For many individuals with autism spectrum disorder, communication and social interaction may present a challenge.
If a teacher were to approach a typically developing student and say, “Hey, Sally! How was your weekend?” – Sally may make eye contact with this teacher and say, “Great! How was yours?”
For many students with autism, this interaction looks different. If the same teacher said the same phrase to a student with autism, “Hey Sally! How is your day going?,” the particular student may look toward the ground, or cover their ears, or reply back in a repetitive sequence.
Social skills can be learned, however. Prosocial behaviors can be taught by a variety of professionals using a multitude of techniques, including Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), to students with autism.
Students with autism who receive specially designed instruction (SDI) and related services are required to have an IEP. With an IEP comes an IEP team composed of many different individuals who work together to help the student meet IEP goals. In a number of cases, goals pertaining to social skills will be defined in an IEP for a student with autism. Social skills goals, like understanding body language or finding a compromise, may be written into the social/emotional section of the IEP.
Special education teachers are specifically trained to teach students with disabilities, including those with autism, and they may use specific resources and teaching strategies, like those found in ABA, to help students with autism learn social skills. We’ll circle back on this in more detail in just a bit!
Related-service providers may also play a role in teaching social skills to students with autism. For example:
Now that we know WHO can participate in the instructional process of teaching social skills, where does Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) come into play?
Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, is a practice-based science and instructional methodology in which the principles of learning and behavior are used to teach socially significant skills. These skills are taught in accessible, achievable steps so that learners can master multi step tasks one step at a time.
Commonly used among students with autism, the principles of ABA-structured techniques can be implemented among students of any age to help develop social skills.
Depending on the unique learning needs of each student, the techniques used to teach social skills will likely need to be individualized. For example, younger students may benefit from comic strips and other visual supports, while adolescents may respond better to role-playing scenarios.
From early childhood through to the transition to adulthood and beyond, Applied Behavior Analysis techniques can help students with autism learn social skills that will lead to the development of purposeful relationships, strengthened independence, and a boosted sense of well-being.
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.