Developing social skills in young children enables them to learn how to form meaningful relationships and interactions. Social skills include turn-taking, communicating effectively with others and being considerate to other people’s needs. Social skills, like many other skills can be taught to children with ASD. Social skills are developed with age; thus, the ESDM teaches social skills typical of a 9-month-old to social skills typical of a 48-month-old. Babies start developing social skills by looking at people. Toddlers begin to learn to seek attention with others using actions or words and may start responding to greetings. Pre-schoolers learn to take turns and take part in cooperative play with other children. This development of social skills is an integral part of functioning within the wider community.
Imitation is an important development skill that allows children to interact and learn from others. Imitation is a young child’s ability to copy actions, whether an action in song/games (e.g. stomping feet, clapping hands) or actions with objects (e.g. placing rings into a ring stacker). The ability to imitate another person offers the opportunity for the child to connect with others, form social relationships and to learn new skills. A young child’s ability to imitate is also important in letting us know about what skills the child already has. Thus, imitation is a crucial foundational skill for young children to support and enhance learning in formal schooling years.
Expressive Communication is a young child’s ability to use words, sentences, gestures to communicate a message to another person. This is a vital skill as it allows for children to express their needs and wants. For example, a child might point to the pantry to indicate he/she is hungry. Alternatively, the child might say, ‘banana’ to request for food. Beyond expressing basic needs, expressive communication also allows for young children interact successfully with other by sharing thoughts and ideas. Such as, labelling objects in the environment and describing actions and events. The develop of expressive communication in young children is important in helping them socialise and function more independently.
Receptive Communication is a young child’s ability to understand words and language. For young children, being able to process and understand words and language enables them to follow instructions within daily routines. For example, ‘time to put clothes on before school.’ When a child can understand instructions, it helps them to transition between activities because they are able to know what is going to happen next. Beyond words and language, receptive communication also enables children to gain visual information within the environment (e.g. mum holding her keys means that we are going to get into the car, or the doorbell is ringing so there is someone about to enter). Thus, the development of receptive communication supports a young child’s day-to-day activities and routines.
Play is every child’s natural occupation. Play generally comes naturally to all children and is important to their learning and development. As children discover and create in their everyday play, it helps them to become more curious about the world around them. Enhancing children’s curiosity enables children to enjoy play, thus making it a motivating and rewarding experience. Children may play alone, beside other children or with other children. Babies typically begin by playing alone, then alongside other children and eventually with other children (where children share a common goal). Similarly, children also go through phases of play, whereby babies engage in more exploratory play (e.g. mouthing or looking), then cause-and-effect play (e.g. push-button toys) and then eventually the functional use of toys (e.g. pushing a car, rolling a ball). Therefore, play is how children make sense of the world around them. By exploring toys then playing with toys in functional and varied ways, young children are increasing their knowledge of the world and how it works.
Fine motor skills involve the movement of the smaller muscle groups in your child’s hands, fingers and wrists. Fine motor skills typically develop as children gain the ability to control and coordinate their body. An infant may shake a toy using both hands and clap their hands, a toddler might turn a page of a book and start feeding themselves finger foods. A pre-schooler will begin to help with zipping up their jumper or start tracing shapes. The development of fine motor skills is not the same in every child, sometimes other children take longer to develop the strength in their hands. However, it is important that young children develop fine motor skills so that they can become increasingly independent in everyday living.
Gross motor skills involve whole body movements and large muscles in the body to perform everyday functions. It is these larger muscle groups that allow for babies to roll over, sit up, crawl and walk. As these large muscle groups develop, it enables children to run, skip and jump. Gross motor skills enable children to maintain posture when sitting at the table to play with toys. The inability to maintain posture while sitting at the table can affect a child’s ability to participate in fine motor skill activities such as drawing. The development of gross motor skills is important in everyday self-care skills such as dressing (e.g. standing on one leg to put a nappy or pants on). Children require gross motor skills to play, eat and for self-care tasks, hence is also a crucial part of child development.
There are four main types of self-help skills: self-feeding, dressing, hygiene/toileting and helping with daily chores such as packing away after play. When children practice these self-help skills daily, it enables them to develop their fine and gross motor skills. It also helps them build on their self-esteem as they become more independent within everyday routines. In younger children, developing personal independence skills could include starting to finger feed independently, starting to use a spoon and even helping to lift their arms when putting a shirt on. As children develop, they may learn to drink from a cup and complete handwashing routines independently. It is important to help children to develop personal independence skills that are developmentally appropriate so that they can increasingly take more responsibility in a supportive manner.
Joint attention is social communicative skill where children learn to share attention with others in the same object or event. It usually involves the ability to gain, maintain or shift attention. If your child is pointing to something to request, it is not joint attention. However, if your child is pointing at something to show you, that is joint attention as the purpose is a social interaction and your child is trying to gain your attention. Similarly, if you saw a plane flying past and said, ‘Look John! A plane’ and John looks away from his toy and turns at look at the plane, that is John shifting his attention from what he was doing to the plane. Joint attention provides a critical foundation for the development of social, cognitive and language skills. This is because joint attention skills is aimed at enabling young children to follow, initiate and join social interactions helps them to develop their capacity to develop relationships and learn in schooling and later life.
Children’s brains grow and develop rapidly in the first five years of life. When children develop cognitively, they are developing the skills to think, explore and problem solve. Cognitive development is part of brain development, thus is crucial in the early years to form the foundation for future learning. As mentioned in Play, it is through play that children learn; play supports children’s cognitive development. A young child might be curious and begin to explore new/unfamiliar things. They may explore by using all their five senses – sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. Whilst doing so, your child is learning how things work. As children grow and develop, they will increasingly develop skills to sort and categorise too. For example, your child may start stacking all the red blocks in a tower. Therefore, more than just brain development to think, explore and problem solve, children are also developing their ability to focus on tasks for longer periods of time.
A young child’s behaviour is their actions and reactions in response to everyday activities. A behaviour communicates a message about how a child is thinking or feeling in the moment. However, it takes close observation of what happens before a behaviour to understand the ‘trigger’ to a behaviour. The understanding of the ‘trigger’ provides insight into why a behaviour occurred; also known as the function to behaviour. Knowing the function to a behaviour enables adults to better manage the behaviour. This is important as frequent challenging behaviour can impact both the child’s and family’s quality of life. It could also impact on a child’s ability to learn and be included in the community. Therefore, managing a child’s behaviour is vital in ensuring the best outcomes for both the child and family.