Originally Posted by demeter888
...Interpeting facial expressions is the particular thing I tend to not be very good at/aware of no matter how hard I try...
My twin sons are on the Autism spectrum. Specifically, they have NVLD (non-verbal learning disabilities). They also have poor vision, which certainly doesn't help in interpreting facial expressions or body language. Unlike some Autistic kids, they have always been pretty sociable and eager to interact with and please people; the problem being their sometimes-skewed assessments of what interaction others want and/or the appropriate response.
Their verbal skills are strong, so my instinct has always been to over-verbalize with them, translating common meanings behind the way people move their mouths, eyes, hands, shoulders; that people who yawn when they shouldn't be tired or who maintain a lot of eye contact at first, then start to look away a lot are probably bored and ready to move on to a new topic (no matter how endlessly fascinating it may seem to my son); how to tell if a person genuinely enjoys playful teasing, or whether it hurts their feelings; clues that someone is laughing at them (so they should stop giving a mean person fodder to make fun of them), vs. laughing with them (so continuing the behavior continues the fun), etc. It takes repetition, but they have made progress.
If you find yourself able to reason through others' emotional needs, based on circumstantial or other clues (ex., deducing that a toddler who screams about being put in the bath may be upset about the abrupt termination of her play), then I'd expect you're also capable of learning many nuances of facial expression, if you approach it like a study and don't get hung up on the idea that others learn it more instinctively. You mention "trying hard", but if you expect to self-teach something you know is a deficit for you, then you've set a harsh and unfair goal for yourself. I am deeply disappointed that I can't play the piano by ear, like some of my friends; but, with work, I can learn to play songs from sheet music. I can't will myself to play by ear, no matter how hard I try. That's just not how my brain was wired.
When I (and probably you) were kids, no one was identified with things like "trouble interpreting facial expressions", or "low emotional intelligence" - much less were there any early interventions. Those were just personality quirks and you lived with them. But in the last couple decades, there's been an explosion of research, theories and therapies for a whole spectrum of special needs, including Asperger's, NVLD and other Autism-related disorders that can affect emotional intelligence and/or interpretation of non-verbal cues. I'm not diagnosing you with Autism; but people who work with the Autistic should be able to help you find a therapist or even a computer/online program for facial expression coaching. I'd be absolutely amazed if such a thing does not exist.
In my experience, it can be difficult to figure out where to seek help for such things. For example, where I live the biggest provider of "First Steps" services for special-needs preschoolers is a "Rehabilitation Center" that also provides a wide range of adult developmental services. But if I were an adult looking for facial expression coaching, I'd never think to call a "Rehab Center" because it makes me think of recovery from addictions, strokes or car accidents. The psychology, special education or even neurology dept at the nearest university - or even the special ed dept at your local public school - may be a good place to start. They will know which local organizations likely offer therapy related to non-verbal cues and facial expressions; and will likely know which of those organizations serve adults (not just children) and which are more pricey or more affordable. A university may also have a faculty member or grad student whose research includes interpreting non-verbal cues. Possibly, you could get free help/coaching from someone well-versed in the latest research and theories. When they were younger, my sons had quite a bit of treatment through our local university that would have cost thousands from a private provider. Instead, they were actually paid a small fee for participating.
It is wise and clearly intelligent of you, to be exploring this while your child is still small. As previous posters have said, his/her needs now are relatively simple and the frustrations of raising a toddler are fairly universal, regardless of a parent's emotional intelligence. You'll want to be prepared for the teen years! Despite being pretty emotionally intelligent, I often find raising my neurotypical step-son (who is 13 and has recently begun puberty) bewildering. He often does not say what he's thinking/feeling; one must deduce it from seemingly random and inconsistent behavioral cues. Or he may say he has thoughts or feelings that it later turns out he really doesn't have. He may have thought he should think/feel as he claimed; or he may have been testing my husband's and my reaction; or trying to push our buttons. Between watching him and trying to remember my own early teens, I've concluded puberty is like a much more complicated toddlerhood. The kid has sometimes-intense feelings; doesn't always know, himself, what's behind them; and also struggles with questioning the validity of his own feelings/instincts, as he compares them to what he believes his friends think and feel.
Edited by VocalMinority - 2/2/13 at 4:36am