About The Expert: Elizabeth Laugeson Psyd
Elizabeth Laugeson, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and an assistant clinical professor in the department of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. She is the founder and director of the UCLA PEERS Clinic and is also the director of The Help Group UCLA Autism Research Alliance.Laugeson has been a part of numerous National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies involving social skills training for youths and is two-time recipient of the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award from the NIH, the recipient of the Semel Scholar Award for Junior Faculty Career Development and the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Pepperdine University.Laugeson has presented her research at conferences around the world and has been featured in People Magazine, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and Washington Post, as well as on CBS and NBC, among others.
Set The Environment For Success
Autistic children thrive on structure and routine. They often have sensory issues, such as sensitivity to loud noises or bright lights.
Consider both these points when working with your child on social interactions. During teaching moments, keep outside distractions to a minimum. Choose times when your child is most relaxed and apt to want to work with you.
Keep room lights dimmed and minimize loud noises to promote learning. Make sure your child is not hungry or overly tired when trying to teach something new. Social communication is most effective when offered in a comfortable setting.
Focus on only teaching the specific social skill. It can be difficult for an autistic child to absorb a social lesson if they are focused on something else as well.
Social Skills For Teens With Asd
It can sometimes be difficult to identify which types of social skills to help youth with autism spectrum disorder to develop. When selecting social skills to target in intervention , it is important to consider what is in the best interest of the client. Instead of considering how to make the client become more like the general population or working on social skills that you or someone else thinks is important, interventionists should focus on what is going to be most helpful for the client.
For instance, a teen with ASD does not automatically need to be given the goal of making five friends . Instead, focusing on making friends in intervention should be carefully considered and approached in a way that suits the client.
Does the client want more friends? Would making a friend or more friends help the client access more reinforcement from the clients perspective, not someone elses? Would focusing on making friends improve the clients overall quality of life or could it lead to depression or anxiety and ultimately reduce their quality of life?
Every person, including every person with an ASD diagnosis, is different. So, social skills important for their development should be individualized.
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How Aba Therapy Can Help Autistic Teens With Their Activities
ABA is a form of behavioral therapy that focuses on changing unwanted behaviors and reinforcing desirable ones. It is the most widely researched and successful therapy for autism.
Although ABA is for the most part used for younger children with autism spectrum disorder, adolescents across the spectrum can also benefit from ABA-based interventions.
ABA therapy is used to build and improve social and communication skills, as well as daily living skills in children and teens with autism. These skills include everything from understanding social cues such as facial expressions and body language to initiating conversations, responding to questions, following directions, and acquiring basic academic skills. The therapy provides targeted treatment based on your childs individual strengths and weaknesses.
ABA therapy typically uses positive reinforcement in the form of rewards and other incentives. When a desirable behavior is followed by a motivator, like a special treat or activity, children are more likely to repeat the action. Over time, this method leads to positive behavioral changes.
Assess And Modify The Intervention
Although Assess and Modify is listed as the last stage in the intervention process, it certainly is not the least important. In addition, it also is not the last thing to think about when designing a social skills program. Typically, as soon as I am able to identify the social skill deficits to be addressed, I begin to develop the methods for evaluating the efficacy of the intervention. To use a basic example, if the target of the intervention is social initiations, then I might take baseline data on the frequency of initiations with peers and adults. I would then continue to collect data on social initiations throughout the implementation stage. Accurate data collection is essential in evaluating the effectiveness of the intervention. It allows us to determine whether the child is benefiting from the instruction, and how to modify the program to best meet the childs needs. In school settings, accurate data collection is a legal imperative. When I work with school teams, the focus is on integrating the social skills program with the childs behavioral and social objectives. As such, Stage 5 is typically a very important aspect of IEP development, implementation, and integrity.
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Why Teens With Autism Struggle With Social Skills
Social skills are the rules, customs, and abilities that guide our interactions with other people and the world around us. All teens benefit from engaging in social interaction regularly and social interactions can help teens with autism develop vital skills they will use for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, these teens often experience challenges with social skills, such as making eye contact, initiating conversations with their peers, or asking to join in a group activity. Reading facial expressions or understanding social dynamics can be challenging, which causes teens with autism to feel intimidated or anxious around social interactions.
Conversations And Autistic Teenagers
Like all teenagers, autistic teenagers need to have conversations in many situations for example, with friends, shop assistants, teachers or GPs.
