The World of the Autistic Child: Understanding and Treating Autistic Spectrum Disorders

By Bryna Siegel | Go to book overview

had thought there might at least be some sort of reaction to seeing a familiar "object" in an unfamiliar place, but, no, neither recognized the other.

Even older, high-functioning autistic people who are quite verbal have a hard time giving you a definition of friendship, or naming someone they might consider to be a friend. When they do name a "friend," it might be the person who drives their bus each morning and greets them, or their caseworker who takes them shopping on Thursday afternoons. In such cases, the autistic person has learned to define friendships according to rules that fit the particular situation: A bus driver may be a friend because you see him regularly, and you always greet one another. A caseworker may be a friend because you go out together, and she talks with you about things you are interested in. The more intrinsic desire to form bonds with someone who is in some way like oneself, to share similar interests, and to give as much as you get from a relationship, is basically absent. To those around the autistic person, this can seem like self- centeredness or egocentrism taken to the most extreme degree. In some ways it is. However, an autistic person's self-centeredness comes from his lack of awareness that others have thoughts and feelings, too. This is different from a severely emotionally disturbed person who knows that everyone has feelings, but just doesn't care. As we discussed in the last chapter in the section on Asperger's syndrome, it can be hard for an older autistic person to even know what to do to develop or maintain a friendship when they do express a desire for friends.


Chapter Summary

In this chapter, we've covered several areas of the social development of autistic and PDD children that are different from normally developing children. At each developmental stage, there are different benchmarks for social development, and it is through an assessment of the degree to which the child has reached these benchmarks or not that the social symptoms of autism or PDD are judged. The social impairments of autism and PDD are considered the most central features of the disorder. The use of language for the purpose of communicaton is a social phenomenon as well. In the next chapter, we'll examine how language development is characteristically different in children with autism and PDD.

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