Poor Social Communication Skills in Children with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism

While a youngster with classic autism may have great difficulty communicating (or be mute), a youngster with Asperger's (AS) or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) will usually be able to communicate, but often experiences complications in social interaction – especially with friends and classmates. These complications can be severe or mild depending on the child.

Social and communicative deficits are arguably the most handicapping conditions associated with AS and HFA. Although the term “social communication” is used frequently to encompass these deficits, social communication is actually a redundant term. All communication, by its definition as an exchange of information between speaker and listener, is social in nature.

Communication problems in the AS or HFA child include: 
  • abrupt transitions
  • auditory perception deficits
  • Echolalia 
  • literal interpretations
  • miscomprehension of nuance
  • oddities in loudness, pitch, intonation, prosody and rhythm
  • unusually pedantic, formal or idiosyncratic speech
  • use of metaphor meaningful only to the speaker
  • verbosity

In addition:
  • AS and HFA children may have an unusually sophisticated vocabulary at a young age and have been colloquially called "little professors," but have difficulty understanding figurative language and tend to use language literally.
  • These young people may fail to detect whether the listener is interested or engaged in the conversation. 
  • They appear to have particular weaknesses in areas of nonliteral language (e.g., humor, irony, teasing, and sarcasm). 
  • The speaker's conclusion or point may never be made, and attempts by the listener to elaborate on the speech's content or logic, or to shift to related topics, are often unsuccessful. 
  • The conversational style often includes monologues about topics that bore the listener, fails to provide context for comments, or fails to suppress internal thoughts. 
  • Speech may convey a sense of incoherence. 
  • Although they usually understand the cognitive basis of humor, they seem to lack understanding of the intent of humor to share enjoyment with others.
  • Although inflection and intonation may be less rigid or monotonic than in autism, children with AS and HFA often have a limited range of intonation (e.g., speech may be unusually fast, jerky or loud).

 ==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

Kids with AS and HFA are often the target of teasing and bullying at school due to their communication difficulties and their impaired ability to perceive and respond in socially expected ways to nonverbal cues – especially in interpersonal conflict. In addition, these young people are often a target because they are extremely literal and may have difficulty interpreting and responding to sarcasm or banter, exhibit unusual behavior, and have very narrow and sometimes odd “special interests.”

In addition to the school setting, complications can occur in an unfavorable family environment where the AS or HFA youngster may be subject to emotional abuse by siblings or neighborhood peers. These “special needs” children are often puzzled by this ill-treatment, unaware of what has been done incorrectly.

Most kids with AS and HFA get along a lot better with those considerably older or younger than themselves. They want to “fit in” with those their own age, but fail to socialize effectively, which often leads to later withdrawal and asocial behavior – particularly in the teenage years.

When attempting to address the specific communication problems for young people on the autism spectrum, certain factors must be considered:

First, understand that optimal learning happens naturally. AS and HFA kids learn to communicate best during everyday conversations and activities with their moms and dads and other important grown-ups.

Second, moms and dads play a pivotal role. The family is the most important element in a youngster’s life, and the parent can and should play a primary role in his or her youngster’s intervention.

And third, taking others’ perspectives is key to effective social interaction. Boys and girls who can see another point of view and understand how others think and feel have the most success in making – and keeping – friends.

In summary, for young people with AS and HFA, the ability to “tune in” to the thoughts and feelings of others often does not develop in the same way or at the same pace as “typical” kids. Difficulty empathizing and seeing other points of view can make having two-sided conversations a big problems for these “special needs” kids.

Because they often do not know what to say or do in social situations, they can find it extremely difficult to make friends and to forge meaningful relationships with others. But this doesn’t mean that they can’t experience significant improvement in developing their social communication skills. With extra help and support from parents and teachers, AS and HFA kids with social communication difficulties can learn many important skills that will make connecting with others and making friends much easier.

For additional information on communication problems in AS and HFA children – and what can be done to help – click on the links below:

Teaching Nonverbal Communication Skills to Kids on the Autism Spectrum

Developing Your Autistic Child's Communication Skills

For information that will help parents teach social skills and emotion management to their AS and HFA children, click here.

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