Dr. Karina Poirier shares the critical skills that must be taught to achieve social integration for children with autism.
Social Cognition is Impaired in Autism
All children with autism have deficits in social cognition—that is, their ability to understand and think about social activity and behavior.
Communication is a complicated process that involves more than just words. It may also use tone of voice, facial expression, body language, attitude, and other non-verbal cues to convey what we’re thinking and how we’re feeling to the person receiving our message. Children with autism often have difficulty with this process. However, they can learn to communicate effectively if intensive intervention begins at an early age.
To Communicate is Human
To live and thrive within society, we have to be able to correctly identify and interpret both verbal and nonverbal cues, assigning them appropriate meaning and context. Then we must be able to respond both effectively and in a socially acceptable way. Our ability to identify and interpret social cues is called social cognition. This isn’t an inborn characteristic, but a skill-set we acquire as children.
For typically developing children, translation of these cues comes almost instinctively. However, children with autism and related disorders may find the process as hard as interpreting a foreign language. Their deficits make it even harder to acquire essential social communication skills. That’s not to say that it’s impossible. It just takes more work before it comes automatically.
In fact, children with autism can (and often do) make remarkable progress through early intervention programs that emphasize comprehensive training in cognitive, language, emotional, social, and self-regulatory skills. When these skills are related to, connected with, and designed to build upon and reinforce each other, they stimulate the development and improvement of Theory of Mind (ToM) and executive functions (EF).
Well-developed intervention plans can change the course of the child’s life by providing structured therapy specifically designed to enhance the skill-sets she needs the most help with. The effective intervention addresses all of the above skills, spells out clear goals for each, and works through these goals systematically, directly addressing the unique needs and abilities of the child.
Learn more about what critical skills are important to achieving social Potential.