I thought I would share a very simple intervention that I used several years back with a young adolescent, who we will call Carly. Carly was on the Autistic Spectrum and diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder. Carly was about 11 years old and although verbal, would not engage when she felt a strong “rush” of any emotion or even when she was feeling calm or relaxed. When calm or relaxed, her behaviors and non verbal’s almost indicated withdrawal – so Carly would get pretty upset when folks kept asking, “why so sad?”
Carly could hold conversations, asked LOTS of questions, but when it came to her feelings, she just couldn’t get it out. Her non verbal skills were sometimes getting “mixed-up” in her head when feeling a certain emotion. For instance, she would lay a very big hug on you if she was upset or frustrated. BUT, was it a hug she needed or the feeling of pressure to help her settle down? So while she was learning life, social and emotional skills in her various therapeutic settings, we came up with her feelings boxes.
Carly’s room was a very good place to help her settle when feeling any emotion. So since she would often retreat to her room, we made a big chart, about half the size of a poster board (it was a bright orange color – quick to catch anyone’s attention). As imagined, the words, “I feel” were at the top and at the bottom stuck to the board (with that sticky putty stuff) were several “faces of feelings.” We reviewed these together and with her family so we were all aware of what each face meant. This worked out really well – when feeling like she could not quite get her words out, Carly would “stick it up” on the board. It came to the point where she would regularly change the faces upon awakening, returning from school, etc.
We also created a corresponding, “feel better box.” In the box were things like silly putty, small colored cotton balls, jacks and coloring cards – all things she used when she was feeling happy or even relaxed. This young lady was also very, very good at yoga – so we printed out some of her favorite yoga positions and she used these to settle down, when she felt anxious or even overwhelmed. There were other things like counting cards, “I need a hug cards,” breathing reminders and some of her own “stuff” she added. What made the most difference is that in doing this, Carly was able to identify what she wanted to use and when.
Would the tools in the box get used for all feelings and not stay specific … of course – but the chart and the box helped her to become more aware of how she was feeling and prompted her to do something safe and stimulating when trying to settle. After about 2-3 months of usage her mother shared a story of trying to get her going in the morning, the response the mother got from Carly was, “You obviously did not see that I had my frustrated face on my door!” This was exactly the object of this intervention - to get Carly to at least say how she was feeling and learn how to channel some of those feelings. This certainly was not effective 100% of the time, but it really helped Carly to slow down and learn how to speak about and act on her feelings.
Hope this was helpful!!