Speech-language pathologist Carrie Clark discusses what the current research says about the best ways to teach social skills to adolescents with autism or children with high functioning autism.  This episode of the Speech and Language Kids Podcast will provide tips for how to help an autistic child who is able to speak to peers but may not always know the right things to say or do in order to make and maintain friendships.

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Social Skills and Autism

  • Who are these kids
    • high-functioning autism
    • aspergers
    • social interaction problems
    • want to have friends
    • don’t understand rules
  • How to know which social skills to work on?
    • Observe in natural setting as much as possible
    • Ask teachers or other caregivers about what they’ve noticed
    • Observe other children that age
  • Research about how these kids learn social skills best: www.speechandlanguagekids.com/socialresearch
    • Review of research by  White and Keonig
    • group-based social skills training
    • Direct teaching of social skills

Social Skills Which Were Found Helpful

  • Teaching Social Scripts
    • Specific rules that govern these activities
    • watch other kids
    •     introductions, entering conversation, sitting in the lunch room, phone conversations,
  • Modeling and Role Play
    •     watch somoene else do it first
    • practice skill on their own
  • Differential reinforcement
    • change reinforcement based on their behavior
    • could be verbal praise or corrective feedback or the reaction of the listener
  • Peer Involvement
    • use other children with social needs
    • use typical peers
    • use siblings
  • Multiple Trainers
    • Don’t get too used to the same communication partners
  • Parent Involvement
    • Practice skills or talk about them at home
  • Practice in natural environments
    • Use peers to help with re-introducing the skill into a natural setting
    • Talk about before the child enters the situation
    • Review how it went afterwards
  • Foster Self-Awareness
    • Watch videos of self doing skill
    • Talk about how it went
    • Encourage child to judge if it went well
    • Encourage child to judge based on other person’s reaction

How This Would Look in Practice:

1. Choose children who need social skills training, group together and add peers if possible


    Tell child you’ll be working on social skills, bring in peers, friends, other children with autism, siblings if possible

2. Observe natural social interactions to choose one target: entering a group conversation

3. Observe typical kids in that situation

  • if body language is closed off, don’t enter
  • stand quietly by to see if they let you in
  • watch body language to see if they’re ok with you being there
  • listen for topic
  • make comment that is relevant and on-topic
  • don’t change topic away
  • don’t hog spotlight, ask others questions and let others take turns

4. Write social script/social story

5. Read the story with the group and discuss

6. Act out the story with different people being the person approaching

7. Provide reinforcement about how each child performed

8. Ask peers to rate how other child performed

9. Send home info to parents and have them practice/talk about it at home

10. Take that skill to a natural setting with the same children

11. Have the child rate his own performance

12. Take child to a natural setting with whatever people are there.

13. Talk about skill before he goes in

14. Have him rate his performance after done and give feedback

15. Maintenance:

  • discuss performance periodically to keep fresh
  • Provide feedback on what you observe

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More Resources for Speech-Language Pathologists:

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