Autism Toolbox a resource for Scottish Schools

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This section is under review following revised diagnostic SIGN guideline 145


Social interaction

Social interaction skills vary greatly from one person to another.

Some pupils with autism may appear withdrawn. When they do interact, they might do so inappropriately. For example:

Ewan is in nursery. When he comes in each morning he rushes to the construction area where he hits out at any other children who want to use the bricks.

This might also be related to his communication ability which will have an impact on interactions.

Barbara is 11. She always has a school lunch but can become extremely upset and angry and rude to kitchen staff if her choice has run out by the time she reaches the serving hatch.

Sometimes when young people seek social interaction their attempts are awkward or they are unaware of unspoken social rules and cues. For example, they might stand too close to someone when talking, avoid eye contact or hug someone they have just met. The may try to talk about their own interest which others do not share.

Christopher is in 3rd year. He finds it useful to refer to a small card with a couple of suggestions of what to talk to his buddy about during lunchtime break.

Many young people with autism have friends. For others the social difficulties they experience can cause difficulty making friends and keeping them and this can result in frustration, distress and social isolation. It is worth mentioning that some people do prefer their own company and are less stressed in this situation – it is us, the ”neurotypicals” who can feel unhappy about people on the spectrum choosing not to interact.

The impact of difficulties with social interaction will affect relationships differently. Being more passive can lead to vulnerability to bullying. Some young people with autism can themselves try to dominate relationships seeking to control the activities or behaviours of others. Some may rely on copying others (anecdotally noted in girls)

 Andrew is 8. He likes being in the playground with the other children but has very fixed ideas about who should play, what games should be played and how. He becomes very distressed if the other children want to do things differently, often leading to incidents at playtime.

Difficulties with social interaction may affect ability to cope with

  • Playground games and activities
  • Sharing space or resources
  • Unstructured times eg lunchtimes, ‘waiting’ times esp at beginning or end of lesson
  • Working with a partner or in group

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