Autism is a social relational disorder. Creating and sustaining interactions with our children is a core factor in helping them become more social.
What is an interaction? Well, an interaction could be anything from a tickle, to a board game, from you singing a song, to a conversation, from reading together, to wiping up a spilt drink together.
The defining factor of an interaction isn’t the activity itself but instead, how your child shows up in that activity. Are they looking, talking, paying attention, involved and participating? (any of the above or a mixture of the above)?
Our children have a knack for being exclusive and can also appear like they are playing with us, when in fact, they are not. So to determine this, we need to again look at their body language, if they are tuning us out, staring through us, constantly talking or babbling over us as we celebrate and play, becoming intent and focused on an object more than they are on us (e.g. fiddling with the balloon, lining up the board game pieces, flipping the pages of the book before you have a chance to read the next page, etc) then this is not an interaction.
Now, an interaction itself can also be varied in the way your child attends to you. They could be across the room, watching and paying attention as you create a fun action or play with an object. If they are taking notice of you then it’s an interaction. The other end of that scale is that they are more involved (e.g. laughing, coming over to you, commenting on what you are doing or participating), again it could be one or a mixture of any of the above.
You can have interactions that stop and start, stop and start. This might look like this: they attend to you, then they are exclusive for a while, then pay attention again and then become exclusive, each time they attend to you, whether it is just to watch as you entertain them (they sit in the corner and watch as you blow up a balloon), or they are more involved by participating with you (e.g. they grab the balloon and bring it back to you to keep blowing up for them), then you want to work on their interactive attention span and lengthening the time they spend being engaged with you.
Read Tip #1 if this is your child…
Some children need help deepening the quality of the interaction once they are in it. This is something you would work on with a child that is showing some interest in what you are offering but a part of him or her is also busy doing something else, perhaps holding and looking at an object, staring off into the distance, babbling or continuously verbalizing over you as you play. If this sounds like your child, then a quality of interaction and deepening of their connection level in the interaction is what you want to work on.
Read Tip #2 if this is your child…
Some children also have the challenge of flitting from thing to thing to thing. So although they are not exclusive, but connected with you, they go from singing to tickles to drawing to reading all in matter of a few minutes.
If this is your child, sticking with one game/activity would be the thing to work on and you can use Tip #3.
Here are a few tips that will help you focus on your child’s particular area of challenge:
Tip #1: Lengthening interactive attention span
- Build, Build, Build! Give them plenty of what they like and are motivated for before you ask them to do anything. Remember: simply attending to you for longer is already a stretch for them! If they are enjoying you singing to them, sing them a couple of songs in a fun, entertaining way instead of singing for a second and then asking them to sing with you.
- Playfully call them back to the game when they walk away (e.g. “Hey where are you going? I’m giving you tickles!”).
- Join them fully whenever they become exclusive! Sometimes our children need frequent breaks within the interaction. If we are quick to join them in their world, they are quicker to join us in our world.
Tip #2: Deepening the quality of connection and commitment to the interaction
- Continually focus on eye contact with your child as you play. Position yourself at or below eye level.
- Use big body movements and animation as you entertain them, the more dynamic you are, the more chance your child will want to connect.
- Ask them to physically participate! Give them a role in the game by inviting them over to help you in some way (e.g. “You get the brick so we can build the tower!”)
Tip #3: Helping your child to stick with one interaction versus flitting from activity to activity
- Give the interaction some structure. Instead of flitting with them from thing to thing to thing, take the first thing that interests them and set it up for success (e.g. they want the bubbles, try saying “I’ll blow the bubbles and you see how many you can pop!”).
- Weave their interest back to the same game. If you are blowing bubbles and they start banging on a drum, sing about the bubbles while they bang and continue to blow for them. Once they focus on you again, invite them back to pop them.
- Keep the floor distraction free! Clean up the toys that aren’t being used at regular intervals so you can work with a nice blank canvas.
Try these tips and comment below with your personal experiences…