Discussion Of Study Outcomes
Based on the studies reviewed, several intervention targets were addressed in the social skills interventions. These included: 1) knowledge and conceptual understandings, 2) peer relationships/friendships, and 3) joint attention/joint engagement.
Interventions to Improve Knowledge and Conceptual Understandings
Many of the interventions were aimed at improving: 1) knowledge of discrete skills such as emotion recognition or appropriate social behaviors, or 2) concepts such as theory of mind. These interventions are based on the theory that increasing knowledge of social behavior will translate into better social interactions in authentic real life situations. These types of interventions generally are carried out in groups and led by an instructor in a clinical setting with direct teaching of social skills. A number of studies also augmented these group interventions with video modeling and feedback .
Overall, interventions aimed at increasing social knowledge demonstrate increased knowledge, but the effects do not appear to transfer to real life settings. Future studies may want to merge didactic knowledge modules with practice modules in authentic community settings to support the generalization of conceptual skills to natural interactions.
Interventions Addressing Peer Relationships
Interventions Addressing Joint Attention/Joint Engagement in Young Children
Volunteer For Tasks That Require Social Skills
If you can offer to take on a work-related task or responsibility that involves interacting with people, do it. Your supervisor will probably be impressed by your initiative, and youll get valuable practice in using your social and communication skills.
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- Offer to lead a meeting
- Offer to give a presentation on behalf of your team
- Offer to attend a conference on behalf of your company
- Offering to help out at open days or other company events
- Offer to plan work events
Know That Its Good To Be Vulnerable
If you always give safe, bland answers to questions or stick to mundane topics, you risk coming across as bored, dull, or detached. Opening up can encourage other people to open up in return, which can lead to deep, interesting conversations.
Try these tips:
- Go beyond facts and share your opinions. For example, I saw that movie last night is a fact. I saw that movie last night I thought the ending was great, I didnt see it coming! is an opinion.
- When you share a dream or aspiration, explain why its significant for you. For example, I dream of living by the sea one day because being near water always makes me feel uplifted is more vulnerable than Id like a seaside cabin someday.
- Try to acknowledge your feelings or insecurities instead of hiding them behind self-deprecating humor.
If you have trouble opening up and being vulnerable, here is our guide on how to open up.
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How Would It Feel To Be : : : :
Next time you read a book to your class, try asking your students how it would feel to be the main character in the story. If youre reading a picture book about Cinderella, for example, you could ask how they would feel if they had two evil stepsisters who were mean to them. Or if youre reading Peter Pan as a class, you could ask them what happy memories they would think about to fly with magic pixie dust.
This can help students with autism learn empathy as well as how to see situations in their lives from another perspective. It can also teach them how to recognize emotional cues by encouraging them to put themselves in the perspective of another person.
Autism Strategies For Teaching Social Skills
I was at a conference once and they were selling T-shirts that said, I have autism on the front. On the back of the T-shirts, it said, dont waste my time. I think theres a lot of well-meaning individuals out there trying to teach social skills, but since the skills were too high and theyre not assessing accurately for all kinds of skills, we tend to jump in and have goals for things that are way too high for the kids.
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Learn From Your Mistakes
When you practice your social skills, its inevitable that youll make mistakes. Try to learn from them by asking yourself a few questions:
- What could I do differently next time around?
- Is there a particular social skill I need to work on?
- What advice would I give to someone else who had made this mistake?
For example, lets say you made a joke during a good conversation, but the other person didnt laugh. You could say to yourself:
There was an awkward pause when the joke fell flat, but the conversation moved on quickly. The joke was maybe too sarcastic for the situation, so Ill try aiming for more positive, sillier humor next time around. Id tell someone else in this situation not to worry and focus on the fact that, overall, the conversation was fun. No one was seriously offended, and there will be lots of chances to tell better jokes in the future.
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Brain Circuits Specifically Involved In Social Interactions
Social behavior involves a wide range of cognitive processes, including perception, attention, memory, motivation, and emotion . The medial prefrontal cortex, temporoparietal junction, and posterior temporal sulcus are developmentally involved in the theory of mind skills while limbic structures including the amygdala, insula, and ventral striatum are intimately involved in emotional perception, expression, and regulation . Structural and functional connectivity studies have found differences between TD individuals and individuals with ASD in these areas involved in social cognition . Multiple studies have demonstrated changes in resting-state activity associated with ASD but heterogeneous methodology has prevented solid conclusions in this area of imaging research .
