Understanding autism
Understanding autism

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

2.1 Interacting and communicating non-verbally

A photograph of a small boy and his mother lying in an outdoor hammock.
Figure 1 This small boy points to indicate something in the sky that interests him, and to engage his mother’s attention in the same object. Children with autism often lack this kind of pointing and drive for joint attention.

At the age when typically developing children start to play together and make friends, an autistic child may prefer to play alone; the play may seem rigid – for instance a child may prefer to line up his play figures rather than using them for a pretend game, such as a tea party.

A photograph of a boy playing alone on an indoor climbing set
Figure 2 Children with autism often seem happiest playing alone, rather than joining in with other children.

Further differences that may impact on social interaction at any age include problems with non-verbal communication, such as using or understanding gestures and facial expressions, making eye contact with others, and judging subtle aspects of body language such as how close it is acceptable to stand to a person you don’t know. There may also be a lack of emotional ‘give and take’, such as not responding to the changing emotions of other people.

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371