Emotional Development in Atypical Children

By Michael Lewis; Margaret Wolan Sullivan | Go to book overview

et al., 1990). Because the autistic children rarely combined smiling and looking to the caregiver simultaneously, the lack of coherence in the autistic child's signaling behavior may have resulted in less contingent smiling on the part of their mothers. Similarly, mothers of Down syndrome children smiled less in response to their children's smiles and did not increase responsive smiling over time despite increases in children's smiling (Brooks Gunn& Lewis, 1982).

Other evidence of a mismatch in parental responding with Down syndrome children comes from a study by Walden, Knieps, and Baxter ( 1991). These researchers found that parents of children with developmental delays (many of whom had Down syndrome) tended to "over shoot" their children's signals for information. Thus, in a social referencing situation when the parent was to display a facial expression only after the child looked to them for information, parents of children with developmental delays were more likely to display the expressions before the child had clearly looked to the parent. Similarly, Sorce and Emde ( 1982) found that in comparison to parents of typically developing infants, parents of Down syndrome infants interpreted less clear expressions of emotion as meaningful, suggesting caregiving strategies for intervention.

These studies suggest that the lack of clarity in facial expression may directly influence the parent to respond in certain ways ( Sorce & Emde, 1982). The disruption in the emotional signaling system may also indirectly lead to negative reactions in the parent by increasing a sense of despair with their child. Studies of infants with Down syndrome suggest that their dampened expressions cause greater depression in their parents ( Emde, Katz, & Thorpe, 1978). Kasari and Sigman (in press) found that perceptions of more difficult temperaments in children with autism were associated with the caregiver's sense of greater parenting stress. Observations of interactions between child and caregiver found that these same parents tended to have less active engagement of their children in interactions.

Future studies need to examine the socialization of emotion in children with typical and atypical development. Findings from these studies may be most useful for designing appropriate interventions. With specific interventions, many parents, peers and the children themselves may be able to overcome the interactive difficulties presented by the child's atypical emotional development.


REFERENCES

Adams K., & Markham R. ( 1991). "Recognition of affective facial expressions by children and adolescents with and without mental retardation". American Journal on Mental Retardation, 96, 21-28.

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