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HOW WELL DO WE SUPPORT AUTISTIC CHILDREN’S DEVELOPMENT OF EMOTIONAL LITERACY?

When we stop a child’s emotions in their tracks, for example by telling them to “stop crying”, or that they are fine when they are not, they learn that it is unsafe to feel and express their experiences.

Responding to our children with these and similar phrases is not a reflection of how much we love and care for them, rather it is a reflection of our conditioning and relationship with our own emotions. As the American poet Maya Anjelou graciously wrote; we do the best we can until we know better. Then when we know better, we can do better.

It is never too late for us to start developing a different relationship with our emotions. We all have the potential to unlearn, relearn and develop new skills and ways of being. Receiving support to do this from another safe and trusted adult, either in therapy or in another safe and co-regulatory relationship, can really support this journey for us as individuals and as parents who want to support our children differently.

Each time we are able to really validate our children’s emotions, we provide an opportunity for them to recognise, understand and crucially TRUST how they feel. Providing them with this, allows them to experience a felt sense of the full range and depth of their emotions. In these safe and validating spaces, children are more able to learn what helps them to tolerate and make sense of the energy and sensations moving through their body’s.

GASLIGHTING NEURODIVERGENT EXPERIENCES

When a child is experiencing emotional dysregulation, but is told that they are fine and that they just need to “get on with it”, their opportunity to get to know, trust and understand the experiences within their body is occluded.

Not having a safe and unconditional space in which they can make sense of their experiences, adversely affects their developmental process, in terms of learning to recognise how they feel and what support they need in order to manage their feelings. When we experience distress and overwhelm whilst someone we love and trust is telling us that we’re alright really, and encouraging us to go back into the same space, emotional literacy will be the last thing we have the capacity to develop.

Sometimes adults and parents are unable to fully support a child’s development of emotional literacy, because the child’s nervous system is either very different to their own, or incredibly similar, but in a way that the adult does not yet recognise. In either case, this is where parents of neurodivergent children, can learn so much from connecting with the Autistic community and listening to and reading the wealth of knowledge and experience that is available.

When we build our knowledge and insight, we are far better placed to reflect on what form of support our child receives. Emotional literacy programs for example, that teach children to name and recognise their emotions, and how to develop their self awareness, need to be delivered by practitioners who are either Neurodivergent themselves, or authentic and well informed allies.

We need to be able to reflect on what is being offered to our children and what impact it may have. For if such programs re-enforce a child’s experiences of being gas-lit and misunderstood, the loudest message they are likely to receive will be that they are ‘less’ or ‘other’.

I find it interesting to think about what seems to be a very strong link between emotional literacy and self advocacy skills.

For how can I tell you that I am not ok, or describe how I feel and what I need, when each time I have struggled before, I was told “enough” already, or that my feelings were invalid? How can I feel safe asking for help, or even know what help I might need, when my conditioning has taught me to hide my tears, carry on and mask?


It is really helpful and important to know that the more we hold safe space for our children to explore their own emotions (and for each other in our adult relationships), the more opportunities we create for our children (and ourselves) to build a sense of what they (and we) need.


#EmotionalLiteracy #AutisticSelfAdvocacy #NeurodivergentSupport


You can also find more information, articles and links over on Changing The Narratives Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/ChangingTheNarrativeAboutAutismAndPDA/

By Jessica Matthews

Neurodivegent Mother, Independent Researcher, and Writer. Background in Psychology and Counselling with postgraduate training in Clinical Psychology (BSc Hons Psychology and Trained Integrative Counsellor). Passionate about Neurodivergent Identity, Non-neuronormative Narratives and Polyvagal Informed Parenting.

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