Social issues are challenging and complicated with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). These issues stem from an inability to understand and participate in the social world. Social issues do not pertain only to children with ASD, but also to their parents, siblings, and others in the child’s social environment.
Children in the spectrum are continuously challenged because of their need to learn a variety of social skills as they grow. As an infant, they may focus on objects instead of people, not prefer the sound of human voices, or never smile. They may not notice voices with strong emotion or point to objects, and may not demonstrate joint attention or eye contact. As a toddler, they may watch their fingers or other objects with inexhaustible fascination. They may also be uninterested in people around them, prefer rocking in a corner, and unable to engage in activities in the playground, etc. As a child, adolescence or adult, in addition to difficulties communicating, they may also have profound empathy deficits. Children in the spectrum may not be able to read social cues, such as facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, etc., nor can they respond appropriately to these cues.
The good news is that skills can be taught and maladaptive behaviors replaced with socially appropriate behaviors. Two major factors that affect the desired outcome in the treatment of a person with ASD are early intervention and effectively using the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Children and adults with ASD missing massive amounts of social information can be taught social skills to function in society. This can be accomplished by systematically teaching the social skills they need using empirically-validated treatment. The treatment should be designed and directed by professionals with advanced formal training in behavior analysis as well as with full parental participation.
In designing an individualized program, teaching new social skills and or eliminating maladaptive behavior, the professional needs to take all conditions and people into consideration. This is not only to benefit the person with ASD, but everyone around them. To achieve this goal, the professional uses a variety of scientifically proven techniques such as peer modeling, video modeling, direct instruction, shaping, self-monitoring, incidental teaching, task analysis, and chaining. The professional also continuously analyzes data and modifies the program until the ultimate goal is reached. Once an effective treatment is implemented and the desired outcome attained, the treatment benefits not only the child with ASD, but also everyone the child has contact with throughout their lifetime.