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People on the autism spectrum have developmental deficits in communication and display some of their most obvious struggles during social interactions with other people. One common struggle is often a lack of interest in social interactions with others. This is a big problem because social skills are primarily learned through regular interactions with others. If a child with autism is continually avoiding interaction with peers, inevitably the child’s social skills will be delayed over time.
Autism comes with its own inherent list of difficulties. In addition to the lack of interest in peers, autism is also well known for causing difficulties with initiating and responding to social interactions. It takes great encouragement to get a child with autism to walk up and introduce themselves to another child and ask them to play. Even if they do, it may be a scripted delivery that was prompted by a supervising adult and they might quickly walk away even if their gesture is accepted by the other child.
The ability to “read” others is a skill that needs to be taught purposefully to a child with autism. Social-emotional curriculum that teaches these skills is equally important as the rest of the academics in school for children with developmental delays such as these. Children on the autism spectrum literally need to be taught with repetition to recognize the difference in facial features between happy, sad, angry, jealous, curious, tired, distracted, bored or whatever the mood might be.
Social stories are used to describe various scenarios and outcomes as teaching tools for how to respond to social situations as appropriate behaviors are taught. These can also be used to display what it looks like to have an appropriate back and forth conversation or understand social cues. Check out these amazing books and activities recommended by our New Jersey autism specialists to improve these areas of difficulty:
- Key Education Photo Conversation Cards
- SkillEase Story Cues Skilled Sequence Cards
- The New Social Story Book
- Social Skills Activities for Kids: 50 Fun Exercises
There are many other areas that can make social interactions awkward such as sensory sensitivities, inflexibilities with activities or schedules or a refusal to participate in collaborative or imaginary play while in school or some other social setting.
The goal in social skills training while in treatment is to teach socially appropriate skills that will help communication skills and social interaction. At Circle Care, we desire to see that your child with autism is able to regulate his/her emotions, play with peers and communicate back and forth in a positive way that builds social confidence.
Can an autistic child have good social skills?
There is such a broad spectrum of the ways that autism will present itself in each child, and so the definition of “good” will differ from one child to the next. The best way to put this is to say that all children on the autism spectrum are capable of learning and improving their social skills. This is true because social skills are something that can be taught and positively reinforced at home, at school and during ABA treatment sessions.
When children with autism are properly taught and positively reinforced for appropriate social skills, they will make improvements. Over time they will continue to repeat those appropriate social behaviors as they interact with others.
There are some fairly simple suggestions for teaching social skills that you can integrate throughout your daily routine. These suggestions can be done by any parent or teacher. All that is needed is a learning opportunity to share with your child.
1) Model and Explain
The first is simply to model and explain social interactions. Children are observant and they learn by watching what is going on around them. At each opportunity, explain social situations that you experience. Explain the communication, facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, body language and any questions. You may find out rather quickly that your child does not understand sarcasm, manipulation or nuances in the conversation without explaining more than once or explaining in another way if the first explanation fails.
2) Present Social Scenarios
Another way to teach social skills is to present social scenarios. You can either make up your own scenarios or use movies, books, comic strips or social skills curriculum that is specifically created for teaching these skills.
Role playing is a way to act out certain situations and practice skills in a non judgmental environment. This might be difficult for a child on the spectrum who is not fond of imaginary play, but it can also afford an opportunity to practice engaging in more imaginary play while working on social skills.
3) Participate in Social Skills Groups
Lastly, support groups are great sources of information and encouragement for frustrated parents and good social skills practice for children on the spectrum. Social skills groups usually combine the two groups simultaneously- while the child is in social skills training with peers, the parents are usually chatting in their own support circle in another room. This is a benefit for everyone. No matter where on the spectrum your child is diagnosed, there is hope for improved social skills. Social skills are learned by modeling and teaching your child, using positive reinforcement and exposing your child to peers and social settings over time to practice those skills. As they grow and learn, their social skills will improve to the extent that they have been taught, positively reinforced and exposed to social settings.
Social Skills Groups vs. Social Skills Training
Trying to decide between a social skills group or social skills training? Here are some general concepts that are taught in each setting:
|Social Skills Training with ABA Therapist (all of these skills are worked on independently with therapist)||Social Skills Group (all of these skills are worked on with peers in a group setting)|
|Accepting the likes and dislikes of others |
Asking for help
Being encouraging to others
Following directions Being a good listener
Being an active participant
Staying on task
Using a quiet voice
|Sharing details about yourself |
Expected and unexpected behaviors
Tattling versus reporting
Thinking with your eyes
Joining a group
Conversing without interruption
Whole body listening
There are benefits to both types of social skills instruction. The individualized instruction with an ABA therapist provides valuable one to one instruction for your child and the social skills group provides exposure to peer group settings. Peer group settings are wonderful places to practice social skills that your child has learned about during 1:1 instruction. This will better prepare him for the social challenges he faces at school, a restaurant, a library, a store or standing at a bus stop. An added benefit of a peer group setting is that everyone is working toward the same goal of learning socially appropriate behavior in a safe and non judgmental environment.
Social skills require practice in social settings. Your child might feel uncomfortable at first, but with your encouragement and help and with the staff at Circle Care we can come together to support your child through any fear or apprehension they might have about interacting with other people in a social group.
We at Circle Care Services New Jersey, incorporate social skills training as part of our ABA treatment plans.
Also, we offer social skills groups for our children so that they can
- Get to know one another
- Get encouragement and guidance as they practice their newfound skills.
- Get social interaction prompts and facilitation by trained specialists.
Let us help you and your child to improve the quality of life with greater communication skills and improved social skills. These are skills that will carry on into your child’s adult lives to serve him/her well. We can’t wait to hear from you and we can’t wait to introduce you to some of our other families here in New Jersey.