The Social Loop

Completion Requirements:
  • Complete all lessons included in this course.
  • Demonstrate comprehension of course content by successfully completing the final quiz.
  • Complete the experiential exercise.
  • Complete self-review exercises.
Instructor Aaron DeLand
Lesson Length 20 minutes
Status Free Access
Lesson Details:

The Social Loop describes the simple back and forth of every social encounter. It is so simple that we rarely, if ever, think about it. It’s so ingrained in us that it seems as effortless as breathing. However, for children that have a hard time communicating or processing sensory information, mastering the social loop can be quite difficult and requires extra practice.  Watch the video and read the material below before moving on to the next lesson.

Initiating and Responding
  • One person opens a social loop by initiating a communicative action, another person closes that loop with a responding action. For example, I wave to you and you wave back, I ask you how you are and you answer. Understanding this basic concept is crucial in helping your child develop their social communication. As children, we learn to master both roles in the social loop. We learn to initiate communication, first to have our needs met and later to be social. We also learn to respond to others communications. It’s important that your child be able to fulfill both of these roles.
  • Children with autism and sensory integration issues usually get far more practice in the responding role than the initiating role. That is why it is so important to use a play style that creates many opportunities for your child to initiate communication.
  • Because children with communication challenges often have a language delay, typical adults tend to become impatient and make a request for a child’s response rather than give them the time to find their words and initiate communication on their own. This process supports the development of responding circuits and neglects the development of initiating circuits in the brain. It’s crucial to understand and recognize this dynamic when helping children with autism and sensory processing issues become more fluent communicator’s.
  • Resist the urge to prompt or request from your child when playing, especially when they already appear motivated to tell you something. Every time you make a request you are negating an opportunity for a child to initiate communication. (Get used to hearing that.)
Creating an opportunity for your child to initiate
  • The benefit in creating initiating opportunities for your child is that they get the chance to start strengthening new neural circuitry. We form and strengthen neural pathways by repeatedly performing an action. The only way for your child to develop a neural circuit for initiating social communication is to have the opportunity to perform the act of initiating communication. This means without being asked, requested or prompted in any way. The second we request communication we rob our child of an opportunity to be the initiator. The nature of social communication is that we learn to think and express ourselves, we do this like everything else, we have to practice. You’ll learn how to create more opportunity for you and your child in the “Motivate and Wait” sections of this course.
  • The perspective and approach taught in this course are intended to instill a participatory nature in children. To empower their ability to be active and eager participants in the social process. Social and cognitive development, shouldn’t be a battle, it should be eagerly and joyfully sought out.
Requesting and Responding are not bad
  • The purpose of this course is to make you aware of the impact of what a request fulfilled vs. an opportunity seized can be. Ultimately we want a child who is fluent and balanced in their ability to both initiate and respond. However, because children on the autism spectrum are routinely over requested and generally have an underdeveloped ability to initiate social communication. It becomes even more important that they have dedicated time where they can initiate communication and relish in the benefit of social connection. without having to “perform” or “act appropriately”.
  • If you are asking a question, making a demand, or requiring a task, then you are helping to strengthen that child’s ability to respond.
  • When you focus on creating something fun and motivating without requesting participation you are creating an opportunity for that same child to practice initiating.
We have to grow and change too!
  • Parents and therapist alike, unwittingly create habits around making requests of their children. It makes sense, it tends to be the quickest way to hear a child with challenges communicate. We also tend to measure our success and value as a parent or therapist on how much we help the kids we are working with or raising. In other words, whenever our child is doing something in the realm of development, we use that to give ourselves a pat on the back. The problem with that is, we neglect to allow the time it takes for a child with a communication delay or a sensory processing disorder to jump in an initiate communication.
  • There is an attitude reflected in our language that reflects a requesting culture in an autism therapy setting. You will hear the phrase “I got him/her to do (x, y or z)”. If this applies to you, then I urge you to adopt a new a phrase and perspective, which is, “I inspired him/her to do (x, y or z)”. It’s a subtle thing, but significant all the same. It puts the responsibility of motivating and inspiring a child on the teacher, parent or therapist and the responsibility of development, growth, and learning on the child. It’s the difference between pulling or pushing a child through their development vs. attracting them and drawing them to it like a magnet.
  • Part of the process of learning this approach is for us to grow and develop, for us to change habits. We are asking our child or the children we are working with to grow and change in tremendous ways. If we want that from them, then we should be hungry for change in ourselves and this is the first place to start. Make fewer requests when playing with your child.
  • Making gains isn’t always defined by the short-term performance of a child. When first implementing this approach it may take a child weeks to build up to a point where they can complete even a few social loops as the initiator. However, the more they do it, the easier it will become and before you know it they will have a substantial interactive attention span, but will also be a more balanced a communicator.
  • Using this play approach requires the ability of the parent or therapist to adopt a different perspective. One where we prioritize a fun connected relationship and let the growth and development emerge from the motivation that relationship creates. This requires a certain let go of therapist/parental control dynamic. When you are in a traditional therapy setting, you are used to getting immediate results often through a fairly large volume of direct requesting methods or simple questions, that a child is doing for a material reinforcement (treats, toys, videos etc). A developmental play approach requires YOU, the human to be the most interesting thing in the room. This approach is designed to make interactions with people be compelling. That means you have to be interesting, fun, responsive and generally magnetic. You want a child leaving a play session wanting more of you!
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