An often described feature of autism is a possible impairment of social interaction. However, parents sometimes get confused about the importance of a child having a social interaction with peers of the same age. As a school psychologist, I have seen many scenarios of how parents interpret social interaction in relation to autism.

Interaction between siblings

Parents often describe a child as having a lot of interaction with a brother or sister. However, this is limited because the sibling may overcompensate the child she knows so well. Many siblings give the toy or object before the child even has to ask. In other cases, the sibling may give his food to a crying baby without requiring any kind of social communication. A sibling may also be aggressive by taking the child’s toy and running away before the child with possible autism can even respond. A sibling may begin speaking and responding on behalf of the child which does not facilitate the child’s social interaction. If possible, parents should try to provide a wide range of play experiences that go beyond sibling play.

Interaction with older children

Parents sometimes describe that a child only wants to play with older children. Problems arise for children with autism when the older child begins multiple experiences of play and social interaction. The older child can organize the “play school” by organizing materials, teaching the lesson, distributing papers and praising society. However, the young child may only respond or not respond in play experiences. The child with autism may not be provided with enough play experiences and opportunities to initiate social interaction.

Interaction between adults

I once heard a parent describe social interaction for a child with autism and all of the interaction described was with adults. Of course, I’ve seen it many times with an only child interacting with mom, dad, and a grandfather. However, I’ve also heard of too much interaction with adult therapists. I heard a parent suggest that they don’t want a preschool program for the child because the child would miss all therapy. A child with autism can receive individual therapy with an adult physical therapist, an adult occupational therapist, an adult speech therapist, and an adult behavioral therapist. The problem with this approach is that the child interacts socially and communicates only with adults and loses the important social skills that can be learned from peers.

Ways to increase social interaction with colleagues

– Consider age-based recreation center camps and classes where your child can learn new things and fun learning activities from peers close to his or her age.

-Let the child explore interactive lessons taught by adults, but in which the child has practical experiences with peers. Swimming lessons or dance lessons provide a nice introduction for children to learn new skills and observe and interact with peers who are learning the same new skill.

-The interaction between clubs or social groups can provide many experiences of the same age for young children. Children who attend the various clubs can watch other children display and demonstrate the use of the items. Other young children may carry an item to a child with autism and wait for a response. A child may want to point to something in the room for another child to watch or respond to in the play or group area.

Finally, parents should not forget the importance of providing healthy social interaction experiences for young children with autism. Any social interaction opportunity that provides the child with autism time to improve communication with others and interaction in a social environment can be positive and rewarding for the child to learn new social skills.

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