As parents there are many questions we ask ourselves when it comes to our children with autism and, in this article, we will discuss one of those questions: how does autism affect social skills?
We want what is best for our children, and with so many articles and books describing autism, ways to help improve social skills at home, and how to work with social skills professionals, it’s hard to know where to start.
This article is going to highlight some baseline questions and concerns when it comes to developing social skills. Also, it will discuss when it could be a good time to get help and assistance with these skills.
It is always important to discuss any concerns you may have for your child with their doctor and teachers. There are programs that both doctors and teachers can discuss with parents to help children develop social and other skills that parents may have concerns with.
How does autism affect social development and social skills?
When researching and reading about social skills training and development I had the privilege of talking to Lindsay Roane who is a speech-language pathologist. I was able to ask her a few questions and will share what she told me in this article.
When I asked Lindsay how autism spectrum disorder affects social development and social skills, she said:
“A difference in social development is a core characteristic of autism. In my experience, many of my clients with autism have more difficulty attending to and engaging with others, and have more trouble participating in back and forth interactions. Many older children I have worked with have developed the skills mentioned, but are not following our ‘typical’ rules for socializing (conversation skills, ‘manners’, etc.).”
In an article, How Teaching Perspective Taking to Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders Affects Social Skills: Findings from Research and Suggestions for Practitioners, authors Lindsay C. Peters and Rachel H. Thompson, found that applied perspective taking could help with the difficulties Lindsay mentioned above.
In the article, the authors state these examples of teaching social skills through, “applied perspective taking include deceiving, providing listener-appropriate detail in conversation, persuading, and helping.”. This can work along with what Lindsay was saying by making opportunities available where the autistic child can learn and practice these skills.
What can parents do if their child has just been diagnosed?
There are ways parents can start helping their children learn basic social skills that they may need support with. I asked Lindsay what advice she would have for parents who just received their child’s autism spectrum disorder diagnosis and she suggested:
“Don’t panic! Consider your child’s strengths and build on them. Find providers (therapists, teachers, etc.) who share similar views with you. Investigate your child’s individual differences and be sure they are well regulated before focusing on interactions. Then, enter their world and try to create genuine interactions that are joyful for both you and your child.”
A parent can teach social skills first by working on social interaction skills and social communication with your autistic child. This can start by figuring out what they like, whether it be trains, elephants, planets, and building interactions around those interests.
It is important to note that there are multiple providers that can work together to form a plan around the goals you and your child have to strengthen targeted skills. They can provide a foundation to teach social skills and provide an outline the parent can use at home.
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What do parents need to do to determine what social skills to teach their children with autism?
Continuing my conversation with Lindsay, the last question I asked was how parents can best approach and start teaching and improving their children’s social skills? Lindsay’s response was:
“This is definitely dependent on the child’s current skills and where they are in their social-emotional development. But in all cases, I believe it is important to join in on your child’s world vs. trying to get them to join yours. Use their interests and strengths to get an interaction going. Social interactions should be based on shared joy, not on following neurotypical ‘rules’ for interactions. Consider what is intrinsically motivating for the child to build a genuine connection first and foremost.”
So, an autistic child’s social skills can improve with interactions at home, along with other social skills interventions, like speech therapy. It is important that parents provide rich environments where certain social situations are integrated into the child’s life.
These environments can allow opportunities where the child has the chance to respond appropriately to the social situation and build on those skills learned. Once they build on those skills, it can help their overall confidence in social interactions.
Will making friends be easier for my child?
Through these different interactions and interventions for autistic children, the chance of increased verbal, communication, and other skills are more likely to occur. When practicing and using the communication skills, play skills, and emotional skills, the autistic child could begin making friends, interacting in group activities, and move forward to interact socially.
When autistic children learn how to navigate social challenges and increase their social skills in daily life through interactions with typically developing peers and others in the classroom, they have a chance at having personal relationships. This could include making friends, but not stop there.
Parents and teachers can increase these skills by the use of visual supports, role playing, and the use of peer mentors. These supports are there to help the autistic child learn how to act in certain social situations they may not have the chance to practice otherwise.
These new skills will need to be practiced and used consistently to help build confidence in the autistic child. In turn, it could possibly make it easier for them to know how to respond and react in social contexts and situations.
Practice makes perfect
It has been stated throughout this article that autistic children have some challenges when it comes to social interactions and may not be at the same level as peers with social skills. Parents, teachers, and service providers can start by teaching social skills and including other interventions as a part of a plan to develop and nurture these skills.
None of this has to seem impossible for autistic children and their parents. With the interventions, the autistic child can develop the social skills necessary to interact and have meaningful friendships, conversations, and interactions throughout life.
As the old saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” That saying certainly spans across the board and covers all children and their families.
It truly takes multiple people working together with a unified goal in mind to help an autistic child learn the skills necessary to navigate social situations in life. With those skills and personal drive, that child could accomplish what they set their minds to do personally and for the rest of their lives.
Peters, L.C., & Thompson, R.H. (2018). How Teaching Perspective Taking to Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders Affects Social Skills: Findings from Research and Suggestions for Practitioners. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6269388