Social Skills Deficits – Lighthouse Autism Center

Social Skills Deficits – Lighthouse Autism Center

Many autistic children struggle with social interactions due to social skills deficits. Read our blog to learn more about what social deficits are, how this can affect your autistic child’s life and the steps you can take to help them improve or overcome their social deficits.

Understanding Social Skills Deficits in Autistic Children

Many autistic children struggle with the basic social skills that many of us take for granted. Join us to learn more about the deficits in social skills for autistic kids, how to spot them and what impact they may have on an autistic child’s life.

What are social skills deficits in autistic children?

To understand the social skills challenges that autistic children (and adults) face, we must first define what social skills are.

Social skills can be understood as the skills that we use to communicate. These include verbal and nonverbal communication methods, such as our words and tone, gestures and body language. More complex social skills also include understanding social norms, seeking social engagement, understanding emotions, etc. Social skills are important because they allow us to build and maintain relationships with others and communicate with others to get our needs met, which in turn provides us with many benefits, such as happiness, social satisfaction and career advancement.

However, many autistic people often have certain social skills deficits. Note that autism does not present identically in everyone, so your child may not display all (or even any) of these deficits. Some key examples include:

  • Has little to no interest in social interactions
  • Struggles to listen and follow conversations
  • Doesn’t understand body language, including facial expressions
  • Inability to follow instructions or directions
  • Speaks excessively during a conversation or interrupts frequently
  • Lack of nonverbal social communication, such as pointing
  • Unable to initiate or continue conversations
  • Unable to empathize and build rapport with others
  • Inability to understand or respond appropriately to the emotions of others 
  • Takes everything said to them literally

The impact of a lack of social skills

For an autistic child, a deficit in key social skills can have harmful consequences. These consequences include:

  • Social rejection and isolation
  • Inability to perform at school due to social rejection
  • Increased levels of aggression, anxiety, depression, loneliness and stress
  • Poorer health due to lack of social connection

How to help autistic children who lack social skills

The good news is that many aspects of social skills can be taught or improved. This can have numerous benefits for an autistic child, including lower stress levels, better outcomes, a stronger social network and more success throughout their life.

Here are some tips to help improve social communication deficits in autistic children.

Lead by example

As a parent, one of the easiest ways to help your child better understand how to interact with others is by leading by example. Your child will mimic you, including your social interactions, so being a good role model for your child will help them develop good social skills.


Is it your autistic child’s first day at school? Perhaps they’re going to a birthday party for the first time? Or maybe another child has just taken their favorite toy? Whatever the situation is, you can help your child be prepared by roleplaying both expected and unexpected events that may take place in their life.

Practice using toys and games

Another important way for your child to improve their social skills is by using games that encourage the skills you want them to learn. For example, have a tea party with their stuffed animals and play out how the party should go with your child and her toys. A game that has turns, such as checkers or chess, is another great way to help your child understand the concept of taking turns with other people. 

Encourage interactions with neurotypical children

Whatever situation your autistic child is in, it’s important that you provide them with opportunities to engage with neurotypical peers, either in a formal schooling environment or through specifically arranged events or playdates. Both neurodiverse and neurotypical kids can learn a lot from each other, so getting them to socialize healthily can be a win-win!

Be on the lookout for buddy programs

Your autistic child can also learn from people who are older than them but not necessarily adults. There are programs that offer autistic children the chance to interact with older individuals who can act as a type of mentor by helping your autistic child learn and improve their social skills through various activities that are part of the buddy program. This can be especially helpful if you’re able to find an older neurodivergent person as a mentor – their lived experience will likely have equipped them with healthy coping strategies and techniques they can help your child with.

Praising successful social interactions

If your autistic child has a positive interaction with a peer or adult, it’s important to let them know they did a good job. This will encourage them to interact positively with others in the future. 

Specific social skills lessons

If you are unable to assist your child yourself, it’s important that you enroll them in a school environment that provides them with specific social skills lessons or seek out the assistance of a specialist who can help them outside of a school setting. Many health professionals, including psychologists and occupational therapists, can assist you and your child with learning and improving their social interactions.

Discover how Lighthouse Autism Therapy Centers can help your autistic child

At Lighthouse Autism Center, we provide a unique approach to ABA therapy that helps your child change, learn or improve certain behaviors. This approach is known as Lighthouse Fusion® ABA therapy and combines ABA and speech therapy into an enhanced therapeutic program for autistic children. We also provide extensive autism resources to help you better understand autism, how it affects your child and more.

Together, we can unlock your child’s potential

Sensory Seeking vs Avoiding – Lighthouse Autism Center

Children with autism may struggle with sensory issues that lead to sensory seeking or sensory avoiding behavior. We explore these two types of behavior, their causes, the problems they may create and how they can both lead to sensory overload.

