For people on the autism spectrum, forming social relationships outside of their immediate family presents a challenge. It’s not their lack of wanting to be social that is the main obstacle, but their impaired ability to read subtle social cues and respond in socially expected ways. Social skills are incredibly complicated and hard to learn, and, unfortunately, people diagnosed with autism have to learn them actively, unlike their peers who pick up social skills intuitively.
Children on the autism spectrum should start learning social skills early on. It’s possible to help mentor a person with autism to make friends and prevent withdrawal or antisocial behavior later in life. Parents and direct support providers play a prominent role in helping people diagnosed with autism develop their social skills through accommodation and assimilation.
Accommodation works by changing the physical or social environment of the child with the goal of encouraging positive social interactions. If there are children at school your child seems to connect with, an example of accommodation would be to invite that child to your home for a playdate. The idea is that your child will be more relaxed at home, which will alleviate some of the anxiety of social interaction.
However, the change of environment doesn’t have to happen only at home. In the school environment, you can work along with the teacher to raise awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorders, which will help children and their parents learn how to interact with your child positively. You can enroll your child in activities they’re interested in which also encourage them to interact socially and meet other like-minded children. Another example of accommodation is working with peer mentors, which are children selected to help children diagnosed with autism to learn how to communicate with peers. With guidance from the teachers and parents, peer mentors can be of great help in teaching social skills in a natural environment.
Assimilation, on the other hand, is the active development of a child’s social skills. Where accommodation focuses on the environment, assimilation focuses on the child. It provides your child with skills they need to communicate effectively by teaching facial expressions, body language, and social expectations.
Depending on the child’s interests, you can choose some of the common ways to teach social skills. For example, facial expressions and body language could be learned through picture cards, or through video recordings which you can pause and rewind. If the child has difficulty asking questions, you could provide the child with a list of appropriate items for a new acquaintance and teach them through an interview-type game. Role-playing can be a great way to walk a child through typical social scenarios they might encounter and provide them with knowledge on how to deal with those situations.
Making friends might not come naturally to people on the autism spectrum, but they can still learn social skills well enough to do it. And the direct support provider needs to keep a positive attitude and adjust to the child’s needs and interests.
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Differences in Stages of Development between a Typical Child and a Child Diagnosed with Down Syndrome
According to the CDC and National Birth Defects Prevention Network study conducted from 2004 to 2006, there is approximately 6,000 diagnosis of Down syndrome in the US each year. While the exact population of people with Down syndrome living in the US is unknown, mostly thanks to their increased average lifespan, there’s no lack of effort to help children and adults diagnosed with Down syndrome to integrate into society and reach their developmental milestones.
Let’s have a look at differences in stages of development between a typical child and a child diagnosed with Down syndrome. The following information is based on the observations of Ph.D. Thomas L. Layton, but keep in mind that every child’s individual development may vary. Also, there might be other health aspects that influence a child’s development.
First Two YearsIn its first months, a typical baby will react to sounds, as well as vocalize and develop different cries for different needs. By the time the baby is 15 months old, it will comprehend 50 words and produce around 10, respond to yes or no questions, walk and follow one-step commands. At approximately two years of age, a typical child will understand 200-300 words, uses about 50 intelligible words, and carries out two-stage requests.
Babies with Down syndrome will react to sounds occasionally during their first months and only have minimal vocalizations. They won’t babble until 10-12 months of age. Around 12 months old they’ll be able to stand by holding on, comprehend about 50 words, and start understanding gestures and try to communicate using them. Their first oral word comes between 11 and 15 months of age, and they start walking at 18 months. By two years of age, they comprehend 100-125 words, communicate through 3-6 spoken words and 10-15 signs, and follow one-step commands.
Two to Four Years OldBy the time they’re three years old, typical children produce around 100 words and comprehend 500-900 words. They start using negatives between 26-30 months old and learn to count to five between 31-35 months old. At four years of age, they can count to 10, comprehend and produce around 2000 words as well as ask more complex questions.
Children with Down syndrome comprehend 180-250 words by the time they’re three, and they produce 30-80 intelligible words. In this stage, they start relying on signs less. Between three and four years of age, they start carrying out two-stage commands and counting to 3. At around four, they produce 200-300 words and comprehend 500-900 words.
Up to Five and Six Years OldBetween 60 and 71 months of age, a typically developing child masters 13,000 words, graded quantifiers, and 6 or 7-word sentences. They use all pronouns and can name days of the week and also count up to 20.
A child with Down syndrome between 60 and 71 months of age can produce 100-400 intelligible words, while comprehension remains at 500-900 words. They can count to 10, refer to self with a pronoun, use 3 or 4-word sentences as well as ask simple questions.
Thanks to the improved medical care and Early Intervention programs that assist in the development of children diagnosed with Down syndrome, it is estimated that a growing number of people with Down syndrome are becoming able to live independently. Many developmental milestones that occur with typical children can still arise with children diagnosed with Down syndrome, albeit a little later.
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