When you were younger did you participate in extracurricular activities? Maybe you were on your school’s baseball team or competed in local gymnastics. For many, it’s not out of the ordinary to join an activity and not know anyone else on the team. Perhaps you had to run up to another peer, introduce yourself and make conversation on the first day of practice. It’s normal to feel shy in new situations, but for typically developing individuals, this type of socializing can be intuitive. Meaning, typically developing children are usually able to pick up on social cues for how to interact in new environments. However, for individuals with autism, developing social skills like introducing oneself or asking another to play can pose a significant challenge.
What are social skills?
Social skills can be defined as having the ability to communicate and engage with other individuals in a way that society finds appropriate. For example, maintaining eye contact during a conversation or shaking someone’s hand are examples of learned social skills.
Challenges associated with social communication are one of the common characteristics among students with autism.
In this blog, we’ll discuss what you can do as a special educator to help improve social skills for your students with autism.
Why is it important to teach these skills?
Everyone deserves the opportunity to communicate meaningfully with others, and that is no different for individuals with autism.
Teaching social skills to students with autism can help improve communication, increase social interactions, build stronger relationships, strengthen independence and self-esteem, and more. Here’s how:
Improved communication: Communicating effectively is key to advocating for yourself and your needs, as well as participating in general conversation with others. This can include conflict resolution and learning how to solve problems in a peaceful and effective way.
Increased social interactions: Having the ability to interact with friends, classmates and other adults can lead to increased social opportunities and a stronger sense of acceptance. Enhanced social interactions may include initiating a conversation and responding appropriately to others, or successfully participating in extracurricular activities, such as those described in our introduction.
Stronger relationships: Learning appropriate social skills can lead to enhanced social awareness and empathy, helping to build stronger relationships with others. For example, having the ability to understand another individual’s feelings and then showing compassion can help students with autism develop greater friendships and further other bonds, such as those between teammates on an after-school soccer team, for example..
Strengthened independence: Teaching social skills to students with autism can help them become more self-sufficient, and in turn, lead to increased independence. This may include having the capacity to self-regulate, OR being able to understand verbal and nonverbal cues in a place of employment.
Furthermore, teaching social skills that can be generalized across settings (e.g., in the classroom, at home, and in the community) will help improve confidence and social competence for your students with autism.
What can you do to improve social skills among your students with autism?
Students with autism can improve their ability to communicate and interact with others in a meaningful way with your help.
Here are some recommendations to help get you started:
Define specific social skills: Review your student’s IEP goals alongside what you currently know about the student to identify which social skills your student needs practice with. For example, does your student need more help initiating conversations? Or understanding social cues? If so, you’ll want to target those.
Incorporate visual supports: Visual supports are evidence-based and proven to help with instruction for students with autism. Incorporating visual supports like social stories or visual schedules can help your students understand varying social scenarios and appropriate social behaviors.
Model social skills: Demonstrate what appropriate social skills behaviors look like to your students with autism. For example, role play how to ask for help, or how to participate in a conversation with peers. Video-modeling is an excellent tool to model social skills.
Provide opportunities: It’s likely safe to say that you’ve heard the phrase ‘Practice makes perfect,’ right? In this case – one of the best ways to learn social skills is through lots and lots of practice. Create opportunities for group activities, or role playing social situations, for your students to practice social interaction.
Implement a Social Skills curriculum: You can promote the development of your students’ social skills with an evidence-based blended learning solution, like TeachTown’s Social Skills intervention. Having a comprehensive curriculum that helps you teach socially-valid skills through animated video-modeling episodes, teacher-delivered lesson plans and student activities can certainly be beneficial.
Remember that learning and building upon social skills is a gradual process for students with autism, and progress will happen over time. Similar to other areas of instruction, practice will be the key to success!
Megan Gilson is the Senior Manager of Content Marketing at TeachTown, the leading provider of K-12 adapted core curriculum. A skilled content creator, Megan has spent the last decade of her career raising awareness about the benefits of health, wellness and equitable and inclusive education. She received her bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at New Paltz.