You may notice your child paying more attention to toys than people. What’s the matter? Your child may be having difficulty with social presence. He or she may be more apt to focus on objects and not on people, particularly eyes and faces.
Some parents start to question their toddler’s hearing or vision. When playing with an interesting toy, a child may seem like he or she can’t hear you at all. Does your child share enjoyment with you when something cool happens?
For example, your child may see a pretty balloon, point and then look at your eyes and smile or say, “Look, mommy!” Does your child establish joint attention?
Establishing joint attention means he or she looks at an object, references it by pointing to it, naming it, or making a sound, and then looks at you and looks back at the object. Being close to people, sharing enjoyment with eyes, gestures, and words, and establishing joint attention are all indicators of early social development.
What do challenges with Presence look like?
- Not seeing or hearing you, only attending to the toy or object?
- Struggling to connect socially?
- Staring at objects for hours at a time, rather than engaging with people?
- Enjoying watching the ceiling fan or the spinning wheel of a toy car?
- Lining things up meticulously by color?
- Preferring to play alone than with others?
- Running to see a cool toy without a glance to you to see if you like it too?
Why is Presence happening?
Social presence is the willingness and ability to be around other people. This is a very basic and foundational social skill because people have to be around each other to socialize. If this is a concern area, you will notice the individual often focuses on objects more than people and may prefer to play alone. They may not imitate others. Individuals with poor social presence may simply walk away from you or ignore you. As a conversation partner, you may feel dismissed. An individual may actively isolate because of an inability to focus on people or a lack of interest. They might read incessantly, focus on a puzzle or a device, or generally avoid people in a social setting. If your child is struggling with this, it is important to seek out help from a psychologist or school counselor right away.
How can I manage Presence at home?
The good news here is that social skills can be taught. When your child is young, and his or her brain can grow and change with the right experiences and therapy. Studies show that children who have good language, good cognitive skills and good adaptive skills are the most resilient .
It will be important to assess these areas and to begin treatment quickly. Modeling and scaffolding social interactions can be done by an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapist. ABA is often covered by insurance if your child is diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. In addition, seek Speech and Language Therapy if your child has language weaknesses and Occupational Therapy if fine motor skills are weak or your child has a number of sensory sensitivities.
Resources available online from the University of California at Santa Barbara, where the Koegels developed Pivotal Response Therapy (PRT), are a good place to start as far as accessing tools as a parent to help your child gain and improve skills [2,3]. A website for the Association for Science in Autism Treatment offers information on various treatments for Autism symptoms and on the effectiveness and research behind these treatments .
There are excellent social skills guidebooks such as those by Jed Baker [9, 10] that teach children the importance of polite greetings, responding to those who greet us, eye contact, and active listening. Carol Gray’s social stories book is an excellent resource for teaching basic social norms and provides a CD so that the stories can be customized for the child .
How can Clear Child Psychology help with Presence?
We Help You, Immediately
Our Free Discovery Session is a 20-minute consultation where we can talk one-on-one about the concerns and questions you have about your child.
We Help Determine Next Steps
Our Initial Consultation allows us to get a deeper understanding of your child’s needs and determine if an assessment is appropriate.
We Build a Customized Plan
Our Assessments allow us to determine your child’s specific strengths and challenges. We can use this information to develop a customized support plan which includes: referrals
We Connect you with the Right Professionals
Once we understand your child’s needs, we will help families get connected to the right specialists. No more guesswork, no more wasted time and resources.
We Provide Ongoing Coaching and Support
Our Coaching Packages allow us to continually support families as they continue their journeys. Parental coaching, life-skills practice, and school advocacy are just a few examples of ways we help.