Social impairment is a distinct dissociation from and lack of involvement in relations with other people. It occurs with various mental and developmental problems such as autism, schizophrenia and severe anxiety disorders. It can also be a result of medical issues that cause disfigurement, such as acne or the loss of a limb or problems with teeth. There are a number of effective treatments for social impairment, including medication and various forms of therapy.
Autism spectrum disorders can mean that the person’s focus is more on things than people, resulting in some social impairment. Children with autism exhibit a marked withdrawal from interactions with family members or caretakers. Asperger’s syndrome is a mild form of autism characterized by a lack of normal social functioning, although intelligence is usually average or above. It is often seen as social awkwardness, little or no eye contact, obsessive interests and a tendency to miss social cues.
Social anxiety and phobias can cause very severe avoidance behaviors. Generally people with social phobias recognize that their fear is unreasonable, but they are hard-pressed to change it, so they avoid situations that may trigger a panic attack. In the case of disorders like agoraphobia, they may never go out at all. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) can cause social impairment in adults who cannot maintain normal interactions due to persistent anxiety, flashbacks, and a sense of detachment from others who did not experience the same trauma.
People with a disfiguring medical condition may become victims of social impairment due to their intense desire to avoid situations such as teasing, bullying and staring related to their conditions. Adolescents with severe acne are often very prone to this. A lack of confidence stemming from the condition can negatively affect all aspects of life, from interpersonal relationships to employment. Depression and suicidal thoughts are not uncommon.
Tranquilizers, antidepressants and a number of other drugs may be used to treat social anxiety disorder and phobias. Patients often benefit from role playing and experiencing gradually progressive exposure to frightening social situations. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for those with anxiety disorders, PSTD and phobias works to change thinking patterns and desensitize sufferers to anxiety triggers. A group-centered CBT approach has been shown to improve social impairment in those with schizophrenia and schizo-affective disorders.
For individuals with Asperger’s syndrome and other cognitive behavioral disorders, specialized interactive training on responses to social situations can help. They can essentially learn to refocus their attention on others and gain interpersonal skills they may not have picked up the way others do. Those with disfiguring conditions can investigate alternative therapies that ease symptoms or correct problems, such as obtaining dentures and prosthetics or medical interventions for acne. This can often bring about a significant increase in confidence, possibly improving the desire for social interaction.