Sensory Seeking vs Sensory Avoiding in Autistic Children

Many autistic children have a variety of sensory processing issues that can affect their behavior, of which the main two types are sensory seeking and sensory avoiding. Join us as we explore the difference between these two categories of sensory processing issues in autistic kids and how you can help them understand their sensory experience better.

Understanding autistic children who are sensory seeking

If your child prefers to get a lot of stimulation from their environment, they are likely sensory seeking. Autistic children who are sensory seeking are considered “hypo-responsive” and tend to exhibit the following sensory seeking symptoms or characteristics:

  • Prefers to be moving
  • Likes to smell things
  • Enjoys being touched, tickled or massaged
  • Has a habit of fidgeting with things
  • Standing very close to people when talking to them
  • Likes to jump, hop, spin, rock and other repetitive motions
  • Will slam or thrust their body into things
  • Enjoys touching objects and people
  • Likes loud noises and enjoys making them
  • Likes to put non-food items in their mouth and chew on things
  • Enjoys engaging in risky behavior
  • Prefers to go barefoot

What causes sensory seeking behavior?

As with autism, exactly what causes sensory seeking behavior is not yet known. We only know that some autistic children are under-responsive to sensory input, others are hyper-responsive and yet others are a mix of the two. Because of how their bodies experience and process sensory input, they will then engage in behavior that will help them meet their sensory needs.

The problems affecting those who are sensory seeking

If you have a sensory seeking child, it may have a negative impact on their life, especially if they do not learn how to manage their sensory needs in appropriate ways. Here are three examples of how a child may struggle if they are sensory seeking.

Might cause themselves physical harm

Firstly, a child may unknowingly engage in dangerous behavior to meet their sensory needs. For example, they may jump from dangerous heights or come up with their own risky stunts to stimulate themselves. 

Might be ostracized by others

Secondly, certain behaviors might provoke negative reactions from those around them. For example, if an autistic child randomly touches other children and adults without their consent, these people may choose to avoid the child.

Might struggle in learning spaces

Finally, they may struggle to pay attention due to the fact that they are constantly seeking out higher levels of stimulation. This could negatively impact learning and academic performance in a learning environment.

How to help those who are sensory seeking

Your first port of call when it comes to helping an autistic child who is sensory seeking is a professional, such as an occupational therapist, who will be able to directly assist your child with their sensory seeking behavior. 

There are also activities that you can engage in at home to help your child meet and manage their sensory needs. Some examples of these activities include:

  • Jumping on a trampoline
  • Bouncing on an exercise ball
  • Climbing on a jungle gym
  • Have a pillow fight
  • Using a weighted vest
  • Letting them play with specifically designed sensory toys, such as weighted toys, scented play-doh and sensory bins
  • Practicing respecting personal boundaries
  • Practicing asking and waiting for explicit consent before touching anyone

Understanding autistic children who are sensory avoiding

If your child prefers to avoid being stimulated by their environment, they are likely sensory avoiding. Autistic children who are sensory avoiding are considered “hyper-responsive” and tend to exhibit the following:

  • Has a greater sensitivity for smells
  • Easily startled by unexpected sounds or bright lights
  • Avoids crowded areas in favor of quieter environments
  • Filters out fewer sounds compared to neurotypical children, which means they “hear more”
  • Likes to wear headphones or earplugs to block out unwanted sounds
  • Incredibly sensitive to pain
  • Doesn’t like clothes with certain textures or clothes that are too tight
  • Finds seams or tags in clothes incredibly annoying
  • Is very picky about what they like to eat
  • Doesn’t like being touched, even if it’s affectionately or playfully
  • Dislikes being barefoot

What causes sensory avoiding behavior?

As with autism, we don’t know what causes sensory avoiding behaviors. What we do know is that some autistic children are overstimulated by certain activities or situations, which they then try to avoid so as not to overwhelm themselves.

The problems affecting those who are sensory avoiding

Sensory avoiding behaviors can affect your child negatively, most especially if they do not learn healthy coping mechanisms to meet their sensory needs. Here are a few ways sensory avoiding behavior can impact your child’s life.

May avoid activities and environments to their detriment

A sensory avoidant child may develop anxiety around activities and environments that make them uncomfortable, even if these things would benefit them, such as playing games with their peers or exercising on a playground.

May struggle to make social connections

Connected to the point above, if an activity or space is uncomfortable for your child with autism, they are likely to avoid it, which could, in turn, cause them to withdraw from social situations. For example, if they don’t take part in school games during breaks or are anxious about attending birthday parties, they may struggle to make social connections with other children.

Another example is that while other children may enjoy playing on a bouncing castle and all the rough and tumble that comes with it, a sensory avoidant child may not. Consequently, they may have to deal with feelings of loneliness, frustration, anger, sadness or being “left out” when they are the odd person out in such situations.