Conversations have unspoken rules and social demands, which autistic teenagers might need support to understand and practise. For example, they might need to:
- learn that conversations involve both people speaking
- practise letting other people speak and not talking only about their own interests
- work on managing anxiety and stress about conversations.
Conversation skills can help autistic teenagers build meaningful relationships and friendships with their peers. This can help with their confidence, self-worth and sense of belonging.
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Enhancing Social Skills For Teens On The Spectrum
If you wish to advance and enhance social skills in teens on the spectrum, then here are a few ideas:
Five Social Skills Activities For Children With Autism
By Liz Talton
A psychology and mental health expert shares her top tips for how you can help your autistic child develop good social skills.
While its a common myth that autism causes a child to be anti-social, children with autism need and want to make friends. However, they lack essential communication skills to function socially with peers.
Many children with autism struggle with the following:
- Speech delay
- Back-and-forth communication
- Trouble understanding jokes or sarcasm
- Difficulty reading and understanding others emotions
While a child with autism may struggle with the above, leading to difficulties in social situations, it is possible to teach your child these vital skills through at-home activities.
Important social skills a child needs to make friends include:
- Play skills like sharing toys
- Appropriate body language like respecting personal space
- Choosing when to talk and what to talk about
- Managing emotions and understanding others emotions
- Dealing with conflict
- Making decisions
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Autistic Friendships For Girls
The challenges in developing friendships for autistic adolescents described in the previous section can be applicable to both autistic boys and girls. However, we are increasingly recognising how autistic girls may have a different way of adapting to their autism when they make friends. At some stage during the primary or elementary school years, an autistic girl will start to recognise she is different to her peers in terms of social abilities, interests, and sensory sensitivity. She may then develop compensatory and camouflaging strategies to make and keep friends.
The autistic girl may not understand or feel comfortable engaging in the complex friendship dynamics of other girls, which often include gossip, relational bullying, judgements and white lies. In contrast, typical boys social interactions are much simpler, and the autistic girl may share the boys interests in sports, science, computer games, construction toys, logic and adventure. The autistic girl thus becomes a tomboy, a compensatory mechanism for autism which can continue into the adolescent years, as she does not share her gender peers interest in fashion, or romantic feelings towards popular male heroes.
How To Boost Social Skills In Autistic Children
If your child has limited social skills, it doesnt mean they are destined to live this way for the rest of their life.
Autistic children can benefit greatly from therapy, particularly applied behavior analysis therapy, which is considered the ideal treatment for autism. If a childs social skills are further limited by communication issues, such as speech issues, speech therapy may also be recommended.
Parents are key to a childs success. With conscious efforts to implement the lessons learned in therapy on a regular basis and positive reinforcement, parents can help their children better communicate with the world around them.
Oftentimes, autistic children can see substantial improvements in their social skills due to therapy and parental work at home.
Here are five ways to improve your childs social skills:
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What Are Social Skills
Social skills are the rules, customs, and abilities that guide our interactions with other people and the world around us. In general, people tend to pick up social skills in the same way they learn language skills: naturally and easily. Over time they build a social map of how to in act in situations and with others.
For people with autism it can be harder to learn and build up these skills, forcing them to guess what the social “map” should look like.
Social skills development for people with autism involves:
- Direct or explicit instruction and “teachable moments” with practice in realistic settings
- Focus on timing and attention
- Support for enhancing communication and sensory integration
- Learning behaviors that predict important social outcomes like friendship and happiness
- A way to build up cognitive and language skills
Autisms Impact On Social Skills
Autism is a developmental disorder that can impact the way a person communicates, interacts with the world around them, and manages emotions.
Social skills are formed through regular interactions with people. Since children with autism have a hard time understanding and reading others, social skills often need to be taught differently.
The CDC publishes that symptoms of autism related to social skills and interactions include:
- An inability to read others.
- Difficulties with back-and-forth conversations and interactions.
- Poor nonverbal communication skills and behaviors, and difficulty understanding these cues in other people.
- Trouble adjusting behaviors to the situation, often resulting in inappropriate behaviors.
- Lack of interest in peers.
- No desire for imaginary or collaborative play.
- Inflexibility with routines and schedules.
- Sensory sensitivities.
- Difficulty responding to social interactions or initiating them.
Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means it can have varying degrees of severity and disability.
Some children are high-functioning. They are able to mask autism symptoms until social pressures build and become too vast for them. This often coincides with entering a highly social environment like school.
Social skills can be limited or different in a child with autism regardless of the severity of the disorder. Generally, a higher degree of disability means a more significant impact on behavior, communication skills, and social interactions.
