I frequently work with child therapeutically who are on the autism spectrum. One area I constantly feel children on the spectrum struggle with (and parents of children on the spectrum report that they struggle with) is understanding abstract concepts, such as emotions. Children on the spectrum frequently take spoken language very literally and if they do not have a concrete object they can connect a thought or an idea to, they struggle to understand the idea of concept. One such area is emotions. Emotions are abstract concepts in that they are something that people feel; the emotion itself cannot be seen (although you might see representations of the emotion such as peoples facial expressions or body language). However, these emotional representations are generally nonverbal components of language that are also hard for children on the spectrum to understand. Emotions are something we feel inside ourselves and then have to find a way to share with the outside world. However, in 2015 a movie was released that helped bring emotions out from inside of us.

Characters from the movie “Inside Out”

Meet five of our emotions in a concrete way! Each of these five emotions now is a specific person with specific ways of acting and behaving that can been easily observed and understood by children.

Joy: She is bright and cheerful. She always feels Happy! Joy always has a smile on her face! You can tell she is happy because of her bright yellow color and her big smile. Joy likes spending time with her friends and always finds something fun about everything she does.

Anger: He is red and hot. Anger always yells and shouts. Many times his eyebrows are scrunched inward and he is making fists with his hands. Anger stomps and glares a lot at other people, especially when he does not get his way. When anger gets REALLY upset you can see fire coming out of his head! Joy can help Anger calm down so he is not so upset all the time.

Sadness: She feels sad a lot of the time. You can tell because she frowns and pouts a lot. She doesn’t think good things are going to happen. Her voice is quiet and low. Often Sadness is crying. Joy can help Sadness see the good in situations so sadness can stop crying.

Fear: He is purple and looks surprised a lot. He makes sure that places and things are safe. He often has his eye brows raised and will run around a lot. When he is scared he will scream and sometimes hide. Fears gets scared of a lot of things and needs Joy to help not feel so scared of things like clowns or vacuum cleaners.

Disgust: She is green and helps keep people away from yucky and gross things. She often sticks her tongue out and puts her arms out to keep gross things away from her. Disgust has a hard time trying new things like vegetables. Joy can help disgust feel happier about trying new things!

These are the five emotions as described by Inside out! I feel they are wonderful at helping kids to understand our basic five emotions. There is tons of great material out there right now helping to teach kids about emotions through these characters. My favorite place to look is Pinterest!

You can also purchase these books to begin learning about the 5 characters! Available at: https://www.amazon.com/Inside-Out-Box-Mixed-Emotions/dp/148471671X