Some individuals with autism simply do not participate in group activities and others only do so reluctantly. Many issues related to autism stand in the way of social interaction, including things such as an aversion to unfamiliar people and unfamiliar situations, extreme sensitivity to touch or sounds, disinterest in other people, or a tendency toward melting down with the sensory overload inherent in most group activities. Except for a miraculous cure, these issues will not simply disappear, but we can help the situation over time by systematically and purposefully shaping the prerequisite skills necessary for enjoying group activities.
This topic could fill a book, so we will just look at recognizing some of the issues that may prevent our friends with autism from participating in group activities.
1. Transition. Sometimes individuals struggle with transition issues. Their obsession with an activity or object may prevent their moving to a new activity. Or they may be unduly frightened when faced with the prospect of trying a new activity. Or they may have a very rigid routine established in their minds causing them to resist any changes in that schedule. And sometimes the noise and confusion surrounding the gathering of people and chairs for a group activity is overwhelming.
2. Compliance. There are dozens of reasons why individuals with autism might not follow directions, ranging from language processing issues to inattention. Among other things, they may not realize that group direction are also directed at them or they may not know what response is required.
3. Peer interaction. Again, there are dozens of reasons why some individuals with autism do not interact readily with other people. Some folks cannot handle the sensory overload of sight, touch, words, and social rules involved in a simple social exchange. For whatever reason, some people with autism regard other people as objects or machines that dispense toys and food. Others may get very agitated when other people invade their personal space or when a person interrupts their routine. Some individuals with autism, even adults, are stuck at the developmental level of parallel play and need help taking the next step toward interactive play.
4. Sensory overload. Some individuals with autism struggle to deal with all the sights and sounds that swirl around them in group activities. Among other things, some people need time to process every word spoken for meaning and relevance. Some people are very sensitive to touch or they have difficulty tolerating certain sound frequencies or smells. So, rubbing shoulders with other people in a group or tolerating perfumes can drive a person with autism away from group gatherings.
Check out Unwritten Group Rules for more issues to consider when helping a person with autism participate more readily in group activities. And remember that we welcome your valuable input. Just click on the comments button or send us a message: talk@FAQautism.com
NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At FAQautism.com we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. Send email to talk@FAQautism.com And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism. http://FAQautism.com