Social Skills Training

Teaching Social Skills to a Child with Autism

For the majority of people, the ability to engage in positive, functional social interaction comes relatively naturally. Being able to read another person's emotions or state of mind through body language and speech is an important aspect of normal socializing, as it helps to promote beneficial relationships beginning in childhood. People with an autism spectrum disorder, however, do not develop these innate abilities in the same way. Teaching social skills to children with autism requires an understanding of the way they learn how to foster such abilities.

This inability to determine how another person is feeling can result in a variety of undesirable social interactions. Even an autistic person who functions on the highest level of the spectrum may make social errors that cause embarrassment, lead to bullying or hostility and result in being ostracized from peers. This list is designed to help parents and care givers when teaching social skills to children with autism:

  • Encourage the child to recognize and consider the emotions and behaviors of others. This can be done by pointing out facial expressions in magazines and books or using special picture cards with images and names of common facial expressions. Explain what each face means and how it feels to experience each emotion. Allow the child to imitate the expressions for deeper understanding and improved retention.
  • Practice having conversations that feature reciprocation between people. Because many children with autism tend to focus entirely on their side of a conversation, they fail to consider the point of view of the other person. Teaching the child how and when to ask appropriate questions during a conversation will improve his ability to socialize with peers as well as adults. Emphasize the importance of taking turns asking and answering questions to keep the conversation going and practice regularly.
  • Write social stories and share them with the child. Social stories are intentionally simple stories that are told from the child's perspective and emphasize how certain people will behave in a given situation.
  • Use role playing to rehearse appropriate social behavior with others. Practice daily with physical action and conversation to teach the child how to behave in specific social situations. Parents and care givers are encouraged to remember that behavior may not change immediately with role playing and that consistency is the key to success.
What is right for one soul may not be right for another. It may mean having to stand on your own and do something strange in the eyes of others. Autism: Do your own thing!
Eileen Caddy