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Asperger’s and Impairment in Social Interaction

1. Difficulty Using Non-Verbal Behaviors in Social Interaction—

There are several broad categories of difficulties falling under the general heading of impairment in social interaction. First of all, people with Aspergers Syndrome have difficulty using non-verbal behaviors in social interaction.

Eye contact may be impaired, meaning that the youngster may not look at others upon greeting or during conversations and may not respond when others try to catch his/her eye.

It is easy to see why others might inaccurately perceive the youngster to be rude or not paying attention.

Social smiling may be impaired. In this case, people with Aspergers Syndrome may not smile back at someone smiling at them, may not smile during greeting or may not smile in response to something someone else said.

Facial expressions used to communicate may be odd. Sometimes the expressions are limited or flat, sometimes they are inappropriate and at other times are exaggerated.

Again, it is easy to see why others might misread what the youngster with Aspergers Syndrome is thinking or feeling. For example, Jake, a rather sweet and kind youngster, broke out into laughter when his brother injured himself. Clearly, his response was inappropriate to the situation and would not be expected from a youngster his age. Similarly, Joe, upon learning that a family friend would be arriving for a visit, let out an excited cry, as if this were the most wonderful and extraordinary event that could possibly happen.

Body postures regulating social interaction may be affected. A very common example of this difficulty is that those with Aspergers Syndrome may not know how to judge social distance and may stand too close.

2. Difficulty Forming Peer Relationships—

The second category of difficulties falling under the heading of impairment in social interaction is difficulty forming peer relationships.

Some kids with Aspergers Syndrome seem to lack interest in others and may prefer solitary activities. Marty, age 6, was very skilled at building with blocks and Legos. However, when another youngster would approach to try to join his play, he would become extremely angry, not wanting his play to be disturbed.

Inappropriate overtures towards others or inappropriate responses to the approaches of other people are common occurrences. Jim, age 5, was fascinated with his next-door neighbor, George, a toddler of 18 months. Unfortunately, his way of showing his interest in George was hitting him over the head. Another youngster with Aspergers Syndrome, Benny, was somewhat more sophisticated in his technique: his way of showing his interest was throwing his arms around another youngster in a bear hug.

Difficulty forming friendships is a common fact of life for kids with Aspergers Syndrome. Interestingly, what these kids mean by friendship may be decidedly different from what their typically developing peers mean. For example, Nicholas repeatedly referred to another youngster in his school, Tom, as his best friend, although no one had observed the two boys talking or playing together. When asked what makes them friends, Nicholas replied that Tom said hello to him.

Impairment in group play with peers is another common difficulty. Unfortunately, most of the team sports so common to school-age kids are terribly difficult for kids with Aspergers Syndrome. Their troubles with social interaction and peer relationships make organized group sports a real challenge. Oftentimes, sports in which individual achievement is stressed (e.g., track, archery, fishing) are more successful.

3. Difficulty in Sharing Enjoyment—

The third area of impairment in this section is difficulty sharing enjoyment. Young kids with Aspergers Syndrome are less likely than their typical peers to share objects, such as food or toys, with others. People with Aspergers Syndrome are not as likely to show other people items in which they are interested. Lastly, they generally make more limited efforts to share feelings of enjoyment with others.

4. Lack of Social or Emotional Reciprocity—

The fourth kind of social interaction impairment is a lack of social or emotional reciprocity. This area includes such difficulties as inappropriate or limited responses to the approaches of others, as well as limited offers of comfort shown towards others.

For example, Max enjoyed going to the supermarket with his mother. He liked to help prepare the shopping list, easily located the items on the shelves, loved to sample the free food often available, and calculated the correct change while in the check-out line. However, when the cashier spoke to him and tried to make small talk, he generally did not look at her, did not answer her questions, and sometimes made a remark completely off the topic, but one that was of interest to him.

Similarly, Ben was walking outside with his mother on a cold winter day, when his mother slipped and fell on the ice. Ben clearly was aware something was not quite right, as he immediately began to scream. What he did not do was ask his mother if she were okay, and offer to help her, as a typical youngster his age probably would have done.

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