Social Interaction

Social interaction is something that we take for granted. We believe that it should develop effortlessly. Social interaction involves skills like good eye contact, being able to share a book, a game or even a joke with one or more people. It is the ability to know how to speak or respond when someone speaks to you and also the ability to keep the conversation going and to know when to be quiet and listen. Young children with Autism often find social interaction very difficult for a number of reasons:

  • They may not understand what is being said or what is going on around them
  • They may not know how to respond to you or others
  • They may find the sensory experience of someone looking and speaking at them

Rules for Easy Interaction

To help your child learn to interact more often and for longer with you, you must first help him to pay attention to you.

  • Get down to his level and be face to face with him
  • Imitate the sounds and actions he makes
  • Keep your language short
  • Use an animated and lively tone of voice
  • Bring objects or toys closer to your face

Always include his interests. If you watch your child play you will see what interests him the most about the toys and objects around him and he will show you how he likes to play with these things.

Try to join in with him by: -

  • Following his lead
  • Doing what he does
  • Handing him more of the same objects to play with, one at a time
  • Hiding little toys or objects where he can find them, in your hand, up your sleeve etc

Make a list of what motivates your child to interact with you.

1. Better eye contact

For children at all stages of development, eye contact may not be a strength. Help him to make better eye contact by changing the way you interact with him. Always aim to be in a face to face position so your child can look at your face without any effort. This will encourage better eye contact. Bring the object he is interested in closer to your face so that you draw his eyes towards your face. Wait a few seconds longer before you continue a fun social game. In this way your child may make fleeting eye contact with you as he tries to work out what’s next. Avoid using very direct statements such as ‘look at me’ unless saying this is really necessary to get your child’s full attention. Eye contact is a skill, which we have acquired without ever being aware of it. We should aim to teach our children the rules of interaction in the most natural way.

Holly at the beginning of her Keyhole® Therapy, never intentionally made eye contact. However, the first day bubbles were brought out Holly was fascinated and was really motivated to see more and more bubbles being blown. The first few times her mum blew bubbles, Holly would stare intently at the container and then at the bubbles as they floated about her. After a few turns her mum started to wait a little bit longer before blowing more bubbles and Holly began to look for just a second to make fleeting eye contact with her mum. Holly’s mum was delighted and very quickly blew more bubbles to encourage Holly. Holly played this game and other repetitive social games with her Mum and Dad and gradually she used eye contact to request more turns and to share the fun of the game with the adults who played with her.

2. Help Him Take Turns

Children with Autism need to learn to respond to your interactions and also how to respond back. We expect children to take turns by looking at you, smiling, making a sound or body movement. Help your child take turns in a fun interaction by doing what Holly’s mum did. Use a repetitive game where your child will have lots of opportunities to learn how to take a turn.

Using nursery rhymes and songs at this stage will also help your child learn to imitate and take turns with you. Teach your child the songs and actions. Sing the songs with your child on your knee. At the end of each line in the song, stop and wait, see if your child will take his turn. As your child becomes more familiar with the words he may make a sound or word to take his turn.

As long as you are having fun your child should find it easy to continue with the interactive game.

All children, even if they have speech, will benefit from these repetitive games. Some children with speech do not necessarily understand the social rules of communication. These games will help.

3. Encouraging Interaction with other children

Your child will learn to interact with adults first and then with other children when he is ready. You can encourage his interest in this by providing opportunities for him to be around other children. Taking him along to a parent and toddlers group or a small playground is a good place to start, or inviting friends to your house. Start with short periods of time. To begin with all you should aim for with your child is:

  • To tolerate being around other children
  • To watch other children
  • To play beside other children if he wants. It is not a good idea to force this until
    your child is ready

Top Tips For Better Interaction

  • Engage your child’s attention
  • Include activities he finds motivating
  • Use simple language
  • Imitate what he says or does
  • Make comments
  • Keep questions simple
  • Allow time for a response
  • Let him take his turn in his own way
  • Look expectant with exaggerated facial expression to signal it’s his turn
  • Use nursery rhymes and action songs to encourage interaction
  • Use books when your child is ready to encourage more interaction
  • Encourage your child to be with other children
  • Use a turn taking card or object to help your child learn to share and take turns