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Not Pointing: Autism and Pointing
The ability to use fingers to point at people and objects as well as to understand and follow the finger pointing of other people is one of those skills that we can easily take for granted. In fact it’s probably one of those things that most people wouldn’t even consider was a skill. However finger pointing is something which has to develop or be learned and the fact is, we are not born with the ability to meaningfully point our fingers or to follow the pointed fingers of others. Infants below a certain age or children that have yet to understand the concept of pointing will tend to focus their gaze and attention on the pointing finger itself rather than the object or person being highlighted by said finger.
Typically, finger pointing develops by about twelve to fifteen months of age. This ability, to point and also to interpret the pointing finger gestures of others allows a child to both indicate things they might need or want in their immediate environment and to purposefully direct other people’s attention to an object or person of interest. Likewise, acquiring this skill also allows us to understand what is meant when other people use finger pointing gestures as part of their non verbal communication.
Pointing and Autism
From a very early age typically developing children are usually both eager and motivated to interact with others and to express and share their own interests, attention and excitement. Finger pointing is one of the first kinds of deliberate communication to develop that allows young children to do just that; to actively share their world with others. Using pointing skills, young children can also demonstrate learning and engage in joint attention/interactions with others e.g. responding to ‘Where’s your nose? Show me your mouth!’ type questions and directions.
Many young children with Autism however do not so readily use facial expressions or develop gestural communication such as pointing in an attempt to communicate and share their world.
Not Pointing: Does not pointing mean Autism?
Whilst there is some degree of developmental variation, most typically developing children have begun to consistently use some forms of gestural communication by the time they are about a year (or so) old. Therefore, if an older toddler is not exhibiting non-verbal communications such as pointing, waving, clapping, determined and intentional facial expressions and other gestures to communicate their wants and needs it does not necessarily mean they have Autism but rather that their communication skills are not quite up to speed with their peers and thus possibly indicative of some level of communication delay. However, taken in conjunction with many other signs, not pointing could indeed be commensurate with or indicative of a future diagnosis of Autism for some children. In short, not pointing or not understanding the intention behind this type of communication in others is definitely more common in young children with (or who later acquire) a diagnosis of Autism but certainly far from conclusive evidence of such a diagnosis.
Autism and Pointing
Child Not Pointing? Learning to Understand Pointing Fingers
Many young children with Autism can find finger pointing very difficult to read and it can prove a difficult skill to teach.It is almost as if we need to start from scratch and teach that an imaginary line leads from the fingertip directly to the object of interest.The steps detailed below can be used to help systematically teach those who have not yet mastered the skills of pointing fingers.
Pointing Tool: Pointing Finger Examples (Different Sizes)
Grab your child’s attention using one of the 'Pointing Tools` and move it to a proximal point (touching) i.e. Once their attention has been grabbed by the visual cue (the pointing tool) bring the pointer up to and touch the object you wish your child to focus on
Rather than pointing to objects across the room/in the distance use the pointer tool to point out the objects directly
Over time (as your child appears to follow the cue) you may gradually increase the distance between the object in question and the visual support (the pointing tool). You may start for instance by bringing the pointer very close to the object but not actually touching it. If they continue to follow you may increase the distance between the pointing tool and the object to a couple of inches etc.
As well as gradually increasing the distance between the pointing tool and the object in question we would also look to reduce the size of the visual cue being used (i.e. move to using smaller versions of the pointer tool - See Above Examples). You may also reduce the visual prompt by drawing the pointing tool back further into your hand and thus revealing more of your actual pointing hand
Do not rush the process
The pointing tools displayed above are ones that happen to be designed to be held and used in your left hand but images of right handed pointing fingers can be easily found online and will work just as well.
Print off the pointing tools within this hub, source similar images online or if you’re even modestly artistic you could just draw up some for yourself. Cut them out, laminate them, cut them out again and you’re good to go
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