In my field of work, I have heard some managers tell the therapists and interventionists not to show any emotion whenever a child on the spectrum gets upset, because they are doing it for attention. Ignore it and keep your face like stone, and they will eventually stop their crying or tantrum.

This piece of advice often makes me cringe, because to me, that is a blanket reaction. Yes, a lot of times kids do fuss and fight and cry because they want attention or they want to get their way. But then I remembered when I was a kid; I didn’t always scream or cry because I was being selfish or demanding. Sometimes I cried because I didn’t think anyone was understanding me, and I wanted someone to stop ignoring or fussing at me long enough to get what I was saying. Now, imagine if you cannot talk. How in the world do you get your thoughts known then, especially when you’re in the midst of a whirlwind of emotion that you have little control over?

Because of this, I now make a point to always acknowledge the emotion the child or teenager is feeling. It may not always help them calm down, but I truly do feel that they know what I am saying or trying to convey. It is usually a simple, heartfelt and honest phrase: “I can see that you are really upset right now” or “I know that this doesn’t feel good to you,” or perhaps “I understand that this is making you sad.” It doesn’t have to be much, just acknowledging that the person is human and having a human reaction that I also understand because I have had it myself. I’ve seen kids calm down (sometimes completely) from this. It doesn’t mean you are being soft, it means you are acknowledging that you hear them, even if they still have to do this thing that they don’t want to do.

“I can see that you are really sad, but it is time to go home.” For younger kids or those with receptive skills that need improvement, you can make it more simple (without being condescending): “I know, you’re sad.”

You may feel like your words are falling on deaf ears, but believe me, they’re not.

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