Social interaction

Young boy slumped sadly on bench seat Difficulty with social interaction is seen as the most significant feature of autism and is closely related to communication skills. Social interactions skills include social communication, non-verbal skills, understanding and recognising emotions, participating in conversation, cooperation with others and conflict resolution. Of course, all people on the autism spectrum are different and this is true across all areas of development, including social interaction. Some young people are very interested in social interaction and will be keen to interact with their peers and to make friends, even though this may be difficult for them. Teachers and parents can provide support by teaching social skills and providing opportunities for peer interaction.

It is important to remember that not all young people on the spectrum will desire social interaction – some may prefer their own company and do not desire social interaction with others. Often, they would prefer to pursue their own interests or need some down time after coping with the stressful demands of the classroom. It is important that this is understood and respected. However, young people who choose to isolate themselves may increase their risk of bullying if they are isolated completely from other students and staff. Making provisions for these young people, such as using the library or a designated classroom as a passive play area, is crucial. These spaces can also serve a particular function, such as Lego, chess, robotics or art club, depending on the interests of those involved. When these spaces are created and opened to other members of the school, the likelihood increases that they may meet others with similar interests, creating an opportunity for social interaction or friendship.

How are social interaction difficulties barriers to accessing the curriculum?

Social interaction skills are very important in many areas of school life including:

  • participating in and understanding group work
  • modulating behaviour across environments, including the playground and classroom
  • interpreting the intent of others in interactions
  • understanding sarcasm, humour, idioms, metaphors
  • understanding rules of relationships, e.g. peers, teachers, other adults in a school setting

Difficulties with these mean that young people on the autism spectrum may need a great deal of support to access the curriculum and participate in school life.