Children with ASD and Lack of Reciprocity in Social Interactions

“Can you help me to understand what they mean when they say that children with high functioning autism appear to experience a 'lack of reciprocity' in social interactions?”

This refers to a child who does not understand nonverbal communication (e.g., gestures, facial expressions, etc.) and, for example, may continue a conversation even though the person he is talking to is looking at his watch trying to get away. The child with HFA has difficulty recognizing and understanding others’ use of facial expression and gestures during conversation.

His lack of response to this type of communication creates great difficulty for him in social relationships. Likewise, the child may not use nonverbal communication and may appear expressionless in most conversations or interactions with others. This is why “lack of reciprocity” is such an important issue to address in treatment and/or social skills training. 

A reciprocal interaction simply means that both parties benefit equally from the conversation, rather than one person doing all the talking while the other person is forced to do all the listening.

As you can probably imagine, when one child dominates the conversation (i.e., disallowing responses from  listeners), it's not long before the listeners simply tune-out the child, and in some cases, walk away while he is in mid-sentence. This translates to rejection of the child, which chips-away at his self-esteem over time.

Young people on the high functioning end of autism are not stupid -- quite the opposite -- they tend to be very smart. So they know WHEN they are being ignored and rejected, they just don't know WHY (unless they are taught).

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