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What Are Social Skills Worksheets
Social skills worksheets are resources designed to teach children with autism and other disabilities how to relate to other people. Since many children on the autism spectrum are visual learners, social skills worksheets are an effective way to learn skills like:
- Adjusting to any given situation
- Learning emotional literacy
- Understanding their own and others feelings
- Using manners
- Using polite words
- Understanding how their actions may impact other people.
Social skills worksheets can be used by everyone from preschoolers to primary school children and teenagers.
Below, we take a look at the wide range of social skills worksheets available for individuals with autism spectrum disorder.
Talk Through Possible Social Scenarios & Use Visual Aids
Prepping an autistic child for social situations is extremely important. These conversations help your child to learn about the world around them and build the tools to interact well in social situations.
Talk to your child about potential social situations and events, and how to respond appropriately. It is helpful to offer a visual representation, such as:
A visual representation of peer interactions can help autistic children learn what to expect and give them additional resources to model. Verbalize what is happening in these scenes to reinforce accepted social skills and expected behaviors.
Social coaching is a form of conversation and visual representation that involves helping the child learn to become more aware of their specific actions and master the social challenges that autism presents. Social coaching can include videotaping interactions and walking through them with the child later. As you watch the videos, identify certain behaviors and offer feedback.
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Friendship Curriculum For Teachers And Therapists
We now have resources and programmes for parents, teachers and therapists that are specifically designed to enhance friendship abilities in autistic adolescents.
We recommend the publications and programmes developed by Michelle Garcia Winner and Pamela Crooke, with more information available from socialthinking.com. They have developed resources and guide books such as: Socially Curious and Curiously Social: A Social Thinking Guidebook for Bright Teens and Young Adults Social Thinking graphic novels.
Carol Grey originally developed Social Stories to explain the social world to autistic children and adolescents. More information on Social Stories can be obtained from carolgraysocialstories.com. Carol has adapted Social Stories for adolescents for example, Carol and Tony worked on a compliment guide and workbook for autistic teenagers and adults
Carols work has been extended by Siobhan Timmins who has written Successful Social Stories for School and College Students with Autism and Successful Social Articles into Adulthood. Both books are published by jkp.com
Sessions cover topics such as:
developing and maintaining friendships.
romantic relationships and dating etiquette.
managing peer conflict and rejection.
finding sources of friends.
appropriate use of humour.
There are a range of relevant books published by www.jkp.com, such as:
Distinguish Between Skill Acquisition And Performance Deficits
After a thorough assessment of the childs social functioning and after identifying the skills that we will teach, it is imperative to determine whether the skill deficits are the result of skill acquisition deficits or performance deficits . Simply put, the success of your social skills program hinges on your ability to distinguish between skill acquisition deficits and performance deficits!
A skill acquisition deficit refers to the absence of a particular skill or behavior. For example, a young child with ASD may not know how to effectively join-in activities with peers therefore, he/she will often fail to participate. If we want this child to join-in activities with peers, we need to teach her the necessary skills to do so.
A performance deficit refers to a skill or behavior that is present, but not demonstrated or performed. To use the same example, a child may have the skill to join-in an activity, but for some reason, fails to do so. In this case, if we want the child to participate we would not need to teach the child to do so . Instead, we would need to address the factor that is impeding performance of the skill, such as lack of motivation, anxiety, or sensory sensitivities.
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How This Would Look In Practice:
1. Choose children who need social skills training, group together and add peers if possible
Tell child youll be working on social skills, bring in peers, friends, other children with autism, siblings if possible
2. Observe natural social interactions to choose one target: entering a group conversation
3. Observe typical kids in that situation
- if body language is closed off, dont enter
- stand quietly by to see if they let you in
- watch body language to see if theyre ok with you being there
- listen for topic
- make comment that is relevant and on-topic
- dont change topic away
- dont hog spotlight, ask others questions and let others take turns
4. Write social script/social story
5. Read the story with the group and discuss
6. Act out the story with different people being the person approaching
7. Provide reinforcement about how each child performed
8. Ask peers to rate how other child performed
9. Send home info to parents and have them practice/talk about it at home
10. Take that skill to a natural setting with the same children
11. Have the child rate his own performance
12. Take child to a natural setting with whatever people are there.
13. Talk about skill before he goes in
14. Have him rate his performance after done and give feedback
- discuss performance periodically to keep fresh
- Provide feedback on what you observe