Improving social and communications skills in Autism Spectrum Disorder children is challenging but there are key strategies parents and caregivers can implement to open new doors.
Dr. Karina Poirier, author of Unlocking Social Potential in Autism and Related Disorders, says that understanding is the key step to dealing with the concerns and developing their strengths.
Dr. Karina Poirier is the clinical director of the Center of Social Cognition, a prominent clinic for treating social and cognitive deficits in autism and related disorders. She maintains a “Social Potential” blog to disseminate valuable information about social and cognitive skills training. Visit www.drkarinapoirier.com.
Dr. Poirier shares many of the social concerns parents with children on the Autism Spectrum Disorder face AND offers suggestions as to how to address these concerns.
Q: My child can sit through a learning task on the iPad or television; however, he becomes restless and fidgety when working with a teacher. Why?
A: Your child’s attention system is reactive. Consider how much children learn from viewing television. Teachers struggle to get children’s attention when an activity does not include the sensory kaleidoscope children are used to receiving when sitting in front of the television.
Key Action: Children must be taught at an early age how to develop the mental tools (attend, remember, think) to engage in deliberate and self-directed learning experiences with an adult’s guidance.
Q: My child does not respond appropriately to mood changes in others (e.g., when a peer’s mood changes from happiness to distress). Why?
A: Your child may be lacking the ability to read nonverbal cues. Children with autism often have impaired ability to read, interpret, and process social and emotional messages. Children who are unaware of others’ thoughts and feelings risk not developing the sense of self.
Key Action: Treatment to teach the child the emotional codes that are part of the social experience. The child needs to develop the ability to understand other peoples’ emotions from their facial expression, tone of voice, and body posture. The child should be taught to recognize and interpret how people around him think and feel.
Q: My child has difficulty with describing his/her day at school, recounting an experience, or relaying a message. Why?
A: Delayed recall skills utilize episodic memory. Episodic memory allows us to remember past events and share these events with others. In other words, it is how we engage in reciprocal conversations with others. Episodic memory produces a conscious awareness of events that have occurred at any one time; it enables people to remember what happened to them in the past or to conceive the future.
Key Action: Effective treatment is required for the child to learn about memory strategies and to practice remembering. Through repetition, the child develops not only better recall of past events, but also the skills to communicate the memory of the event to peers or adults during a conversation.
Q: My child is verbal and has good command of language; however, he has trouble initiating conversation with others and taking turns during a conversation. Why?
A: Children with autism have difficulties in social initiation and social-emotional understanding. Engaging in a reciprocal conversation with others requires the development and interaction of memory, information processing, and expressive communication skills—all of which are pervasive deficits of children with autism. It is not that these children do not desire involvement with their peers. On the contrary, they do have the desire to be socially engaged with others; however, the dilemma lies in the fact that these children lack knowledge of social norms.
Key Action: Effective treatment that emphasizes social norms and rules, and teaches children how to process social information by distinguishing between relevant and irrelevant information in a social situation. Initiating and maintaining a conversation requires a person to have social knowledge, which is knowledge of event schemas.
Q: How much play time is appropriate to include in my child’s learning routine?
A: For a young child, teaching through play is extremely important. Play gives children something to do with their ample free time; it also serves the important purpose of honing children’s physical, social and emotional development. Play does not occur spontaneously in children with autism the way it does for typical children.
Key Action: Investing significant time teaching through play focuses the child on developing fine and gross motor skills, interpreting the social cues of other children and adults, and responding to those social cues appropriately. Play can be used to develop the ability to interact with, explore, and, ultimately master their surroundings. Play is an essential part of the learning process, and its ability to mimic real-life scenarios makes it an ideal way to stimulate overall development.
For more great info, check out Dr. Karina Poirier’s book, Unlocking the Social Potential in Autism & Related Disorders. Unlocking the Social Potential in Autism and Related Disorders details a broader scope of potential problems faced by families of children with autism. The book presents evidence-based treatment strategies and insights to help parents advance their children social, emotional and cognitive functioning.
ABOUT Karina Poirier, Psy.D., BCBA-D
Dr. Karina Poirier is the Director of the Center for Social Cognition, in Irvine California. She is a board certified behavior analyst at the doctoral level (BCBA-D), and a certified cognitive educational therapist. Her clinical practice is devoted to providing outstanding individuals and group therapy that improves social and cognitive outcomes for individuals with autism, ADHD, Traumatic Brain Injury, and related disorders.
The Center for Social Cognition is located at 16 Technology Drive, Suite 100, Irvine, CA 92618. For more information visit www.drkarinapoirier.com.