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Social Skills and Autism

Welcome to this installment of ‘Topic of the Week.’ These topics stem from submissions from our community. If there is anything in particular that you would like to see featured, please contact us!

People on the autism spectrum often have issues with social interactions. Often, a person on the spectrum has difficulty with basic social skills. How do you work on your social skills or the skills of your child? What tips do you have and what strategies do you use to improve this skill set?

For more information on social skills, including information from experts, teachers, and families, along with useful resources to help enhance your family member’s opportunities to be part of the community please visit this installment of Community Connections.

  1. Danielle
    March 28, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    I actually put him into a social skills group. He learned more from being around peers than if I try to teach him at home. He did really well and gained a lot of good social skills.

  2. wisewoman
    March 28, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    My son is 23, graduated from college, and job hunting. While these aren’t necessarily social skills, they are important to the process. Before he makes a phone call he lists his questions, and we practice succinct telephone greetings. We practice sitting without fidgeting for interviews, and alternate behaviors for those times when he might nervously touch his face and scratch his head.

  3. mary
    March 28, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    My daughter has Aspergers and we have put her in many activities that require her to interact socially like Girl Scouts and she is also on the Franklin Park Syncronized skating team. She watched her sister do all these things and curiosity got the best of her until she asked to try them. We talk a lot about doing specific social activities until she knows that if she does not care for it we do not have to do it. She has come so far she goes on camping trips and competitions the other girls take her under their wings and let her be herself. I thank God everyday for those people who accept her and make her feel welcome.

  4. Jennifer
    March 28, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    My son in now mainstreamed in regular classes. I have seen him develop more this year than in the past. I have noticed him making large strides in communicating with peers his own age. I am not saying we are were I want him to be but we are getting closer.

    • Holly
      March 28, 2011 at 2:34 pm

      My son is five and starting mainstream classes next year.. I’m nervous but have full faith in him. I am hoping that this will be the push he needs so that we can make the step needed to help him with his social skills. Helps to hear that it worked for you guys, and I’m so happy for you and your son! Thank you

      • Sharon
        March 28, 2011 at 3:13 pm

        We are pushing to have our son “mainstreamed” for 1st Grade…he has been in a self contained classroom thus far. I too am nervous… but also have faith… Life is not a self contained classroom & my son is going to have to learn how to navigate through life in his own way. Hoping we get the same results as Jennifer :)

    • Nichole Lennon
      March 28, 2011 at 7:37 pm

      My son is in kindergarten and in a contained SDC class. It’s got kids of varying ages. He’s still got difficulties with socializing but he’s made progress from when he was only playing by himself. I think the lack of communication and verbal skills makes it more difficult for him. They said once he’s ready they’ll slowly integrate him into mainstream. I am glad to learn that there is a new program starting next year that is more for him then his current class. I hope it all goes well with transitioning.

  5. March 28, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    Veleka’s Acting Classes http://www.actorsalliance.com has helped me with these nonverbal skills and social ques, very challenging to me, but it works. Friends that take the time, patience, and understanding and teaching or reminding with tips with love and loving tones. Tell sweetly what to expect because I cannot read minds.

    We can and are learning these social skills and nonverbal language.

    Susie

  6. Maryjayne
    March 28, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    My son is 16 and has Aspergers. He has a very difficult time socilaizing. I put him in a social group and he went one time and absolutely refuses to go back. Any ideas?

    • Cindy Strecker
      March 28, 2011 at 5:45 pm

      What does he like to do?

    • AUDREY MONTAGUE
      March 29, 2011 at 11:55 am

      My son is 17 and hated his social skills group too! He thought they were all wierd, which made me chuckle, as they all have Aspergers like him,lol. At a counselor’s suggestion, he got into volunteering at the local animal shelter. He does get some social skills there, and it has really boosted his self esteem. He is also involved in Boy Scouts, and that, too, has helped immensely. I hope this helps you. Best Wishes to both of you. Hang in there! God Bless!

    • September 4, 2011 at 12:46 pm

      Same happened with me too. But i did not refused to go.

  7. March 28, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    I currently run an organization called ARTS Rx which has open enrollment for our new Creative Arts/Social Skills Group Series for children with special needs. Our Sunday program runs
    for 2 hours and 15 minutes and includes Art, Dance/Movement and Music Therapy Groups.

