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My 4-year-old son is diagnosed with speech and a borderline case of autism (score was—29). Since 2 months ago he started to speak in sentences, tries to talk on his own and tries to explain what happened at school and is very happy with his improvement in speech. But the actual problem I’m facing with him is different.

He is an only child and we don’t have many friends who have kids. To give him a chance to socialize, improve his focus and to teach him to follow directions as per his teacher's recommendation, we send him to private Karate sessions and skating group sessions (class of 15) once a week.

In skating class he never looks at the instructor, he doesn’t follow a single instruction from the instructor. He looks at other kids and tries to say hi and is very interested in the other kids. The same thing happened in Karate class so they suggested he take private lessons. If he sees any kid crying in the class he will start crying like something happened to him.

We take him to the park also, but we are consistently observing his over-interest in looking at other kids' faces even at a park (wherever we go) getting too much. At that time he doesn’t make eye contact and to make him listen we have to hold his chin and make him look into our faces. If you have any suggestions about that, please let me know.

The other problem is doing work. He needs so many prompts, for example, for writing alphabets he needs at least 40 prompts. He zones out if I don’t prompt him he will forget what he has to do and will start doing silly things. Same thing with reading, coloring, any school work activity.

I tried to positively reinforce him, always tell him before doing any activity but nothing seems working and I feel totally lost. If anyone could suggest me what’s going on with him, that would be a great help. What are age-appropriate social activities you would suggest?

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    May I ask, is your son seeing a Speech-Language Pathologist? Or has he seen one in the past? – John Yost Jun 5 '18 at 1:42
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    Yes he is. He’s going to Public school half a day program and getting 2 speech sessions every week. He’s in a preschool disabled class. – Jits Navin Jun 5 '18 at 1:46
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    Oh great! I would suggest that you consider having him attend a Social Camp / Group provided by a Speech Therapist. My wife is an SLP and she provides summer camps of 3 - 6 children with similar skill sets, ages, and goals. The group setting is great to build up their social skills and practice following directions. Talk to the SLP at the school and see if she agrees. I hope that helps. – John Yost Jun 5 '18 at 1:53
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    He sounds like a 4 year old boy to me... Others might have a more educated opinion, but I am worried you are expecting too much of him. Many 4 year old children have trouble recognizing all the letters of the alphabet let alone write them on their own. You might also be careful about the other activities. Karate and skating is a lot already for a 4 year old. You probably don't want your child doing organized sports for more hours a week than their age. The Mayo clinic recommends organized sports like these start at age 6. – JonSG Jun 6 '18 at 16:01
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    @JonSG This question piqued my interest because, until recently, I was a martial arts instructor, and i am also autistic. In my experience, very few 4 year olds are ready for true martial arts training (I have had one in 30 years). Many dojos offer what might be better called "martial play time" for preschoolers. I have at times run a "movement ed" style karate class for preschoolers using a foundation in martial arts movement rather than dance. – pojo-guy Jun 7 '18 at 21:03
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On your question about focusing on tasks, you could try using a motivational strategy.

You sound like you're doing lots of the right things already - positive reinforcement is great. Another technique we found that helped was finding extrinsic motivators to encourage and support task completion/focus - in addition to praise. What does your child like that he would find motivating to achieve? Extra storytime, dedicated parent-child play, tv/electronics time or some other treat... it could be anything.

Set up a task that he can succeed at (relatively easily), and when they succeed at completing the task, reward with the motivator. Reward his effort at staying focused, and give him time to decompress doing something super fun afterwards.

Prompting to stay on task didn't (and doesn't still!) yield great results for us... generally just makes our boy (now 7) feel pressured, and feeling pressured makes him less able to stay in the right regulation zone ("green").

We used that approach with our ASD son both for focusing and for social activities.

On the social activities side, we had a very similar experience at 4 yrs old and have seen a turnaround as he gets older. We tried to encourage soccer and other group activities but they didn't go well - I understand your frustration when you see other kids "doing it" while yours ignores them and the instructors. Ours didn't pay attention, or engage in the way the other kids did.

We worked on finding out what he did like to do, and was engaged in. Then we did that... rewarded his effort, and followed it into other social pursuits. For things he was less motivated in (e.g. swimming or even toilet training), we used external/extrinsic motivators extensively to encourage participation and trying hard.

TL;DR - we used praise and Smarties to encourage and reward participation and effort. Start small, with things he enjoys, then build on that. Avoid pressure, find fun.

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We had a similar problem with our autistic son as well with concentration and writing alphabets. What I found really helpful was teaching baby sign language, as it's a fun way of learning the alphabet. We learned it together watching the baby signing time video series. The alphabet section takes about a few hours as an adult to really get down and isn't hard at all. Whenever we were outside and see letters, I would spell these out for him in sign language so he recognizes it. From there we did simple letter writing on an etch-a-sketch, as it's much better than paper from my experience.

  • While using sign language may be helpful for autistic people generally, this does not to answer the OP's question. – Chrglmgl Nov 25 '18 at 20:35
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This is a difficult question and I guess you are expecting too much from a 4 year old, even if he was not autistic. I would generally recommend to make his life "simpler", with fewer activities, especially social ones. You may also try to take him to a room with few disctractions to help him focus. But you may have to be there to prompt him still. That's what we experienced.

Chances are, your son does not even like socializing. This is not something people with autism generally like.

Crying with another kid seems like some form of showing empathy to me. Same with looking at them. This seems something that indicates his interest, but he can probably not initiate "normally". Very typical for autistic people. My son used to hit other kids to "make contact".

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