Thursday, January 12, 2012

Children with Autism Do NOT Prefer To Be Alone!

One of the best things about writing blog posts is that I get to share my pet peeves.  Well, my biggest pet peeve related to ASD is the amount of times the literature, websites, and other sources of information indicate that children with autism "prefer to be alone." I have a huge problem with that descriptor, and here's why...

It is true that children with autism often resort to being alone, but I do not believe that is because it is what they prefer.  Due to their social impairments, communication impairments, sensory sensitivities, anxiety levels, and behavioral challenges, they often avoid social interactions in order to cope with their many challenges.  However, when ABA interventions are put in place to support successful social interactions with others, children with autism certainly enjoy being with other people.  It is a great disservice to view children with autism as so incredibly different from other children.  All people have a need for a sense of belonging.  Why would we assume that children with autism are any different?  If you do some careful observations and note the affect displayed on the face of a child with autism when engaged in positive social interaction with peers or adults vs. when they are alone, it will be evident that, in fact, the child does not prefer to be alone.  This is not to discount the fact that many people with ASD enjoy time alone.  We just shouldn't assume that is what they prefer.

One more comment...It is often stated in the literature that the difference between teens with Asperger Syndrome and teens with autism is that teens with Asperger Syndrome actually want friends, but they just don't know how to make friends.  While I'm sure this is true about teens with Asperger Syndrome, I have a hard time believing it is not also true for teens with autism.  The true difference is that teens with Asperger Syndrome are able to communicate that they want friends while teens with autism may not be able to do so.  I would love to read your thoughts about this...


  1. I'm very glad that you brought this up because I honestly had no idea. I've been working with two precious boys that have Autism for Over a year now and the whole time I have just figured that since they play by themselves or the fact that they do not always ask me to join them that they enjoyed being alone. I know that they both have severe anxiety and maybe they are afraid to ask me to join them. I never put two and two together that their anxiety could be what caused them to be play by themselves. Thank you for sharing this. Im very excited for all the things I will be learning from your class this semester. :)

    Rebeccca Williams

    1. As the parent of "two boys" I totally agree! As the boys get good aba five days a week about 20 hours for last six months I can see the difference. 7 yrs old & they finally approach us to play, share a book or just sit with them. Darren asked if he could hold my hand while we watched tv together, I nearly cried. Is it typical for this age? No. But its progress & that's wonderful.

  2. I feel like Im reading Daniel's life story. He seemed so "happy" or content being on his own. I hated when at his school they would ask me why did I think there was anything wrong with him, when he SEEMED SO HAPPY!!!! Really? Happy? What's happy? He never looked at them, he never waved at them, he never smiled at them either. And he never participated in anything either. The truth is that he was not a troublemaker. He didn't bother them. And he played by himself.
    He came around sometimes but not very often. Every time someone would come assess him he would try to get away. Every time I tried playing with him he would jump up and walk away.
    But since we have been working through his anxieties, fears and inability to communicate and express what he wants or needs he actually wants to be around us. He does not go to his room to look at books all by himself he brings books into Sophia's bedroom and looks at it there.
    I remember the time when we were playing (i think you were here too) and he looked so proud because he was able to do what he was asked. He had this huge smile on his face. And I think he loves being around us now. I never realized how much he enjoys getting attention.
    I do now.
    I agree with you. Kiddies with autism just don't know how to get their needs across.
    I also noticed that Daniel is very much a perfectionist. So if he couldn't do something perfectly he wouldn't even try. It's a different story now.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing that Natalia. I think it will help other parents to hear that.

    Rebecca, I'm glad to hear that this post will help you in your work!