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When A Communication Problem Isnt An Autism Communication Problem:
Of course, like my attempt at learning German at university, sometimes these things can seem like theres no success at all but, before you do call it quits, first consider whether there are any external autism quirks which might be impacting progress i.e:
Sensory Problems: An autistic person struggling with sensory problems might not be able to hear or process something which is only a few feet away.
Routine: Remeber routines are important for autistic people and our minds may become sidetracked if a conversation has come at the detriment of our usual activities.
Restricted Interests: An autistic person may be disinterested in a conversation, or may not be responding very enthusiastically as the topic is outside the ven diagram of things we care about and things we want to talk about. Im sure theres a more delicate way of phrasing this but, this means a speech session may not be successful because we simply find it SUPER boring .
With all this considered, there are still many autistic people who will struggle to get involved in social interaction throughout life seemingly being unable to find equal footing for sharing their thoughts and feelings. This does not mean any of us are incapable of expression though as, before any of this begins, we will already have a way to communicate its just that our methods may be incomprehensible to those who dont share our unique perspective.
Social Skills At Home
Home is where most children spend their time. Often, it is where they learn basic social skills.
Parents and caregivers are expected to reinforce what a child is learning from social skills training or school. Talking to the childs therapist or teacher will help parents create their own ways to teach social skills at home.
Games and visual aids can be used to help a child learn how to read emotions, communicate with others, understand social rules, and solve problems.
Social skills are vital to everyday life. Children with autism may have difficulty acquiring these skills in the beginning. But with the help of qualified experts and educators, it can be done.
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Hold A Professional Development Session On Autism
Its so important to teach faculty about autism awareness, too. If youre a school administrator, consider holding a professional development session on teaching students with autism or sharing a few resources.
For example, the Regional Educational Laboratory Program has put together a helpful resource for administrators on how educators can support students with autism during remote learning.
Social Skills Therapy For Autism
To teach a child with autism social skills, parents can seek help from social skills therapists. These experts come from different backgrounds but share the same knowledge and competencies needed to help people with autism develop social skills.
Social skills therapy is mostly based on a concept called Social Thinking. Michelle Garcia Winner, a speech-language pathologist, coined the phrase social thinking and transformed it into a strategy to improve the social skills of people on the spectrum.
Therapists use different teaching strategies for students to cope with common social situations. This would include teaching a child with autism how to play, talk, share, and work with other children his/her age. Some sessions are also conducted in a group setting to encourage children to apply what they have learned.
Most schools with autism programs have social skills training available. You can visit the Autism Society of America to check for social skills therapists in your area.
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What Strategies Are There For Developing Social Interaction Skills
Just like reading, maths and writing skills, social interaction skills can be learnt. For some people, they can learn social interaction skills just by watching what others are doing and how they interact. For many other people, they learn by focusing on one skill at a time, practicing it and using it in different situations.
If youre a parent of a child who struggles with social interaction, you can help them practise through playing games together, role playing, modelling including video modelling and prompts and direct social skills training. We will talk about some of these here.
Examples might include:
- Developing Play skills, by playing games with teddies or dolls like tea parties, catching a bus or riding on a train, going shopping, Simon Says, card or table games like Connect Four or Uno, kicking a ball to each other or sharing a jigsaw puzzle.
- Creating a social narrative to provide information to your child before they have a friend over so they know what to expect, have some ideas for things to do together or what to talk about.
- Using visual supports to problem solve social situations, like having one piece of cake left over, managing a disagreement, or responding to someone getting hurt, upset or bored.
- Role play, or modelling so your child sees ways of managing all sorts of social situations in different ways.
