autism · HFA · special needs

High Functioning Autism: Social Delays

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The kids were watching Caillou…It always makes me pause for a minute when I realize that my oldest is as intrigued by such shows as my youngest is.

As a young child, he always watched shows that were age appropriate, but as his peers started to move away from them, he never did. He isn’t even embarrassed that he still likes Caillou and Sid the Science Kid when his peers are talking about shows that have ratings such as TV-14 and TV-MA the tween shows on Disney and Nick.

Social Delays

High Functioning Autism Social DelaysSocial delays cover several areas including, non-verbal communication, failure to develop appropriate peer relationships, failure to seek to share enjoyment or interests with others, and lack of social or emotional reciprocity (Autism Society, 2013). 

Non-verbal Communication

Non-verbal communication is a big area of D’s social delays. He has difficulty giving and maintaining eye contact. He has a significant inability to read the nonverbal (both gestures and vocal, non language communication) communication from others.

For a more complete list of areas of non-verbal communication, visit’s Psychology site.

While he does give short times of eye contact when it is someone he is comfortable with and something he is interested in, for the most part eye contact is not something he gives. It is difficult for others to understand that he is not being rude. When he was younger, I even made the mistake of saying, Look me in the eyes, D. Now, I realize, he truly could not and cannot make eye contact.

Difficulty reading non-verbal cues from others is almost always apparent with children who have high functioning autism. D can usually see the emotions in the faces of people he knows, but often misinterprets things such as frustration for anger. He may also be able to recognize the emotions of someone in a movie or tv show, but he rarely understands the social situation that created those emotions.

Non-verbal communication while using language is called paralinguistics. This refers to the pitch, rate of speech, tone of voice, etc. D has a difficult time with this, both in giving and receiving the language.

Many times we are unable to understand what he is saying due to his speech articulation difficulties, but he also over or under reacts to a situation leaving us to try and determine what is really going on.

He also has an extremely difficult time trying to discern a person’s feelings based on the tone of voice. For instance, as all parents do, we sometimes become exasperated, Please just stop asking. We’ve already answered the question. In D’s mind that is actually extreme anger. He is upset because we are angry, when in fact we are just tired. This is also true in situations when we try to avoid getting upset, so we give the nervous laughter. These times create frustration because he believes we are laughing at him.

Peer Relationships

While D looks up to others his own age, he is better able to relate to those who are much younger than he is. He has a difficult time understanding the social parameters of his age group.

Considering his choice in television, video games, and other areas of enjoyment, it is not surprising that he would have a difficult time making and maintaining relationships with his non-disabled, same age peers. However, put a football or basketball in his hands and there is relatively no difference at all!

Seeking to Share With Others & Social/Emotional Reciprocity

Children with HFA are often seemingly self absorbed. Due to their autism, they are unable to see beyond themselves. Therefore, they often fail to feel the excitement, or any other emotions, really, of others.

Although this is not always the case, these children are much more likely to discuss what is important to them and fail to see or understand the same in others.

D does not set out to hurt the feelings of his siblings, but many times he simply does not understand their excitement or happiness about something. It is beyond his realm of thinking. While I don’t want to say it is due to his lack of caring, it does sometimes seem that way. They perceive it as him being mean or not caring about them. The truth is, though, that sometimes I am not sure he’s able to care or understand.

Many, many other times, his ability to reciprocate in social situations or emotions with his siblings blows my mind! Many times he is able to see the whole situation and respond in a way that is well beyond his chronological, and especially his developmental years.


Overall, many times children with high functioning autism are able to hold themselves together and give the impression of minor to no social delays. However, their delays are often very significant.

It is my personal opinion that these delays are often much more significant than those of their more significantly involved peers with autism. Hear me out…

These children are usually intellectually aware that they are different. They see their differences, but are unable to compensate for or overcome them. Due to their ability to see the differences, they become increasingly aware, while their delays become increasingly significant.

True, they are not as delayed, in some ways, as their more significantly involved peers, but because of their awareness they deal with increased anxiety and depression in their never ending desires to fit in.

Please share your experiences with social delays. I look forward to hearing about and learning from your situation.

This is the 2nd post in the HFA series. The first post can be found here

Disclosure Statement


Autism Society. (2013). Diagnostic Classifications. Retrieved from

15 thoughts on “High Functioning Autism: Social Delays

  1. I never put their obsession with preschool shows together with some of their other quirks… eye-opening!

  2. Pingback: Headache, Day 24
    1. My 14 yr old has always had issues with socializing with his age group. He just doesn’t have the patience. Just the other day we realized in therapy that he has been reacting the same since he was 3 yrs old. He learned in sunday school to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. His claim to his behavior to others is that they do not respect him so he shows them disrespect. This carries over to school with his main teacher. He has some very good days but days when Mrs T get exasperated with him he reflects her behavior & becomes rude to her in her words. I’ve tried to explain to her what is going on but I just get this blank look and told that he doesn’t know how to behave and won’t listen to her. And since she doesn’t want to learn his behavior she just calls for the adminitrative team to deal with him instead of just letting him explain how he’s preceiving her. I see this behavior with others also. if someone is nice to him he’s nice but if they turn nasty or just ornery his behavior becomes likewise towards that person. I had the chance to attend a seminar given by Jennifer O’Toole and she was to forthcoming in aspergers behavior and how they mimic in all ways of life and that is how they learn their social skills. So true.

  3. Sometimes we struggle with empathy, which is the “knowing,” as in, what other people are feeling. What we almost always have intact is our sense of compassion– the “doing” once we know. Others will argue that our empathy is full intact as well, so the best I can figure is that it varies from person to person 🙂

    Also, “social delays” are an interesting thing in that, when we’re with others with ASD, are delays become perfectly functional and acceptable ways of relating. Many times in the NT world, they call our delays “deficits”… well, sure, maybe in your world, but I think a better word is differences! We get along just fine, among ourselves! I realize that we can’t always be in this microcosm… but I still don’t think of myself as lacking. I’m just different!

    1. Lydia, Thank you so much for weighing in on these posts. Your insight is so very important to me! I am the Mama, but I am not the person with ASD. I can only see how it feels or appears to feel for D. He is quite fond of saying, “You’re not in my body, you don’t know how I feel!” He is so right, I don’t know. I really value what you have to say! Thank you! 🙂

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  6. I have just discovered your site, and so much of what you describe sounds just like my four-year-old son. We are in the process of getting him formally diagnosed, so I have been doing a lot of research. Your first post in this series especially resonated with me. My son has dealt with really high anxiety levels and abnormal fears, yet he’s very advanced in other areas. I completely understand you when you say “Maybe I’m losing my mind and there is nothing wrong with my child?”

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