The Far Side of Emotion


The best lessons to teach are the ones you've learned yourself. One of my favorite things to do growing up was to pour over my books of The Far Side comics by Gary Larson. A scientist by trade, Larson drew what he knew best. Science, animals, and anxiety related to the pranks his older brother would play on him growing up, and his awareness of the randomness of life and death. 


I love to bring these gems into the social skills group that I run. One of the things that people on the Autism Spectrum may struggle with is emotional awareness and situational appropriateness. To practice these skills, and provoke meaningful conversation around the topic, I like to use an emotional scavenger hunt as a prompt.  


Each pair of scavenger hunters gets a set of index cards with emotions such as "anger, sadness, frustration, and fear." They search through a Far Side book and find the situations that evoke those emotions in the characters. This typically works best with kids at a developmental level of an eleven year old and higher.  One of the challenging aspects of using Far Side which really enhances the efficacy of this activity is that the characters often are not showing visible emotion, and the situations are generally absurd.  This can be helpful when children have experienced intense or prolonged social trauma, as they can do the activity without having their own emotional responses evoked. 

I think that Gary would appreciate his comics being used as a therapeutic tool. I imagine he has experienced feeling like an outsider in his life. As he says: "On Career Day in high school, you don't walk around looking for the cartoon guy."

Suggested Reading....

The Far Side Gallery
By Gary Larson
The Complete Far Side 1980-1994 (2 vol set)
By Gary Larson, Steve Martin