The diagnosis rates for autism are on an upward trajectory as parents and professionals become more familiar with the symptoms of high functioning autism. As a result, many patients are getting the help they need to have a better quality of life as their unusual behaviours are no longer judged simply as social awkwardness or eccentricity. Although high-functioning autism is not an official medical diagnosis, it is often used to refer to those on the autism spectrum who can read, write, speak and manage life skills without much assistance. Despite having more skills than individuals with low-functioning autism, it is common that many parents of children with high-functioning autism find themselves lost; not knowing what to let their child work on despite feeling that something is amiss about their child. This article will discuss some areas in which high functioning children with autism can work on to enable them to live a fuller and more productive life.
Working on social skills
Having social difficulties is something that both low and high-functioning individuals with autism share. In many cases, individuals with high-functioning autism are considered shy, quirky, or socially awkward in social situations.
Supporting social interaction is an important piece of every child’s educational plan. Children with autism often have the desire to interact with others but do not have the skills to engage appropriately, or they may be overwhelmed by the process. Some are aware of their social deficits and will avoid interactions even though they desperately want to connect with others. Others will engage in attention-seeking behavior to connect with others until they build the skills they need to interact.
Social development represents a range of skills, including timing and attention, sensory integration, and communication, that can be built and layered to improve social competence. Building competence will result in further interest and interaction.
Parents can try the following strategies to support their child’s social development:
Reinforce what your child does well socially by using behavior-specific praise (and concrete reinforcement if needed) to shape pro-social behavior
Model social interaction, turn-taking, and reciprocity
Use social narratives and social cartooning as tools in describing and defining social rules and expectations
Working on empathy
Deep social relationships with others require mutual understanding, and individuals with high-functioning autism may have trouble with that. Part of this issue includes an inordinate focus on self. A person with high-functioning autism may spend an excessive amount of time talking about themselves, or only do things that they want while disallowing another person to share a complete thought or response. This makes carrying out a conversation or participating in a social activity difficult with others. They might take more than what others perceive as a fair share of a snack or treat, genuinely not thinking that others might also want some of the items.
For children with autism to show empathy and reciprocity, they need to be able to take another’s perspective and adjust the interaction accordingly. This can be taught by making them aware through commentary, teaching them the appropriate vocabulary to express their awareness of feelings, emotional states, as well as the recognition of others’ facial expressions, and non-verbal cues. These can be taught with the use of social stories, where the child may have to identify what is going on in the story, and the incurred feelings of different characters of the story.
Hence, working on inculcating empathy with children with high-functioning autism can teach them how to think from another’s perspective, which can allow them to form meaningful connections with others.
Working on processing physical sensations
Individuals with autism have sensory difficulties, where they may find specific noises, tastes, smells, or feelings intolerable. For some, noisy public places can lead to emotional distress, for others, unwanted touches or glaring lights may leave them feeling stressed and uncomfortable. It is common that when individuals with autism experience these feelings of discomfort, that they would have dramatic tantrums/ mood swings, or simply flee away from the situation.
These issues can be maladaptive and stressful for themselves and the people around them. However, there are many strategies that parents can adopt at home, to help the child cope with their sensory processing difficulties. These strategies can include:
Letting your child play with a sensory toy when they are feeling anxious/overstimulated
Providing a quiet space/ earplugs to deal with noise sensitivity
Telling your child ahead of time about a change in routine
Seating your child away from doors, windows, or buzzing lights
Allowing your child to take exercise breaks to self-regulate
In addition to the list above, children with high-functioning autism can even learn how to communicate to express themselves and regulate their own behaviour better. With the adoption of appropriate strategies, parents can better cope with their child’s sensory processing issues in no time.
While on the low-functioning end of the autism spectrum usually struggle with learning to speak, building vocabulary, and holding conversations with others, their counterparts on the higher end of the spectrum may start talking much earlier than normal and often display an impressive vocabulary. Some individuals with high-functioning autism may find conversations with others boring or difficult to follow and may avoid speaking with their peers.
On the contrary, many of them tend to talk about everything that comes to mind at a go as they may lack focus on a particular topic to talk about. In addition, they may frequently interrupt others during conversations due to their inability to wait for their turn to speak. To address these social deficits, parents/teachers can try strategies like:
Create opportunities for group discussions using structured activities or topic boxes.
Break social skills into small component parts, and teach these skills through supported interactions.
Support the child with structured social situations by defining expectations of behavior in advance. For example, first teach the necessary skill, such as how to play Uno, and then introduce it in a social setting with peers. Ensure that social learning such as turn-taking takes place.
Create visual prompts for your child. These visual cards can remind your child of expected behaviors in social settings, like being quiet during an exam, waiting for their turn to speak, staying focused when conversing, etc. As your child becomes more independent with appropriate behavior, these prompts can be faded eventually.
Children with high-functioning autism can learn advanced skills that can enable them to be better assimilated and become active contributors to society. Parents and therapists can seek new milestones for these children to accomplish, which can enable them to live much fuller and productive lives. Besides, learning never stops even with individuals with high-functioning autism.
Written by Clarissa
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