At its core, autism spectrum disorder (ASD, or autism) is a social disability that is present across one’s lifespan. Areas of difficulty and goals for treatment evolve as the child with ASD grows older and social interactions become more complex.
Social skills are highly nuanced and difficult to measure, but one thing is clear; early diagnosis and treatment help. With an infant or toddler, red flags for ASD can include failure to make eye contact, point to or express interest in objects, engage in social games like peekaboo, or use simple language to request, comment, and make social initiations. Although developmental delays are not always symptoms of ASD, concerned parents should seek guidance from their pediatrician. Treatment for young children typically involves using rewards to motivate and reinforce specific skills and behaviors, such as pointing, vocalizing, or making eye contact.
Building skills as symptoms change
As children grow up, the social demands of the world change and become more complex—we expect different skills from a 12-year old than a three-year old! Verbal skills become increasingly important; the give-and-take of conversation with friends that most of us take for granted is tough for them to master on their own.
Children with ASD may be able to hold a long conversation about a topic that interests them, while friendly chatting and two-way conversations on subjects they find less interesting could be a challenge. Progress can be complicated further by difficulty picking up on more subtle, nonverbal cues, such as recognizing when a friend is bored or annoyed by reading his facial expressions and body language.
The importance of teamwork between children, parents, and clinicians
This is where parents and clinicians can help. As children with ASD grow up and face escalating social demands, they benefit greatly from working with a clinician who can measure progress, assess areas for further development, and establish and adjust individualized, incremental, and achievable goals. Parents are a critical component of progress and can be great social coaches for their children.
The Child Study Center
The Child Study Center, part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, offers a number of evidence-based programs that help children with ASD improve their social skills at each stage of development. All of these programs include an equally important parent group. We know that parents are by far the most important supporters and coaches for their kids, which is why the parental component is the highlight of our group programs. While the children learn skills through lessons, in-class practice, and homework assignments, the concurrent parent programs show parents how they can reinforce their child’s social development at home.
Children learn social skills at different rates, but as with any skill, the more practice, the better and faster the progress. We encourage parents to make sure that their child has an abundance of opportunities to practice and develop these skills in their day-to-day lives.
For more information on the Child Study Center’s social learning programs, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 646.754.5284.
April is National Autism Awareness Month. Learn more online at the Autism Society.