Presentation in English



Prof. Dr. Carolien Rieffe leads the Focus On Emotions research lab at the Developmental and Educational Psychology section of the Institute of Psychology at Leiden University, and University of Twente, the Netherlands. She is Professor of Social Interaction Technology at the University of Twente and Honorary Professor at the Institute of Education at UCL (University College London) in London.

She studies the development of emotional intelligence and how this affects social development and mental health in young people. Central to this is interaction with the environment and the role of social learning. Rieffe studies youth of all ages, focusing in part on understanding the impact of individual differences on the development of youth with hearing loss and autistic youth.

The development of emotional intelligence and mental health in autistic and non-autistic youth

Emotions play a crucial role in daily social interactions and well-being. For example, emotion expression can signal when we like a person, when we want to cooperate, or when we are irritated by someone. Yet, emotion regulation is essential to communicate these messages well, but also to prevent rumination and excessive worrying. All these factors contribute strongly to better mental health. Children do not learn emotion communication and other factors of emotional intelligence automatically. To become emotionally intelligent, children need to understand within the culture they live, which emotion is appropriate when, where, to whom, and how strongly. For this development, they need access to the social world around them.

At an early age, children acquire different components of emotional intelligence from their daily interactions with others. During these social interactions, or overseeing and overhearing others, children learn how to take their losses, regulate, cooperate, and react empathically. However, this development of emotional intelligence can be very different for autistic children and adolescents, based on their different capacities and needs, compared to their non-autistic peers. The high rate of comorbidity (depression, anxiety) in autistic youth should be considered in this framework of social learning, emotional intelligence, and mental health.

Important here is to consider autism as a form of neurodiversity, and consider the development of mental health problems in this special group from the perspective of their needs, capacities, and their view on the social world they live in.