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5 Things You Need to Know About Social Skills in Autism

June 20, 2024

Parents frequently express concerns about their autistic children not having friends or not knowing how to interact with other people, either individually or in groups. Because of that, it’s important to find a way to help your child improve their social interactions.

Before we delve into the strategies, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what social skills cover. Here, we present five key aspects that every parent should know about social skills and their significance in the development of their autistic child.

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Autism Social Skills:

How to Enhance Social Interaction

1. Social skills include many different behaviors

When you think about social skills, what probably comes to mind is the ability to have conversations with other people and make friends. Although those are important parts of social skills, many skills are needed to make social interactions go smoothly.

One skill you may want to address with your child is managing emotions appropriately. For example, your child may know how to play a game with a peer, but when they lose, they may yell, curse, or cry as a reaction.

Some people may not know how to compliment someone with autism, or your child may have difficulty accepting compliments. While this may not seem like a significant skill to learn, it can impact your child’s interactions with others.

For instance, in a job setting, if a supervisor compliments your child and she walks away or looks down, the supervisor may not be as likely to compliment your child in the future. 

Another skill you may wish to address with your child is participating in group activities. This may be difficult for your child if they cannot wait their turn or are anxious about being close to other people.

2. Social skills can be taught in many ways

You may have heard about “social skills training” but not be sure what this means. There are many ways to help your child acquire or improve social skills.

These include:

  • role-playing,
  • watching videos,
  • reading books,
  • writing a social story for your child,
  • video recording your child on the phone and playing it back for them, etc.

3. Social skills you focus on change with age

For very young children, your focus may be playing with other children. School-age children may need to work on taking turns or following directions. In the teenage years, issues such as dating and sexuality may become a focus.


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For young adults, skills for transitioning to independent living, such as getting along with roommates or coworkers, become important. For all ages, issues such as bullying and peer pressure may be a concern.

4. Some symptoms of autism make social interactions difficult

Children with autism spectrum disorder have certain characteristics that may make social interactions more difficult.

For instance, your child may want to follow a rigid routine that works for them but interferes with interpersonal relationships. You may need to help them become more flexible and less anxious when their routine cannot be followed.

They may engage in concrete or literal thinking and need help learning about expressions people use in conversation. For instance, one child we worked with looked out the window to see “cats and dogs” when it was raining.

They may be fixated on a specific topic and have difficulty engaging in conversation regarding other topics.

Your child may also have difficulty seeing a situation from another person’s point of view and then have difficulty understanding the actions or reactions of other people.

5. Sensory issues may affect social skills

Children with autism spectrum disorder frequently have sensory issues which affect social skills. Your approach to working on social skills will need to take these sensory issues into account.

An autistic girl sensitive to sound covering her ears https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/knowing-social-skills/

For example, if your child is sensitive to loud noises or bright lights, this may affect their ability to participate in social activities in certain settings.

This article was featured in Issue 47 – Motherhood – An Unconditional Love

FAQs

Q: How do you compliment someone with autism?

A: Offer genuine praise for specific accomplishments or behaviors, being mindful of their sensitivities and preferences. For example, you could say, “You did a great job on that project. Your attention to detail really shines through!”

Q: How does autism affect social skills?

A: Autism can impact social skills by making it harder for individuals to understand social cues and norms, leading to difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships. This can result in challenges in communication, interpreting others’ emotions, and engaging in typical social interactions.

Q: Can an autistic person have normal social skills?

A: Yes, autistic individuals can develop strong social skills through tailored support, practice, and understanding. While their approach to socializing may differ from neurotypical individuals, they can still form meaningful connections and relationships.

References:

Developing Social Skills and Social Competence in Children with Autism, Øzerk, Kamil; Øzerk, Gül; Silveira-Zaldivar, Tracey, International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education. 2021, 13 (3), 341-363, DOI: https://doi.org/10.26822/iejee.2021.195 

Moody CT, Laugeson EA. Social Skills Training in Autism Spectrum Disorder Across the Lifespan. Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2020 Apr;29(2):359-371. doi: 10.1016/j.chc.2019.11.001. Epub 2020 Jan 30. PMID: 32169267. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32169267/ 

Chester, M., Richdale, A.L. & McGillivray, J. Group-Based Social Skills Training with Play for Children on the Autism Spectrum. J Autism Dev Disord 49, 2231–2242 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-019-03892-7

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