April 30, 2012

Autistic But Social!

There often seems to be confusion on the degree of "social ability" in children with autism. Social “ability” should not be confused with social “interest.” The "social interest" of children on the spectrum can range from very isolative to seeking frequent social attention. Many people still think that people on the spectrum are not interested in socializing. The image is of... someone who is withdrawn, and indifferent to others. Although there are some people on the spectrum that are not real interested in connecting with others, there are many who are very socially motivated. It is not so much the “social interest” that distinguishes them from others, as it is their “social abilities” that make relating difficult.

There are many children on the spectrum that try very hard to connect with others, and want very much to have friends and close relationships. Unfortunately their difficulty with reading the thoughts, feelings and perspectives of others, problems understanding the social context and unwritten social rules, and difficulty engaging in back and forth, reciprocal interaction, makes establishing and maintaining relationship very difficult.

Children on the spectrum, even if they have strong desire to relate, will usually find it hard to “fit in”. They have difficulty with coordinating back and forth, cooperative play, maintaining purposeful interaction, and repairing breakdowns in communication They may recognize this difficulty and tend to play along the outside of the group, or not recognize this problem and but try to dominate the play. They may not understand social boundaries and become overbearing or intrusive in their play. They may not be able to take turns and understand all the social rules of the play. They often will try and dictate what is played, and how they play. They often assume that others will want to do it exactly the same way, and not understand that the other children want to do it differently, or equally share responsibility for regulating play. As the child get older, this inability to recognize, consider, and collaborate in play becomes aggravating to other children, who tend to avoid or tease the child.

So, "social ability, not “social interest” is more the deciding variable in autism. Because of this, we need to provide these children with numerous opportunities to learn how to (1) reference and read the perspectives and intentions of others, (2) reference and read nonverbal language, (3) initiate and maintain back and forth, reciprocal interaction, and (4) read the unwritten rules of relating given the context they are in. Without these skills the child is left helpless in the very confusing world of “relating” with others. This leads to strong social anxiety and eventually depression from years of “trying to fit in” and “not getting it!” Even if the child doesn’t have strong interest in relating, these skills are necessary for “fitting in” and co-existing” with others in order to play, work, and live successfully in our social world.. It is not the lack of academic skills that effect quality of life for adults on the spectrum, it is the lack of social functions that allow them to successfully co-regulate with others in their life. Many individuals on the spectrum can achieve graduate degrees, but cannot hold down a job, because of the inability to handle the social demands of the setting. We need to make social “relating” skills a higher priority in the developmental years to provide them with the tools needed to successfully relate with others. From the early grades on, we need to establish the teaching of pragmatic social skills a priority in the educational planning. Give these kids numerous opportunities for facilitated play, group recreation, boy scouts, dance, adapted sports, and other social situations for learning and practicing social skills. We need facilitated interaction and peer mentoring in throughout the school years, teach social skills in real social context. Make learning to relate a necessary priority so the child can feel “safe, accepted, and competent” in the social world. For help in establishing social “relating” skills, please view many of the presentations in the “photo” section of this page. There are many presentations on establishing “emotional relating”, “reading nonverbal communication”, “reciprocal interaction”, and “co-regulating” skills.

Autism Discussion Page

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