How to help those who are sensory avoiding

Again, as with sensory seeking children, you should seek out specialists who can help your sensory avoidant child learn to manage their sensory challenges. An occupational therapist or other health professionals can help you address your child’s needs.

There are also various precautions you can take to help your sensory avoiding child not feel overwhelmed. Some examples of these include:

  • Decluttering an environment
  • Keeping a pair of noise-canceling headphones nearby
  • Making sure their clothes are not too snug and are made from materials that they are comfortable wearing
  • Trimming the labels off their clothes
  • Considering a weighted vest or blanket to help them feel more comfortable when overstimulated
  • Preparing a quiet, calming space for them at home so that they have an area to retreat to if needed

Autistic children can have both sensory seeking and sensory avoidant traits

While we’ve split sensory seeking and sensory avoiding into two sections, it’s important to note that some autistic children can have characteristics of both categories.

What about sensory overload?

Regardless of whether your child is sensory seeking or sensory avoidant, they can still experience sensory overload. Sensory overload is when your brain is overloaded by the sensory information it is receiving. The amount or type of sensory information that causes sensory overload differs from person to person.

Sensory overload symptoms

Here are some of the signs of sensory overload:

  • Anxiety, irritability, stress, fear or panic
  • Overexcitement or restlessness
  • Physical discomfort
  • Need to limit source of overload by covering ears or closing eyes
  • Need to leave area or space where the cause of the sensory overload is
  • Tantrums or “meltdowns”

How to help with sensory overload

Here are some tips for managing and coping with sensory overload:

  • Take preemptive steps to avoid triggers that cause sensory overload for your child, such as asking for lights or sounds to be turned down. 
  • Ensure you are able to easily leave the location so that your child has the space to recover from sensory overload. 
  • Be prepared by making sure your child has enough rest the night before and is properly hydrated. 
  • Have a sensory toolkit filled with items that can help your child calm down, such as noise canceling headphones, sunglasses, fidget spinners and other objects that can help your child relax. 
  • Talk to a health professional about medications that might be useful in avoiding or minimizing the consequences of sensory overload. 
  • If possible, make sure those around your child are aware that they might become overwhelmed by specific triggers and explain to them what those triggers are. 
  • Most importantly: help your child identify and understand their own sensory needs and triggers as far as possible – this could go a long way in helping them learn to manage their sensory issues in healthy ways. 

Discover how Lighthouse Autism Centers can help your child

At Lighthouse Autism Center, we offer our unique Lighthouse Fusion® ABA therapy program which combines the best aspects of ABA and speech therapy. This program, as well as our autism resources, are vital in helping your child unlock their full potential.

Together, we can unlock your child’s potential

Sleep Tips For Children with Autism – Lighthouse Autism Center

There are many children who struggle with sleep issues that prevent them from getting a good night’s rest. We explore the ways that autism can impact a child’s sleep and provide tips to help you address them.

Sleep Tips To Help Autistic Children

There are many children on the autism spectrum who struggle with sleep issues, which in turn, negatively affects other aspects of their lives. We explore how autism may affect your child’s sleep, how common sleep issues are, the consequences it may have for the child, and what helps with these sleeping issues.

How does autism affect children’s sleep?

There are several common sleep issues that children with autism may have to deal with. These include:

  • Falling asleep
  • Going to bed at a consistent time
  • Not getting the right quality of sleep
  • Waking up frequently during the night
  • Waking up too early

How common are sleep issues for children with autism?

A study from 2018 titled “The Relationship between Sleep Problems, Neurobiological Alterations, Core Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Psychiatric Comorbidities” has found that anywhere between 50% and 80% of autistic children have sleep difficulties. These are incredibly high numbers – and as you may no doubt guess – it can compound the difficulties that children with autism already have to deal with. 

What are the consequences of sleep loss for children with autism?

We’ve already touched on the fact that poor sleep can negatively impact your loved one’s life. But what are the consequences of sleep loss or poor sleep in children with autism? 

If your autistic child is not getting enough rest, they may end up experiencing increased levels of:

  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Irritability

They may also struggle with other behavioral issues, as well as lower learning and cognitive performance. 

And yes, many of these problems are not unique to autistic children. These issues can impact the lives of autistic adults, as well as neurotypical children and adults, but there’s no doubt that these challenges make things worse for many children on the autism spectrum. 

Now that we understand how lack of sleep and autism spectrum disorders can be connected and affect each other, here’s some advice on what you can do to help your children get the rest they need at night.

Tips for helping children rest well

In order for your autistic child to be able to tackle life at their best, they need to get the right amount of rest. Here are nine tips to help them get the right amount and the right quality of sleep.

