Fostering  SOCIAL AWARENESS in children with autism

The literature is replete with considerations for developing social skills, although little attention is devoted to the development of social awareness. A discussion of 'social awareness' as a critical domain in early intervention for children with autism is concerned with establishing the relevance of others, i.e.,  establishing others as a point of reference in order to enhance learning as a function of increased engagement. Common exercises can be appropriated for different purposes, including the development of social awareness. Thus, matching exercises can be used teach children to track someone’s index finger, eye-gaze, to scan large arrays of stimuli, and search for objects that are not immediately available (retrieving objects from a distance).

In the example below, matching is used as a vehicle for fostering social awareness:

Shifting between instruction modalities (this is a modified version of an exercise found in Lund and Schnee, 2018)

Set up: Pictures are placed on a wall(s). Matching pictures are placed on the child’s desk and corresponding items are distributed around the room. Child is seated at the desk, instructor is standing by the wall.

Procedure 1: Point to a picture on a wall. Present random instructions:

“What’s this?” (Pointing to picture on the wall)

“Touch same” (Pointing to picture on the wall child touches matching item on their desk)

“Touch this and this” (Point to two pictures on the wall consecutively, child touches matching items on their desk);

“Bring me this” (Point to picture on the wall, child retrieves it)

“Bring me the (ball)” (No point)

“What color is the car” (Pointing to car on wall)

“What color is this?” (Pointing to item on wall)

Procedure 2: Same set-up as in procedure 1 except pictures are now placed on two different walls and items are also placed inside and outside of the room.

The exercise above includes layered demands on attention (to task and to others), working visual memory, executive function and serves to fortify social awareness. Children are required to attend to the instructor; to that which the instructor attends and to is required to track the instructor as they move about the room. By mixing instructions, children learn to switch flexibly between different kinds of instructions.

Common exercises also serve as vehicles to address many things other than the specific content usually addressed,  i.e., concept development, attention dexterity, social acuity, perspective taking, memory, executive function, specific social skills and social pragmatics. 

Additional sample exercises can be found on this website by clicking the TOC and Sample Exercise tab or clicking below.

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