Three common challenges



Children on the spectrum may have problems understanding others, talking about their own feelings, following simple one step instructions, participating in group times or large group activities or maintaining a conversation.

Some develop language skills but may have difficulties such as understanding jokes and sarcasm. They may find it difficult to infer meaning if it’s not explicitly stated.

They may be good at giving information about topics of interest but may struggle to participate in reciprocal conversations where they need to follow rules about turn taking, listening and responding to others. Others on the spectrum will have more significant communication difficulties, limiting their ability to communicate about their needs, wants and feelings. They may have significant receptive language (comprehension) difficulties as well making it challenging for them to understand what is expected of them or what they need to do. Non-verbal elements of communication like eye contact and gestures can also be a challenge. Children may avoid eye contact, or use it in odd ways.


Social interaction

Difficulty with social interaction is seen as the most significant feature of Autism. Social interaction skills include social communication, non-verbal skills, understanding and recognising emotions, participating in conversation, cooperation with others and conflict resolution.

Social interaction may be difficult, for example, because the child displays unusual or inappropriate behaviours eg child may

  • giggle or cry for no apparent reason
  • not seek physical comfort from parent or caregiver
  • be impulsive
  • be aggressive
  • have frequent meltdowns
  • self harm
  • seem unwilling
  • not point to or hold up objects to show people things, share an experience or show they want something.

All people on the Autism spectrum are different and this is true across all areas of development. Some young people are very interested in social interaction, even though this may be difficult for them. For example, they not always respond to their name.

It is important to remember that not all young people on the spectrum want social interaction but it’s important that educators create these opportunities. Some children may prefer their own company and would prefer to pursue their own interests. It is important that educators understand and respect this preference, and take a sensitive approach to initiating interactions.

School age children who isolate themselves may be at increased risk of bullying, especially if they are isolated completely from other students and staff.


Children on the spectrum may have problems adapting to different situations and environments. For example, they may become easily upset if routines change and have difficulties with transitions, and they may have limited engagement in pretend play.

They may also have challenges with controlling emotions or reactions to particular situations. They may always need someone to do the same thing in the same way. Other behaviours include engaging in rhythmic body movements such as rocking, pacing, hand flapping, toe walking, spinning, repeating actions or movements over and over, or Echolia where a person repeats noises and phrases. Echolalia is a common feature especially when developing language.

Some children may have highly restricted, fixated interests with a strong interest in one or more special topics. The interest might be an unusual one for their age such as fans or lights. They might show interest in a common topic but have a much greater interest and depth of knowledge than other children their age (eg knowing the name, size and habits of all discovered dinosaurs). They may also have an intense interest in certain objects or a particular toy.

Children on the Autism spectrum may have over or under sensitivity to sound, smell, touch certain smells, certain tastes, movement or people and objects around them. They may be extremely sensitive to sensory experiences, or seek sensory stimulation.



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