Smarty – Smart Art February Project

Love…a universal feeling and an incredibly abstract concept.  We experience love from the moment we are born, but defining, explaining or quantifying it is difficult, even for the most poetic adult. 

Children, especially children with autism, have difficulty with abstract social-emotional concepts like love or hate.  Often these concepts are overgeneralized. For example, a child might claim to love anyone who is nice to them or hate someone for a trivial reason.  It may be difficult for children to understand the subtleties of emotional relationships (“ I love my grandma, but I like the checkout lady at the grocery store who gave me a sticker”). Children may also mis-assign blame or credit to an individual for actions outside their control and may have misdirected feelings of detestation or affection as a result. For example, in a class with assigned seating, the child might say, “Joe doesn’t like me because he never sits next to me” or, in the case of the mailman delivering packages to the child’s home, the child might say, “I love the mailman because he gives me packages.”

When teaching children about abstract concepts, like love, one word comes to (my clinical) mind, “prerequisites!” In order to really discuss and apply such a concept, a child needs a strong language foundation, an understanding and ability to use social rules, and social cognition skills. Skills® is unique in that it offers a comprehensive set of curricula for each of these areas.  One of the eight curricula Skills offers is the Cognition Curriculum. This curriculum contains detailed lessons for 13 different social cognitive concepts typically noted as deficit areas in children with autism.

One of these lessons is emotion.  The emotions lesson is often one of the first cognition lessons introduced.  It starts off very simply – matching images of emotion – but becomes extremely complex. By the end of the lesson, a child should be able to identify emotions in himself and others, identify the causal link between actions, desires and emotions, perceive and react appropriately to emotional facial expressions, and infer others’ emotions based on his desires, preferences, and beliefs (e.g., if he believes he’s getting a bicycle for his birthday and finds out he is not, he will be sad).

This month, Smarty is featuring a craft that is perfect for practicing emotions concepts. Here’s the link:

February’s Smarty is a sock puppet with interchangeable facial features. My favorite thing about the puppet is that each feature (eye, lip, eyebrow, etc.) can be changed. This allows parents to subtly change the puppet’s features for more complex emotions, and it ensures that the child is not simply memorizing a photo, but is actually perceiving the components of a facial expression that represent emotion.

There is so much that can be done with this little sock puppet. Matching, naming, and labels all come to mind. The puppet can also be used to explore emotional situations, including emotional cause and effect and prediction. Make two puppets for more complex scenarios. An added bonus? The puppet is pretty cute and funny! That means it is probably an effective reinforcer, especially if you let your child try making the puppet talk.

Happy Crafting!  Happy Playing!

(As a safety precaution, please keep the puppet pieces away from small children.  If your child has a tendency to mouth objects, the puppet should only be used under supervision.)