How Do I Use Social Stories To Teach Replacement Behaviors
Children with autism and other developmental disorders often engage in a variety of maladaptive behavior. This occurs for several possible reasons, but is often due to a deficit in adaptive ways to get their needs met. To learn more about identifying why a child engages in a particular behavior, read our post: Understanding Functions of Behavior. When creating a plan to address challenging behaviors, professionals must teach adaptive alternative behaviors to take the place of maladaptive behavior. Social stories may be one way to teach these replacement behaviors.
Social Stories were created by Carol Gray, author of The New Social Stories Book, to teach children with autism how to respond in different situations. These short, simple stories help children understand expectations and learn coping skills. A Hard Times Board provides one format for accomplishing this. Lets take a look.
Hard Times Board
A Hard Times Board pulls apart a behavioral event and clearly delineates each component of the Competing Behavior Pathway in a way that children understand. Including children who have the verbal ability in identifying each component improves buy-in and compliance in utilizing strategies.
Competing Behavior Pathway
The competing behavior pathway provides a visual depicting the ABCs of challenging behavior and includes an appropriate replacement behavior. It provides a roadmap for changing behavior.
Turning the Competing Behavior Pathway into a Social Story
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How To Improve Social Skills With Autism
If you want to learn more about improving autism social skills, you can listen to my Turn Autism Around podcast. To learn more about my courses and online community, come to a free online workshop at . Its for parents and professionals, such as behavior analysts. My free workshop does not include any BCBA CEUs, but my courses do. I would love it if you would check it out and see if adding some new knowledge from me and my courses and community might really help to turn things around more for your clients or children.
Autism And Social Skills Development
School Community Tool Kit
Supporting social interaction is an important piece of the students educational plan. Students with autism often have the desire to interact with others, but do not have the skills to engage appropriately or may be overwhelmed by the process. Some students are painfully aware of their social deficits and will avoid interactions even though they desperately want to connect with others. Others will engage in attention seeking behavior to connect with others until they build the skills they need to interact. Social development represents a range of skills, including timing and attention, sensory integration and communication, that can be built and layered to improve social competence. Building competence will result in further interest and interaction.
Here are some strategies to support social skill development in your students with autism:
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Calming Activities To Prevent Autism Meltdowns In Class
When students with autism are feeling overwhelmed, the intense response that they feel may cause them to lose control of their emotions. This is called an autism meltdown and is different from when students without autism act out in class. While the best strategy for autism meltdowns is to seek help from a school specialist, these calm down activities can help to de-escalate stressful situations.
Just Like Me Activity
For this activity, gather all of your students together on the floor so they can all see each other. Have each child take turns sharing something about themselves, like:
- I have a pet dog.
- I can play the piano.
- My birthday is in September.
- I love to play soccer.
- My favorite color is yellow.
If a statement also applies to other students , instruct them to raise their hands. This will help remind students that they share more similarities than differences with their peers and that they can always find something to talk about.
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Goal One: John Will Improve Relationship Skills With Peers
Objective: John will improve peer interactions at recess.
1. John will identify to a teacher individuals or groups of peers who would be appropriate playmates 4 out of 5 times.
2. John will greet peers and initiate mutual conversation 4 or 5 times.
3. John will ask at least one peer to play together for a minimum of 10 minutes, 4 out of 5 times.
4. John will follow the rules of games and accept winning or losing without verbal or behavioral outbursts or withdrawal 3 out of 5 times.
5. John will say goodbye before leaving peers 4 out of 5 times.
Considerations For Social Skills Training Programs
We need to consider the impact of teaching normative social behavior to ASD children. We want effective teaching of meaningful skills. However, autistic adults report that the message that they must act normal, suggested they were inferior to their neurotypical classmates. This was a basis for future depressive thinking such as I am unacceptable as I am and No one could like the real me. Children need to feel that their authentic selves are worthwhile and valued.
Autistic adults also emphasize that consciously having to use neurotypical social skills or mask themselves constantly can be exhausting. If skills are taught as tools for achieving goals such as friendships, group participation, and self-advocacy, we can help children identify when they want to use these tools.
The focus should not only be on the children changing. They will need tools to succeed socially. However, a paradigm change to accept neurodiversity is also necessary school staff needs to understand spectrum behavior. They shouldnt expect facial expressiveness to indicate interest, take honest comments as hostile, or think stimming is attention-seeking.
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