“Ouch! Put yourself in my place”
Who hasn’t heard this sentence and who hasn’t wanted to say it? It is a call for others to recognize my suffering. Apparently making the grimace and my eyes filling with tears is not enough to prove my suffering to my interlocutor? Not always, precisely.
Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) do not have this ability with the same intensity and on the same modalities as those who aren’t suffering from it.
However, a child may also lose the ability to identify facial expressions through abuse (1). For him, all the mimics are reduced to only two categories: those that are explicitly reassuring, and those that are undecided, that make him fear the worst ... Such a child may then feel threatened by another child who seems anxious, or sad, and decide to attack it.
Finally, some children who have watched a lot of television in their younger years may have had difficulty in recognizing the emotions associated with various mimics: in the cartoons that are presented, the child sees mimics that go very quickly. He reproduces them on his own face by an inherent mimetic mechanism, but the situations are not sufficiently explicit for these mimics to receive a clear meaning for him. It is more a matter of them to operate the muscles of their faces than to produce gestures truly meaningful. The meaning is lacking.
For all these reasons, in the last programs published in the fourth quarter of 2015, National Education has included recognition of facial expressions as an important element to be cultivated in young children. It is, indeed, a key element of emotional empathy. But this must be complemented by cognitive empathy to ensure complete mature empathy.
1 Ardizzi M., Martini F., Umiltà M. A., Sestito M., Ravera R., Gallese V., « When Early Experiences Build a Wall to Others’ Emotions: An Electrophysiological and Autonomic Study », PLOS ONE, April 10, 2013.
Facial expressions in 3FG
It is often difficult for children to adapt the corresponding facial expressions to the emotions of the characters they play. It is also possible to devote a specific time to facial expressions at the beginning of each session of play, which can constitute an introduction ritual.
For a few minutes, the teacher invites the children to mimic simple emotions. In kindergarten, the teacher calls on a basic emotion, such as joy, fear, anger, sadness and anxiety, and invites the children to mime it. Each child is reinforced in his representation of the facial expression by what he sees of his classmate realization.
When children have difficulties in recognizing facial expressions, it is also possible for the teacher to use pictograms illustrating the main emotions. There are a lot of existing ones on Internet.
For older children, it is possible to ask those who wish to adopt a facial expression that the others must identify first and then imitate.