears and the emotion of ‘missing someone’ which occurs when his mother Zoya aka. moi is dropping him back to school.

“Oh my god, I think I am about to cry. I am really going to miss you mama” says  Zaki who is 17 years of age at the time. He has used the phrase “I miss you” many times before in his life possibly without understanding its pragmatic significance. Therefore, the latter incident is a milestone in Zaki’s emotional development and stands out poignantly in his mother’s mind.

Linked to the subject of emotions and ASD, just recently I had the occasion to work with an 8-year-old boy Dany* who had autism, whose mother brought him for art therapy so that he could develop insight into himself, let go and learn to express himself through art. I could relate to her completely as I too wonder often about what goes on in Mo’s head. What is he thinking and feeling at a particular point in time? How does he perceive certain situations?

Anyway, Dany is an extremely bright and articulate boy who struggles with pragmatic language skills. My goal was to gauge where he stood in terms of recognition of emotions in general and also within a personal context. Hence, I want to share with you the following activity which was based around that objective. I thought it was fun for Dany and quite powerful too.

The emotion Cups
I placed 4 ‘emotion cups’ (as Dany named them) with faces depicting happy, sad, afraid and angry emotions drawn on them. Dany was asked to choose a colour for each of the emotions (we had previously done another activity on identifying colours with emotions) and paint pieces of macaroni with the colours of each emotion. He was then asked to put macaroni pieces in the cups corresponding to the emotion he felt/associated with most of the time. Thus, more macaroni in the happiness cup relative to the sadness cup meant that he was more happy than sad and so on and so forth with all four emotions. Dany started the activity only to stop after a few seconds and asked me to add another cup. “I am none of these cups most of the time,” he said. “I want you to make a cup that looks like this” and then he made a straight line across his lips. I said, “you mean serious?” “Yes”,  declared Dany “I am serious most of the time!” Taken by surprise I added the ‘serious’ cup and Dany completed the activity. After he had filled up all the ‘emotion cups’ and lined them up, starting with the most to the least emotion he felt, we discussed each one in relation to Dany’s life. The session finished with another activity around generalising emotions and so on. Subsequent sessions will focus on further exploration about the same, encouraging Dany to experiment with his emotions through colour and form.

Dany’s mother was surprised to learn that he had so much self-awareness. Hopefully, Dany will continue to explore/express himself through his artwork and enjoy the process of discovery. 

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