Social Skills

Basic social interaction can be difficult for children with autism spectrum disorder. Many kids on the autism spectrum seem to prefer to live in their own world, aloof and detached from others.


Signs of social difficulties
• Appears disinterested or unaware of other people or what’s going on around them
• Doesn’t know how to connect with others, play, or make friends
• Prefers not to be touched, held, or cuddled
• Doesn’t play “pretend” games, engage in group games, imitate others, or use toys in creative ways
• Has trouble understanding feelings or talking about them
• Doesn’t seem to hear when others talk to him or her
• Doesn’t share interests or achievements with others (drawings, toys)

Children with autism spectrum disorder have difficulty with speech and language. Often, they start talking late.
Signs of speech and language difficulties
• Speaks in an abnormal tone of voice, or with an odd rhythm or pitch (e.g. ends every sentence as if asking a question)
• Repeats the same words or phrases over and over, often without communicative intent
• Responds to a question by repeating it, rather than answering it
• Uses language incorrectly (grammatical errors, wrong words) or refers to him or herself in the third person
• Has difficulty communicating needs or desires
• Doesn’t understand simple directions, statements, or questions
• Takes what is said too literally (misses undertones of humor, irony, and sarcasm)
Children with autism spectrum disorder have difficulty with speech and language. Often, they start talking late.
Signs of nonverbal communication difficulties
• Avoids eye contact
• Uses facial expressions that don’t match what he or she is saying
• Doesn’t pick up on other people’s facial expressions, tone of voice, and gestures
• Makes very few gestures (such as pointing). May come across as cold or “robot-like.”
• Reacts unusually to sights, smells, textures, and sounds. May be especially sensitive to loud noises. Can also be unresponsive to people entering/leaving, as well as efforts by others to attract the child’s attention.
• Abnormal posture, clumsiness, or eccentric ways of moving (e.g., walking exclusively on tiptoe)
Children with autism spectrum disorder have trouble picking up on subtle nonverbal cues and using body language. This makes the “give-and-take” of social interaction very difficult.


Signs of inflexibility
• Follows a rigid routine (e.g., insists on taking a specific route to school)
• Has difficulty adapting to any changes in schedule or environment (e.g., throws a tantrum if the furniture is rearranged or bedtime is at a different time than usual)
• Unusual attachments to toys or strange objects such as keys, light switches, or rubber bands. Obsessively lines things up or arranges them in a certain order.
• Preoccupation with a narrow topic of interest, often involving numbers or symbols (e.g., memorizing and reciting facts about maps, train schedules, or sports statistics)
• Spends long periods watching moving objects such as a ceiling fan, or focusing on one specific part of an object such as the wheels of a toy car
• Repeats the same actions or movements over and over again, such as flapping hands, rocking, or twirling (known as self-stimulatory behavior, or “stimming”). Some researchers and clinicians believe that these behaviors may soothe children with autism more than stimulate them.
Children with autism spectrum disorder are often restricted, inflexible, and even obsessive in their behaviors, activities, and interests.