Welcome to Social Skills Corner. We have been working with families for many years. Parents frequently express concerns about their children not having friends or not knowing how to interact with other people either individually or in groups. We want you to be able to help your child to make friends and improve social interactions and for that reason we have developed this column. Each month we will be addressing a different topic related to social skills along with some tips to help your child be successful in that area. Since this is our first month, we will begin by helping you learn more about social skills and by introducing some of the topics we will be covering in future columns.
- Social skills include many different behaviors. When you think about social skills, what probably comes to mind is the ability to make conversation with other people and have friends. Although those are important parts of social skills, there are many skills 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 your child loses he may yell, curse, or cry in reaction to losing. 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 he cannot wait his turn or is anxious about having other people in close proximity.
- Social skills can be taught in many ways. You may have heard about “social skills training” but may 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 storytm for your child, or video recording your child on a phone and playing it back for her. We will provide more details about how to use these techniques in future columns.
- The type of social skills you will work on with your child will change as your child grows older. For very young children, your focus may be playing with other children. While your child may be learning this in an early intervention program; we will have suggestions on what you can do at home to help teach this and other skills. 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. For young adults, skills involved in 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.
- 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 which works for him but interferes with interpersonal relationships. You may need to help him become more flexible and less anxious when his 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 have difficulty seeing a situation from another person’s point of view and then have difficulty understanding the actions or reactions of other people.
- 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. For example, if your child is sensitive to loud noises or bright lights, this may affect his/her ability to participate in social activities in certain settings. We will be giving you tips to help your child so that your family can participate in events such as 4th of July fireworks.
Jamie E. Carter, Ph.D. and Ahna I. O’Shaughnessy, M.A. are the authors of PREP for Social Success: A Guide for Parents of Children with Autism which is an easy to understand four step program to help your child with social skills and emotion management. It is available exclusively through Amazon Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00WQANRI4. Dr. Carter is a clinical psychologist with many years of experience in performing assessments for children and adults and providing psychotherapy and consultations. Ms. O’Shaughnessy is a psychology associate providing behavioral services to various agencies and schools who serve adults and children with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders in the Greater D.C. and Baltimore areas. She also teaches classes to staff and parents in the areas of behavior theory and social skills techniques. Your can follow them on twitter @Prep4SocSuccess and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PREPforSocialSuccess. They can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was featured in Issue 47 – Motherhood – An Unconditional Love