4 Practical Interventions to Help Develop Social Skills
Social skills can be broadly defined as the ability to develop and maintain relationships. Deficits in social skills are a core feature for children, as well as adults with autism. For school-age children with high-functioning autism, limitations in social skills adversely impact conversation skills, peer acceptance, and self-perception.
Available research indicates that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may have less need for interpersonal closeness, tend not to seek assistance from others for their problems, and tend not to see people as part of a potential solution to their problems (Kelly et al., 2018). These social challenges are largely attributed to deficits in Social Reciprocity and Social Cognition.
Difficulties with social reciprocity include difficulty initiating and responding to bids for interaction, limitations with maintaining turn-taking in interactions and problems with providing on-topic responses. Challenges with social cognition include difficulty managing emotions, understanding others perspectives, developing pro-social goals and problem-solving. Although challenges with social skills remain a persistent characteristic of autism across a lifetime, there are a variety of evidence-based interventions that support the development of these skills for school-age children.
Comic Strip Conversations
This technique visually outlines a conversation between two or more people. It integrates the use of comic-strip type character’s thought and talking bubbles. Using this technique helps learners better understand why someone did or said something in a specific situation. The outlined conversation may have taken place in the past, happening in the present or in anticipation of the future. This technique may be used to support a learner who is struggling with understanding the relationship between actions and consequences or reactions (i.e., thoughts and words) to expected/unexpected behaviors. Consider using this technique to address social situations such as interrupting, bullying and playing at recess.
This evidence-based practice uses interventions that describe social situations by highlighting relevant cues and offering examples of appropriate responses. These narratives are individualized and written in the perspective of the learner. They are short and may include visual aids. Describing the thoughts and feelings of other people involved in the situation is an important feature of social narratives. The learner may be taught and use social narratives for real-life scenarios such as attending a birthday party, ordering food at a restaurant and following school rules.
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Technology-Aided Instruction and Intervention
This uses technology as a central feature of intervention that supports the social goals or outcomes for the learner. This evidence-based practice consists of “any item/equipment/application/ or virtual network that is used intentionally to increase/maintain, and/or improve daily living…” (Odom, Thompson, et al., 2013). For fun and interactive social skills activities, check out 10 Ways – A Social Skills Game and Let’s Be Social available in the App Store through Apple.
This evidence-based practice uses video recording to provide a visual model of the targeted skill or behavior (i.e., turn-taking). Types of video modeling include Basic Video Modeling, which involves recording someone (other than the learner) engaging in the target behavior or skill; and Video Self-Modeling, which uses video to record the learner displaying the targeted skill or behavior. It is important to edit the videos to remove adult prompts. This evidence-based practice may be used to address perspective taking and initiation and reciprocity (i.e., commenting, asking questions) in conversation or play.
Addressing social skills in an engaging, meaningful and practical way is vital for learners with high-functioning autism. The strategies listed in this article are just a few of the evidence-based practices/interventions that may be used to support social skills development for school-age children. These interventions may be used in isolation or in conjunction with other strategies. It is important to remember that interventions must be individualized for the learner.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association states that outcomes for school-age children with autism should focus on “social communication that affect the individual’s ability to develop relationships, function effectively, and actively participate in everyday life.”
Asha.org. (2018). Autism Spectrum Disorder: Signs and Symptoms. [online] Available at: http://www.asha.org/PRPSpecificTopic.aspx?folderid=8589935303§ion=Signs_and_Symptoms [Accessed 5 Jan. 2018].
Asha.org. (2018). Autism Spectrum Disorder: Treatment. [online] Available at: https://www.asha.org/PRPSpecificTopic.aspx?folderid=8589935303§ion=Treatment [Accessed 5 Jan. 2018].
Erinoakkids.ca. (2018). [online] Available at: https://www.erinoakkids.ca/ErinoakKids/media/EOK_Documents/Autism_Resources/Comic-Strip-Conversations.pdf [Accessed 5 Jan. 2018].
Kelly, A. B., Garnett, M. S., Attwood, T., & Peterson, C. (2008). Autism spectrum symptomatology in children: The impact of family and peer relationships. Journal of abnormal child psychology, 36(7), 1069.
Wong, C., Odom, S. L., Hume, K. A., Cox, A. W., Fettig, A., Kucharczyk, S., … & Schultz, T. R. (2015). Evidence-based practices for children, youth, and young adults with autism spectrum disorder: A comprehensive review. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45(7), 1951-1966.
Monica C. Hudnall, MA, CCC-SLP, specializes in autism spectrum disorders and culturally/linguistically diverse populations. She has provided treatment in public schools and early intervention, serving 18-month to 21-year-olds with mild to severe communication impairments in the San Francisco Bay area. She has presented at the California Speech-Language-Hearing Association (CSHA) Annual Convention and is a volunteer board member of CSHA-District 4.
This is article was featured in Issue 74 – Every Voice Matters