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Socialization and Reciprocity | Ep 107

Updated: Nov 15, 2021

Connect with S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Podcast - Episode 7, Launch Date: June 9, 2021 With Dr. Richard Smith and Dr. Lynette Scotese-Wojtila Listen on major podcast platforms, and here: Our blog posts serve as brief overviews of our podcast episodes. Welcome everyone to the seventh episode of CONNECT with SUCCESS, a podcast built around the The S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Approach (SM), and the person who coined it Dr. Lynette Scotese-Wojtila. The term for Episode 7 is reciprocity, which is basically, the pin pong of conversation, but it's actually known as the dynamic and reciprocal act of sustaining attention. And so partners sort of have to ping and pong in their conversation or in their discussions. Reciprocity is actually a precursor to friendship development. So, when we have reciprocity in this back and forth dyad, if you will, between people, we have relationships form. And there's something very interesting called mutual regulation, and it sounds kind of fancy, but what it really means is that my behavior socially impacts your behavior socially.

For instance if we are both neurotypical, and we're having a conversation, my eye gaze, my gestures, my affect, my voice, everything is informing you to pay attention to my words and join in the conversation. And I'll pause and it'll be your turn. So there's this unspoken sort of ping pong. And while you're talking, I'm noticing your gestures and your inflection, I'm getting meaning from all of this sort of nonverbal expression. And we can regulate each other, to have a good conversation. But if we wanted to stop the conversation, if I wanted to impose upon you, that you stop, I might, consciously or sub consciously start yawning, or look away from you. And because you're picking up on my - what we call social pragmatic cues - you know, you're reading my attentiveness to the social information you're putting out, you would probably pause and say, “Gosh, I'm so sorry. Am I boring you?” or “Gosh, you seem distracted. Are you okay?” I know I've said the story five times.” I'll stop, you'd read me, you'd read my cues my social pragmatic nonverbal cues and respond. That's beautiful regulation we regulate each other in a conversation, Dr. Smith So is reciprocity a natural process for all people or specific to those in the spectrum? Dr. Scotese-Wojtila It's a natural process. One of the precursors to reciprocity is something not so talked about. So let's kind of go back and say what underscores the capacity or the child's ability to have reciprocity and the answer is what we call joint attention. So joint attention happens when there is a shared relevant stimuli that two people are attending to together. So a great example I try to tell people, and this is in my course as well. If you are the daddy of a three year old, and you're at the zoo and you have your three year old on your hip, and you're at the cheetah exhibit. You may take your finger and point to the cheetah way up either behind the tree or on the rocks or something, and turn to your child and say, “See? Way back over there? That's the cheetah! That's the cat.” Or whatever you're going to call it, and that child knows to kind of follow your finger, and as soon as they see it, but kind of like look back at you then back at the cheetah, then back at you, and there's like this triangle between your eyes, the child's eyes and this mutual subject of interest, and that beautiful joint attention which is this little triangular image we get is the precursor to common understanding, or common perspective, which is the precursor to reciprocity. You can't be reciprocal about a concept or an idea that you can't see, or understand that your communicative partner sees and understands, right. Dr. Smith So, why is it that those individuals with autism struggle with reciprocity?

Dr. Scotese-Wojtila Well, I think part of it is that: A) They're not good self-regulators. We talked a minute ago about mutual regulation, but they're not often self-regulated. That has to come before mutual regulations, so their bodies are not often in check. They might be revving high or they might be a little low arousal. They might be distracted and not kind of “in their body.” And so sometimes that's the reason that they're not even grounded to be a communicative partner.

But if they are grounded and they are trying to communicate, they may not read the social graph pragmatic cues like I mentioned before, coming out of their communicative partner. And there's kind of this neurological reason or theory, that they are now exploring a bit it’s actually not that new; but to understand that, you first have to talk just a little bit about something called mirror neurons, and it's the brain term of course, but mirror neurons are the neurons that are in the premotor cortex, and they are responsible for our ability to perceive and understand the actions of others. And they're sort of like a “monkey see, monkey do” kind of a neuron and they help us to imitate.

Studies have found in 2011, that there's decreased, long-range connections that make these neurons not do their jobs very well, so it's actually a brain problem. And so the behavior, the social behavior of people that have problems with these particular neurons, and the parts of the brain that process information from the motor neurons, really do struggle to understand and to read the environment well, and so they can't do “monkey see, monkey do.” They can't imitate a funny face. These are the kids that, you know, don't really have a good read, when there's somebody funny in front of them making a funny face, they don't know what sticking with a timeout means because they miss it. And so they can't do it back and have a funny reaction like some others where they have like a silly face war, you know.

So, this is a neurological reason, it's not a choice, they're not trying to be aloof. It's one of the words I despise the most personally is the term aloof, because it's such an assessment kind of term of what the person maybe doesn't want, but it's not about wanting socialization, it's about understanding it. Dr. Smith Processing it, in general.

Dr. Scotese-Wojtila Yes, processing in general.

Dr. Smith

So how does this fit in with communication? I mean this this is a heavy topic. The S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Approach (SM) class is available online or in person, eventually. But right now it's definitely available online, self-paced, they can learn all about social pragmatic theory and communication. But just briefly, describe for us how does it fit in with communication?

Dr. Scotese-Wojtila

Well, first of all communication is theory dynamic. Again, this is from the field of speech therapy, we know that The S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Approach (SM) has theories from occupational therapy, special education, psychology and speech therapy. And social pragmatic theory comes from speech language pathology theory and discipline. And any speech therapist would say that communication is very complex. There are different kinds of communication. There's nonverbal, there's pre-verbal, there is verbal, there's gestural, there are a lot of different manifestations of communication. But if we're dealing with a child with autism sometimes what happens is they don't have a second nature, or an automaticity, to their language. They have to think about the word or they don't understand the word. Or they understand the word, but something in the environment shuts them down from using that language well. And, you know, it's such a, language and communication is so paced. It’s so “ping pong, ping pong… initiate respond, initiate respond. There's a rhythm to language and communication. Right? And so a lot of our kids don't have that timing. Or they have delayed processing themselves, so a joke shared or a piece of information shared, gets missed on them, or they process it seven or eight minutes, or eight seconds rather, later than everyone else and so their timing is off, and that causes problems with reciprocity.

Every podcast episode concludes with either a challenge or key takeaways for our listeners. Key Takeaways from Episode 7:

So, the challenge for today, listeners, especially for the younger kiddos, is to try to watch for ways that you can establish joint attention with your child by first watching what they are attending to. And for our older folks on the spectrum, try to help them better regulate or reciprocate socially by modeling how to be both an initiator and responder to the ping and the pong in conversation.

Dr. Smith

So coming off of our discussion on processing information and making connections we highlighted the next step in this episode on reciprocity and communication, and the importance of being purposeful during these social interactions. What are some of the other key takeaways from this episode?

Dr. Scotese-Wojtila

I would say we always want to remember that joint attention will lead to reciprocity, and that reciprocity leads to relationships, like friendships. We also want to remember that communication involves both responding and initiating what is meaningful information.

We hope that you learned something today to help you on your journey with autism. We'll share more on our next Connect with Success Podcast. Until then, expect success! Listen to Episode 7 of Connect with S.U.C.C.E.S.S. on major podcast platforms, and here: For more information about The Success Approach, please go to our website at Want to help your child and your whole family using The SUCCESS Approach? Check out our online course: Follow us on Facebook: Follow us on Twitter: Follow us on YouTube:

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