Individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) face many challenges in their life. They are born into the social world and are immediately confronted with experiences and sensations which can be overwhelming and confusing. However children and adolescents with ASD have many strengths. They experience the world in a unique and individual way. They can be excellent visual learners, very loyal friends and quite particular about following the rules.
ASD is estimated to affect 1 in 100 children and adolescents. Among other things, it is primarily characterised by difficulties understanding social relationships. What many of us take for granted as “common sense” can be confusing or illogical for someone with Autism.
For example, it seems obvious to most people that we look at others when we talk to them. Most children don’t need to be taught this and it just happens without consequence. However children on the Autism Spectrum often need the social world explained to them in detail so they can understand the “nuts and bolts” of the situation.
“We look at other people so they know we care” a parent might explain to their child with ASD. “It makes people feel happy when we look at them and smile” the parent may add. This helps the child understand the connection between the social action and the feelings of other people.
Children with ASD are commonly identified when starting school however the signs are often present from a young age. Sensory concerns, difficulties coping with change, repetitive behaviours and extreme emotional outbursts can also be indicative of the condition.
Of course, not every child with social difficulties has ASD. Just like other aspects of child development (e.g. language, motor skills, cognition) social skills also develop at different paces in different children.
It can be helpful to talk to a Child & Adolescent Psychologist if you or others have ongoing concerns regarding your child. This can help identify what is expected at your child’s developmental level. After all, early identification and assistance can lead to better outcomes for many childhood conditions.
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Child Psychologist Daniel Wendt is the Principal Clinical Psychologist of Oracle Psychology in Newcastle, NSW.