June 12, 2012

He can’t have autism, he likes people!

I don’t know how many times I have heard doctors say “Your child can’t have autism, because he is interested in others.” There often seems to be confusion on the degree of "social interest" in children with autism. The "social desire" of children on the spectrum can range from very isolative to seeking frequent, ongoing, social attention. The degree of soci...al interest is not the discriminating factor. It is the child's ability to co-regulate interaction with other children, especially their own age. Individual's on the spectrum, even if they have strong desire to interact with others, and have friends, struggle with being able to read the thoughts, feelings, perspectives, and intentions of others, and have difficulty in coordinating play with others. It is not so much that they are not interested, but simply “don’t know how.” They have difficulty with coordinating the back and forth cooperative play, maintaining purposeful interaction, and repairing breakdowns in interaction.

They often want totally lead the play, or sit back and stay passive. They do not understand social boundaries and can become overbearing or intrusive in their play. They probably will not be able to take turns and understand all the social rules of the play. They may want to dominate the interaction, or dictate the rules of play. They may want to connect very badly, but just "don't get it."

So, "social interest" itself is not a deciding factor. It is the ability to effectively engage in the "back and forth" reciprocal play. By the way, the child on the spectrum often feels much more comfortable playing with children much younger than them, or with adults. They struggle much more with children their own age.

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