1. Set an appropriate and regular bedtime

Setting an appropriate bedtime that you stick to isn’t only good advice for a parent with autistic children, but is good advice for everyone. Taking this advice and implementing it will ensure your child’s natural circadian rhythm (the body’s processes that operate on a roughly 24-hour cycle) isn’t disrupted, which makes it easier to get to sleep at night. It also has numerous other health benefits and will ensure the mind is operating at its best.

2. Have a bedtime routine in place

Having a set of activities that you, your child, or both of you partake in can help your autistic child fall asleep. You’ll need to assess and ensure that you implement activities that aren’t stimulating and will help calm your child. Reading them a soothing bedtime story or singing them a relaxing lullaby are some of the possible activities that you can use to help your child drift off to sleep. 

A visual or written list of things that your child needs to do may also be beneficial and can help them stick to their routine.

3. Set up the right kind of sleep environment

It’s important that your child has a space that’s dedicated to sleep. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you must forbid all activities or toys in the bedroom. Rather, ensure these activities are kept to a certain part of the room and that they definitely don’t take place in bed. If there are certain things that help your child sleep, such as a stuffed animal, then these sorts of objects can be kept in or near the child’s bed. 

It’s also important the bed itself is set up in such a way that it encourages your child to sleep. Remember, autistic children can be extremely sensitive to certain sounds and textures. Ensure any bedding you use doesn’t cause your child any kind of irritation or discomfort either due to the way it feels against them or the sound it makes when rubbing up against a person or other parts of the bed.

The rest of the environment should also be conducive to sleep. This means it should be quiet, at a moderately cool temperature, as well as dark or dimly lit.

4. Ensure they don’t eat or drink too late at night

The reason why it’s not a good idea to eat or drink certain things late is that it disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm. Think of it this way; the body is effectively getting ready to “shut down” for the night when all of a sudden, food arrives! This tells the body that it isn’t time for sleep but time to process the food. It’s only once the body is done processing the food that it can return to a state where it’s ready to go to sleep. 

Not only is it a bad idea to eat too close to bedtime, but certain foods and drinks can also really make the situation worse. Things like caffeine-filled sodas or sugary sweets can be incredibly disruptive and should be avoided at all costs. 

If your child is thirsty, water is fine, and if they are hungry, a small portion of certain healthy foods, such as nuts or fruits that aren’t too sweet, can be given. Ideally, this should be avoided by ensuring your autistic child eats at least three hours before bedtime.

5. Get a good amount of sunshine during the day, particularly in the morning

Sunlight is another key element that affects the body’s circadian rhythm. This is also why it’s so important to start the day with a good dose of sunlight so that your body knows it’s the morning and adjusts your circadian rhythm accordingly. This realignment of the circadian rhythm will also help the body know when it’s time to go to sleep, making it easier for your autistic child to fall asleep at the same time every day.

6. Manage nap times to ensure your child is tired enough to go to sleep at night

If your autistic child naps too much during the day, they may struggle to go to sleep at the same time every night. Keep naps to 20 minutes or less to ensure your child can keep to their regular sleep schedule.

7. Physical activity could be key to helping your child get to bed at night

The study “Potential of Physical Activity-Based Intervention on Sleep in Children with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder” has found that children with autism are likely to be less physically active than their neurotypical peers and that by ensuring children took part in exercise, parents could possibly increase the quality of their child’s sleep. While more research needs to be done to confirm the findings of this study, it is definitely something you could try with your child to test and see if exercise helps your autistic child sleep better at night.

8. Use sleep aids for autistic children

If you’re wondering what is the best sleep aid for an autistic child, here are some of the devices that you may want to investigate further.

  • A weighted blanket: There are studies that show weighted blankets can offer numerous benefits for autistic children, including helping them fall and stay asleep.
  • A white noise machine: A white noise machine can help your autistic child get a better night’s sleep by helping block any noises that might otherwise disturb their sleep.
  • Blackout curtains: There are many sources of light, including unnatural ones, that can disrupt your autistic child’s sleep. Blackout curtains can help you maintain a consistent environment so that they can sleep well. Eye masks could also work if your child does not experience sensory discomfort while wearing them.

9. Consider speaking to a specialist about medication

While there are many non-pharmaceutical interventions that can help you, you may find yourself still struggling to help your autistic child get to sleep. In these scenarios, it’s important to speak with an expert about pharmaceutical options, whether that’s melatonin supplementation or another prescribed medication.

Unlock your child’s potential with the Midwest’s leading autism therapy center

At Lighthouse Autism Center, we offer a unique approach to autism therapy called Lighthouse Fusion®. This unique approach to autism treatment combines the best aspects of ABA and speech therapy to help your child perform at their best. Learn more about Lighthouse Fusion® ABA therapy and take advantage of our autism resources to discover how it can help your child improve their outcomes.

Together, we can unlock your child’s potential