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Top 5 Social Skills for Teens with Autism

May 8, 2024

Teens with autism often struggle with social skills, but they can be learned and become second nature with practice. These skills are vital for making friends, finding employment, and leading a satisfying life. Harvard University research highlights social skills as the key factor in securing a job.

Autism symptoms and their severity can vary widely. Some autistic teens may be able to use all the social skills listed below effectively. In other cases, you may choose skills you think would be a good fit for you.

To help you succeed in school, work, and life, let’s explore five valuable social skills you can learn and practice.

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4 Practical Interventions to Help Develop Social Skills

1. Smile and say “hello”

When you see a friend or a customer, greet them promptly and politely – just as you would greet a guest in your home.

Here’s how:

  • Make it a warm, genuine, heartfelt smile.
  • Look your friend or customer in the eye and say “Hello!”
  • Speak in a warm, upbeat, and friendly manner. If you feel uncomfortable or like you’re staring, look at the person’s nose (no joke!).

In the world of work, this may sound basic, but you’d be surprised how many businesses fail to greet their customers properly. Indifference is one of the biggest reasons people don’t return to a business.

If you are a teen working, volunteering, or own a business, you’ll be way ahead of the pack if you greet customers with a smile and a friendly “hello.

Customer service is important to where you work or volunteer because first impressions matter…a lot!

2. Introduce yourself and make a friend

Friends are people you like and trust. It’s important to remember the golden rule: treat people the way you’d like to be treated.

Be nice, be polite, and smile. Don’t be afraid to initiate a conversation with someone you would like to know. Make a friend!

Here’s how:

  • Greet people with a smile and a warm “Hello!”
  • Introduce yourself and shake hands. Say, “I’m _____ (your name). It’s nice to meet you.”
  • Engage them in an initial short, friendly conversation and pay attention. Find out how they’re doing: “It’s nice to see you. How’s your day going?”
  • Ask questions to get the other person talking about themself. “Where do you go to school?” and/or “Where have you been on vacation?”
  • Listen carefully. Before long, you’ll probably find common interests and experiences you can talk about.
  • Once you have met someone, don’t hesitate to speak to them the next time you see them. This is how good conversations and friendships are created.
An autistic teen talking to a friend https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/social-skills-tips/

When you are comfortable making new friends, it will be easier to initiate conversations with people at work or when volunteering.

3. Call people by their name

One of the best ways to make a great impression on a person is to remember their name and use it!

Here’s how:

  • Look them in the eye.
  • Enthusiastically say, “Hello_____ (their name).”

Don’t assume it’s alright to call adults by their first name unless they are close friends or family members. They should give you permission to do so, first.

4. Remember to say “Please,” “Thank you,” and “You’re welcome”

Good manners never go out of style. They are expected in all social and business situations.

Say “please” when you request something from your family, friends, or customers.

For example, “Would you please unlock your gate so we can mow your backyard?” Be sincere and genuine.

Say “thank you” when someone does something nice for you. If you are working or volunteering, when a customer leaves your business, thank them for coming in.

Say “thank you” warmly and genuinely. Or say, “Thank you for coming in. I look forward to seeing you again.”

When someone says “thank you,” answer with a smile and a polite “you’re welcome.” Don’t answer with “no problem,” “sure,” or “yep.” Always treat others with the utmost respect.

5. Dress for success

People form an opinion within the first few seconds of meeting you. Often, they do judge a book by its cover.

At work or when volunteering, if you are not sure what you are wearing fits the dress code, it’s safer to dress professionally. 

Keep your clothes, including uniforms, clean and neat. Wash them regularly. Keep your shoes clean and in good condition.

Pay attention to your grooming. In all situations, a neatly groomed, smartly dressed look is best.

Make sure you smell good! Shower or bathe daily. Avoid too much perfume or cologne – some people are very sensitive to smells. 

Keep your nails clean and your hair neat. Have breath mints on hand to keep your breath smelling fresh!


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Social skills for teens with autism

These tips will ensure teens make a powerful first impression to succeed in school, work, and life.

Mastering social skills is crucial for teens with autism to navigate their way through life successfully. With practice and dedication, these skills can be developed and become invaluable assets in forming friendships, securing employment, and achieving fulfillment.

Sections adapted from Smile & Succeed for Teens Copyright © 2014 by Kirt Manecke.

This article was featured in Issue 49 – Understanding the People We Love

FAQs

Q: How can an autistic person improve their social skills?

A: An autistic person can improve their social skills through practice, by seeking support from therapists or social skills groups, and by learning specific strategies for communication and social interaction. It’s also important for them to engage in real-life social situations to apply and refine these skills.

Q: What social skills are lacking in autism?

A: Individuals with autism often struggle with social skills such as understanding nonverbal cues, maintaining eye contact, and initiating conversations, making social interactions challenging. They may also find it difficult to interpret social situations and understand the perspectives of others.

Q: What skills do autistic people struggle with?

A: Autistic individuals often face challenges with social interaction, such as understanding social cues and maintaining conversations. They may find it difficult to interpret nonverbal communication and navigate social situations effectively.

Q: What are examples of poor social skills?

A: Poor social skills can manifest as difficulty maintaining eye contact, interrupting conversations, or struggling to interpret nonverbal cues like facial expressions and body language. Avoiding social interactions or dominating conversations without considering others’ perspectives are also common examples.

References

Babb, S., Raulston, T. J., McNaughton, D., Lee, J.-Y., & Weintraub, R. (2021). The Effects of Social Skill Interventions for Adolescents With Autism: A Meta-Analysis. Remedial and Special Education, 42(5), 343-357. https://doi.org/10.1177/0741932520956362 

Bury, S.M., Flower, R.L., Zulla, R. et al. Workplace Social Challenges Experienced by Employees on the Autism Spectrum: An International Exploratory Study Examining Employee and Supervisor Perspectives. J Autism Dev Disord 51, 1614–1627 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-020-04662-6 

Radley, K.C., Dart, E.H., Brennan, K.J. et al. Social Skills Teaching for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder: a Systematic Review. Adv Neurodev Disord 4, 215–226 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41252-020-00170-x 

International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education. Developing Social Skills and Social Competence in Children with Autism 2021, 13 (3), 341-363, DOI:  ttps://doi.org/10.26822/iejee.2021.195 

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