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Social cognition
A girl smiling

The development of social cognition depends on a number of factors, including:

  • Typical pro-social skills development (eg gaze following, shared attention), sensory processing, etc;
  • Sympathetic, responsive and consistent parenting;
  • Rich communication experiences;
  • Discussion of social experiences, especially within the family.
(See Goswami, 2008)

Children with SLD/PMLD/CLDD may experience a range of social and
emotional difficulties which will impact on their engagement in learning and interactions with others.

Autism as the focus
Teacher looking in to the eyes of
                  a boy

The following slides focus on a social emotional issue with autism as the focus disability. This disability was chosen as it often co-occurs in children with CLDD. Background information about the social emotional developmental area can be found at Level B.

Autism spectrum disorders

If the basic processes important for the development of social cognition are impaired, such as gaze-following and the ability to share attention, then social cognition will be affected, as in autism spectrum disorders.

Goswami, 2008

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)...share
core impairments in reciprocal social interaction, communication and a pattern of restricted/repetitive behaviours or interests. The most recent prevalence estimates for
ASD range from 1/1000 to 4/1000 for
narrowly-defined DSM-IV-TR autistic disorder and from 6/1000 to 9/1000 for the broader category of ASD.

Johnson et al, 2010

Diagnosis of ASD is usually based on language delay (30-36 months).

Autism screening

If a child lacks the behaviours below, it suggests an immediate need for
autism screening:

  • No babbling by 12 months.
  • No gesturing (pointing, waving bye-bye, etc.) by 12 months.
  • No single words by 16 months.
  • No two-word spontaneous (not just echolalic) phrases by 24 months.
  • Any loss of any language or social skills at any age.
(National Autistic Society, 2011)

a theory of mind
A boy, supervised by a teacher,
                  reaches towards a wall

Baron-Cohen (1995) identifies the following key stages in development.

0-9 months
Intention Detection and Eye Direction Detection
Dyadic: caregiver/child

9-18 months
Shared Attention Mechanism
Triadic: caregiver/child/object, etc.

48 months
Emerging Theory of Mind
This may appear earlier (Goswami and Bryant, 2007).

Early detection of autism

Impairments in joint attention are specifically characteristic of young children with ASD, relative to children with developmental delay or other conditions.

Elsabbagh and Johnson, 2009

Goodhart and Baron-Cohen studied autistic children with mental ages ranging from
1 to 7 years of age. Ninety percent of them used pointing as a nonverbal naming activity, without eye contact, while looking at a picture book, whereas only 25% of the group used pointing that was combined with eye contact for joint activity.

Capone and McGregor, 2004

This document lists some early indications of autism.

Joint attention

Alcorn et al (2011) make the following observations:

  • Typically developing individuals frequently initiate joint attention [co-ordination of attention on an object] for the purpose of social sharing, finding the reciprocal interest and affect strongly motivating.
  • Joint attention... requires the ability to follow and direct another person's focus of attention... [indicated by] gaze direction or gesture.
  • Individuals with ASD often show extreme difficulty with the gaze following and social inference necessary for successful joint attention.
  • [Initiation of] joint attention is a key skill... its improvement seems to lead to lasting benefit in many areas, including language.
Social cognition approaches
A girl looks at her reflection in
                  a mirror

Interventions must be informed by effective assessment/functional analysis.
Existing and developing strategies include:

  • Group social skills training
    (Williams White et al, 2006)
  • Social stories
    (Gray, 2010)
  • Teaching play
    (Phillips and Beavan, 2012)
  • Child-led interaction
    (eg Caldwell, 2010; Hewett et al, 2012;
    Nind et al, 2001; Stephens, 2008)

  • Sherborne Developmental Movement
    (Konaka, 2007)
  • Emotion recognition coaching
    (University of Cambridge, 2004)
  • ICT-supported social problem-solving
    (Alcorn et al, 2011; Bernard-Opitz et al, 2001)
  • Robots
    (Dautenhahn and Werry, 2004)

Emerging skills

Generalization and flexible skill use in natural environments continues to be a challenge.

Williams White et al, 2006

Identify an emerging social skill for a young person with SLD/PMLD/CLDD whom you know.

Design a programme to extend that skill, and generalise it into other contexts.

How will you involve the child's family in identifying the target skill, programme design
and implementation?

Find out more (1)
Open book

Autism Working Group (2002)
Autistic Spectrum Disorders: Good practice guidance.
Annesley: Department for Education and Skills.

Beyer, J. and Gammeltoft, L. (1999) Autism and Play.
London: Jessica Kingsley.

Guralnick, M.J., Hammond, M.A. and Connor, R.T. (2006) Nonsocial play patterns of young children with communication disorders: implications for behavioral adaptation, Early Education and Development, 17 (2), 203-228.

Ingersoll, B.R. (2010) Teaching social communication: a comparison of naturalistic behavioural and development, social pragmatic approaches for children with autism spectrum disorders, Journal of Positive Interventions, 12 (1), 33-43.

Find out more (2)
Open book

Jordan, R. (2003) Social play and autistic spectrum disorders: a perspective on theory, implications and educational approaches, Autism, 7, 347-360.

Morton, A.G., Stevenson, J.L., Khandakar, S. and Goldsmith, H.H. (2008) Why does joint attention look atypical in autism?, Child Development Perspectives, 2 (1), 38-45.

Ramachandran, V.S. and Lindsay, M.O. (2006) Broken mirrors: a theory of autism,
Scientific American
, 295 (5), 63-69.

Rizzolatti, G., Fogassi, L. and Gillese, V. (2006) Mirrors in the mind,
Scientific American
, 295 (5), 54-61.

Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (2007) Assessment, Diagnosis and Clinical Interventions for Children and Young People with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A national clinical guideline. Edinburgh: Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network.

Find out more (3)
Open book

Thornton, K. and Taylor, E. (2007) An interactive approach supporting behavioural and developmental growth. In: Carpenter, B. and Egerton, J. (eds) New Horizons in Special Education: Evidence-based practice in action. Clent: Sunfield Publications.

Trevarthen, C. (2011) What is it like to be a person who knows nothing?: defining the active intersubjective mind of a newborn human being, Infant and Child Development, 29, 119-135.

Visual Impairment and Autism Project (2011) Children who
Have Visual Impairment and Autism: Identifying and sharing practice (Resource pack)
. London: Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).