Yes, you can teach social skills to children with autism
Surprised? Just like every other skill that your child with autism will learn, you will have to think outside the box, work at their developmental level and make it a habit regularly. Those three things will guarantee success with social skills training.
Thinking outside the box simply means you can’t just throw your child into a social situation and hope for the best. What I have found to be a recipe for success here in Autismland, is to have a working list of skills Logan needs to work on as well as his current developmental level. This enables me to know what outings we need to have that month to work on specific skills. Yes, I schedule social skill outings into our calendar each week. Social skills training is treated as one of our homeschool subjects. I can not expect success if I do not give him the proper training.
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“Yes, I schedule social skill outings into our calendar each week. Social skills training is treated as one of our homeschool subjects. I can not expect success if I do not give him the proper training.” –Penny Woodin Rogers
Developing a social skills training plan
As I look at the ever-evolving list, I come up with a plan to achieve success in those skills. Before he can be expected to perform the skill, I must teach it. This is where children with autism differ from typically developing children. You have to be purposeful in teaching these concepts. We use social stories, books, and lots of pretend interaction. A great tool is to self-talk when you are utilizing the skill in your own life. If we are working on greetings then here’s the interaction:
“Oh look, there’s my friend, Jill. The polite thing to do would be to say Hi. I will walk over to her, say Hello then have a quick conversation. I don’t really have time to chat though. Hmmmm, what could I do instead? Oh! I could wave and say Hi Jill from here then continue on with what we need to do. That way, we can finish what we need to do and I can greet my friend.”
All of this usually happens in your head quickly when you see your friend. What you are doing is saying it out loud to model and teach it to your child. Yes, you will look silly at times. That is unimportant. This is a crucial step in the process. Don’t skip it.
Just like every other expectation you have of your child, make sure the skills you are working on are appropriate for your child’s developmental level. You would expect a 3-year-old to need to be prompted regularly to say Thank you. If your child is working at that level, regardless of their chronological age, you would do the same thing.
I would not expect Logan to be able to navigate a dinner party while we are working on please and thank you. Make sure your expectations for social skills training are realistic. Take your eyes away from their typically developing peers. You will reap phenomenal success by simply working at their level.
The most important part of teaching social skills to children with autism is repetition
They have to practice, practice, and practice some more. You have to present the skill in many different scenarios. Since most children with autism think in pictures, the best teaching tool is hands on. You have to go out into many different places to show them how to apply it. You are making new synapses in the brain. I don’t know about you but if I don’t put in on our calendar then it never happens. I treat social skills training just like my core subjects of math and reading, right down to scheduling phone calls for Logan to practice.
Social skills training for your child with autism can seem tedious
It can be defeating when you see same age peers doing it naturally. Stick to it. The independence your child will gain by being able to navigate a confusing social world will be invaluable. The more Logan can do for himself means the less he has to depend on others who may or may not have his best interests at heart. That fact alone makes it all worth it.
About Penny Woodin Rogers of Our Crazy Adventures in Autismland
Just a homeschooling mom attempting to navigate Autismland with my teenage son with autism and the rest of my goofy family. We love Jesus and live gluten-free… One kid with celiac and one gluten-free for his autism. We utilize the Charlotte Mason approach mixed with lots of field trips. Just sharing my adventures to make you feel better about your family and maybe learn a thing or two that helps!!
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