Hi, I am a parent of a child on the autistic spectrum.
Did you say that your child has never formally been diagnosed as being on the spectrum whether that is autism or aspergers?
Even if it is the case that your child does not have 'enough' of the characteristics to get a full diagnosis, that can still mean that he has autistic traits, and these need to be addressed in the same way as a child with a full diagnosis. By that I mean his difficulties will be lifelong, and he will need help and support to 'learn' about social interaction etc. He may well 'learn' some set ways of behaving in certain situations, but it will always be learnt and not a 'natural reaction to the situation'.
Children on the spectrum always seem to pay attention and be focused on things that are of interest to them. That could be anything from a piece of fluff, to a starwars DVD. Getting them to pay attention to things they need to eg. listen to the teacher is class, is always going to be difficult. That is why they need supports and strategies in school. For example of they cannot 'listen' to the teacher then they need their lessons printed out for them to read and follow the instructions. If they cannot read then they need a teaching assistant to check they know what they should be doing and they may need tasks breaking down into small numbered units for them to follow. This is something an Educational Psychologist would be advising on in a mainstream school, or a specialist school should have knowledge of doing that.
'Playing' is always going to be problematic. For example, my son's way of playing is that he wants to re-enact something he has seen on TV or on a DVD. If the other children comply and understand their roles and their diaglogue (because it must be the exact same dialogue), then everything goes well. If they want to change the storyline then it usually ends in tears. Children on the spectrum tend to be very good a memorising things, whether it is TV dialogue, adverts, jingles etc. Playing in a imaginative way, and allowing other children to contribute and change the story line is difficult for them.
I had to cut my post in two. This is the second part.
To be more interested in learning, he has to be interested in the subject matter. For example if he is interested in Starwars you can teach alot using that one subject.
Progressing socially is going to be difficult. Try to always use things he is interested in. For example joining clubs that he likes. Typical things that children on the spectrum enjoy is trampolining, swimming, rock climbing, scouts, fishing, art, music etc. All of these involve social interaction. But if he struggles with something like football it is useless trying to get him to play in a team. He may find the concept of team games difficult. He may not be able to tolerate unpredictable physical contact etc.
I have found Play Therapy very useful, but you have to find a Play Therapist who has experience of children on the spectrum and one that doesn't just use Play Therapy for children who are emotionally disturbed.
Oh my, your son sounds exactly like mine! We are currently trying to get a medical diagnosis. We have been told developmental delay and possible Aspergers (however, I question the aspergers because he is so easy going and laid back) However, we did discover that my son has an extremely low receptive language delay (which means he does not always understand what is said to him). However, his expressive language (the language he uses is average or above). The speech pathologist told me sometimes if my son does not comprehend what I am saying he may try to fill in by talking about a cartoon, or favorite interest, etc. We also learned that my son has a vestibular sensory disorder, which means he does not receive enough sensory input and therefore needs to run and make noise, which also makes it extremely difficult for him to sit in circle time at preschool. You may already know this information, but if not these are a few more areas you might want to look into. Good Luck
Yes, my son also has age appropriate expressive language, but is delayed several years with receptive speech. He also has semantic pragmatic disorder, which you can google. If your son repeats TV/DVD dialogue or things he hears on commercials or what other people have said, then google echolalia as that is common in children on the spectrum.
My son also has Auditory Processing Disorder, which you might like to rule out as well. This is sometimes called CAPD as well (central auditory processing disorder).
My son flutuates between being very laid back, to a full blown tantrum if something unpredictable happens.
If your son also has sensory issues I would recommend googling the name Olga Bogdashina and reading an article by her in Autism Today. Her book called Sensory and Perceptual Differences in Autism and Aspergers has a caregivers questionnaire at the back which you can complete to get a sensory profile of your child. The Autism Outreach Department in our city uses this questionnaire and it is very informative. There are many people who don't even know the vestibular and proprioceptive senses exist. Your son might like trampolining, rock climbing etc to get more input. Sometimes using things like a weighted jacket can help with concentration in class, but your Occupational therapist should have all kinds of info like that.
Apart from my above suggestions I would just say watch your child's behaviours. They are there for a reason eg. covering his ears or running away from noises such as the vaccum cleaner, means he is noise sensitive. That maybe only to certain frequences, or it may be that he cannot habituate to sounds, or it might be an accumulation of sound sources that bother him. Remember that his sensory processing difficulty fluctuates day to day and throughout the day. So at one point he maybe covering his ears at the slightest sound and at another period in the same day he may be playing on a drum kit, or deliberately making loud noises. That doesn't mean 'there is no auditory problem', it means that there definately is an auditory problem and it might be the modulation that is not working properly. Other indicators of auditory problems are appearing deaf, whispering or shouting, getting frustrated or angry if you talk to them when they are doing something, breaking the telephone or toys that make noises, asking about noises you cannot hear, deliberately making loud noises.
Just remember there is always a reason behind the behaviour. You just have to become a bit of a detective and do a bit of experimentation. As your child gets older, and as they are verbal they can begin to tell you what they are experiencing. But also remember that just because they are verbal doesn't mean that they can always tell you what is wrong. Sometimes they don't know themselves and most of the time they don't know that they experience things differently to us in the same way that we don't understand that their experience is different to ours, we just know that it is.
Thank you for all your helpful advice!