Developing Social Skills for Individuals With Autism

Individuals with autism often struggle with social situations and may need guidance to improve their social skills. Although they may want to interact with others, they may not know how to initiate conversations or deal with new experiences. Practicing different social situations can help them participate more actively in the community, leading to greater happiness and the formation of friendships. We offer a collection of social skills advice, tools, and insights from experts, teachers, and families to support their inclusion in the community.

What Are Social Skills?

Social skills refer to the norms, customs, and abilities that help us interact with others and navigate the world. Typically, people acquire social skills in a similar way to language skills - through natural and effortless learning. With time, they develop a social "framework" for how to behave in different situations and with different people.

Learning and developing social skills can be more challenging for individuals with autism. As a result, they often have to rely on guesswork to understand how social situations should be navigated.

The process of developing social skills for individuals with autism includes:

  • Teaching through direct instruction and practical application in real-life scenarios.
  • Prioritizing time and attention.
  • Support for enhancing communication and sensory integration
  • Learning behaviors that can predict significant social outcomes such as making friends and achieving happiness.
  • A way to improve cognitive and language skills.

Who Can Teach Social Skills?

Learning social skills involves seeking guidance from various individuals in different setups such as in school, home, and the community. To gain practical experience in real-life situations, a "social skills group" may be organized by professionals like special education teachers, speech pathologists, or clinicians. These groups combine explicit instruction with opportunities to practice and apply those skills while interacting with peers. Other professionals that support social skills include:

  • occupational therapists
  • behavioral therapists
  • school psychologists
  • general education teachers
  • health and PE teachers
  • many other direct care staff

Social Skills Groups

Individuals with autism can improve their social skills by participating in social skills groups. These groups provide regular opportunities for individuals with autism to interact with each other or with typical peers. Many groups use social skills curricula that are commercially available.

Effective Social Skills groups should*:

  • Provide structure and predictability
  • Break down abstract social concepts into concrete actions
  • Simplify language and group children by language level
  • Work in pairs or groups with cooperation and partnership encouraged
  • Provide multiple and varied learning opportunities
  • Foster self-awareness and self-esteem
  • Provide opportunities for practice so that skills are used beyond the group in real life settings

Individuals with autism often struggle with understanding how to interact with others in social situations. This can make it difficult for them to form friendships and feel included in their communities. However, social skills can be taught through direct instruction and practical application in real-life scenarios. Social skills groups led by professionals like special education teachers, speech pathologists, and clinicians provide individuals with autism the opportunity to practice and apply these skills while interacting with peers. Effective social skills groups should provide structure and predictability, break down abstract social concepts into concrete actions, simplify language for comprehension, group children by language level, foster self-awareness and self-esteem, and provide opportunities for practice beyond the group in real-life settings. By prioritizing time and attention to the development of social skills, individuals with autism can increase their chances of happiness and forming meaningful connections with those around them.

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