When a child with autism struggles with social interaction, his or her parents may be the only ones who can understand.
It is also a time of learning.
A study in New Zealand found that children with autism are less likely to be able to identify and express themselves in an emotionally accurate way, which makes them less likely than others to succeed academically and socially.
And it is a time when social skills are needed.
The findings of a study in Australia suggest that for many children with developmental disabilities, a lack of social skills is the root cause of their difficulties, and that this could have a serious impact on their ability to lead successful lives.
“Children with autism have a different way of relating to others than the rest of us,” said Dr Sarah Lachlan, a developmental psychologist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.
Their brains don’t always have the capacity to process the information and emotions of others, she said.
They are less able to process their own emotions, she explained, which could result in them feeling unable to cope with social situations.
In her study, which was published in the journal Autism Research, Dr Lachland and her colleagues compared the brains of autistic children with and without autism, as well as those with and for other developmental disorders, with that of children with normal brains.
Children with developmental disorders and other developmental disabilities often struggle to cope socially, which has an impact on the way they are able to learn.
But if they have autism, they also tend to struggle with social skills, such as social communication, she added.
The researchers found that those with autism had lower brain volume in areas involved in the processing of emotions, language and facial expression.
These areas are also involved in thinking, processing information and responding to others, Dr Haughey said.
“There’s a lot of evidence that autistic children are also less likely and less confident in expressing themselves in a socially appropriate way,” she said, pointing to research showing that children who struggle to express emotions in socially appropriate ways tend to be more likely to struggle academically.
For example, they tend to have trouble with social problems like being verbally or physically disruptive.
But children with the autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the most common developmental disability in the population, tend to express their emotions in more socially appropriate and emotional ways.
Dr Lachlay said children with ASD are less emotionally expressive than other children.
She said ASD children tend to feel uncomfortable expressing emotions, which means that they don’t know how to express them in a more emotionally engaging way.
Social skills could be the problem, she believes, as autism can be difficult for children to develop.
“A child with ASD will need to be taught to recognise and manage emotional concerns, and to develop skills in how to respond to them,” she explained.
Researchers believe social skills in ASD are more important than academic or social skills.
They say it is not clear how much impact the development of social interactions is having on the development and functioning of the brain, and this could explain why there are so many children in autism who do not get the right support.
Dr Lackland said it is likely that some children with autistic spectrum disorders do not have the social skills to get ahead in the workforce.
“They may not be able or will not have social skills which are developed in a way that helps them to get along with others,” she added, explaining that the autism may be a problem for them.
Dr Haughew says parents of children who are in the same condition need to know how best to support their child, and should work with their doctor to find the best way to support these children.
“If you can find the time and support, you are likely to make a difference in their life and in the lives of their families,” she advised.
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