    We offer an integrated approach that combines hands-on creative arts experiences through the modalities of art therapy, music therapy, and dance therapy with best-practice interventions to address treatment goals such as: Social Skills, Coping Skills, Communication, Sensory Integration, Attention Span, Self Esteem, and Developmental Growth.
    Classes: 3/27, 4/3, 4/10, 4/17, 5/1, 5/8, 5/15 & 5/22

    Ages: 3-8

    Time: 10am-12:15pm

    Group Size: Small groups with 8 participants maximum, Ratio of children to staff is no more than 2:1

    Price: Sliding Scale Fee Available

    Location: 39 West 14th Street (Suite # 508) New York, NY 10011 (between 5th and 6th Ave)

    Easy accessible to subways: N,Q,R,4,5,6, to Union Square, F to 14th
    St./6th Avenue, OR 1,2,3 to 14th St./7th Avenue (Free Street Parking
    Sundays)

    Free Trial Sessions Available!
    Please feel free to pass along to anyone who may be interested.

  8. Mary
    March 28, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    My son participated in summer and school musical theatre productions, even before he could really speak (he would do the hand movements and dance) and always made so much progress being around his peers. From this, he has always been accepted by the theatre kids and we did a social skills theatre group, which my son loved and made incredible progress from and fast. The theatre teacher had to move on and we had to stop, until I find another person with that experience to replace him, but that was even better than the regular social skills group at the clinic. They performed appropriate and inappropriate skits, ranging from bus riding, sitting in class, how to sweet talk someone to get what you want, to liking a girl and appropriate ways to respond and even flirt. He is 13 and very much into girls…this is really where we struggle, so I hope to find someone to start up again real soon!

  9. March 28, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    My local camp for special needs people has a 2 week peer camp. One to one ratio of children on the spectrum to typically developing peers. My non verbal son goes to a LOT of therapy and has a LOT of opportunities and a lot of education, so much any parent would be glad to live here, I think, and I think in many ways he did more in that 2 weeks of day camp than he did all year in school or therapy. It was AMAZING. For my other son (Aspie), he just does some role playing at school, he also took speech therapy which helps a LOT. There are some social skills camps here, at least two others besides the camp I mentioned above. (Dubuque ROCKS.)

  10. March 28, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Believe it or not TaeKwanDo has helped my Aspie son tremendously. The class is filled with social interaction. It also helps his sense of body something he has problems with as well. He is made aware of spacing and where his body ends ad others begins. It is helping build his core muscles as well. He can now do push ups. Most importantly it helps with his self confidence and is teaching him self defense. He is only 10 but I often worry about middle school and bullies. I feel comfortable that should my son ever be faced with that type of situation he would be able to defend himself. That is a HUGE relief for me.

    • mommynash
      March 31, 2011 at 11:33 am

      My 12yr old Aspie son has also been doing Taekwondo since he was 7. It has been great for him also. It gives him a chance to socialize & to do a sport that doesn’t require a “team” effort. It seems to also help with self disipline. He is now working on his Black Belt. My son started middle school this year & although there wasn’t a difficult transition, he is in a private christian school K-12, the social differences have become more apparent. Thankfully he is surrounded by teachers that really care for him & help him to navigate some of the school day issues. He hasn’t had any of the direct bullying but there has been indirect bullying.

  11. Sarah
    March 28, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    Our son was in a strict “social skills” group for ASD children – where they specifically “taught” social skills. He hated it (and certainly didn’t gain any skills). The one bright light to this program: when he was first grappling with the fact that he was different than his schoolmates, I could point out that child-x and child-y had ASD too. Also, he made some friends who we see socially to this day. So, there was some good.

    Now he is in a fun “friendship” group for kids with ASD – he loves it and social skills are taught on the fly with guidance by the teachers. No set “goals” for the week – just the week’s activity: bowling, hiking, scavenger hunt, etc. and whatever social skills they can teach as they go.

    He is also in Scouts, which he adores. He is in his fourth year of Scouts and is now a “leader” of his mini-group. Wonderful.

    Sports – terrible, but my husband still insists he plays soccer and hockey (both are torture and he plays one age group down). Or, as I would call these two sports: giant-super-joint-attention games (while being expected to have coordination as well). He is certainly gaining no social skills here. Just how to manage his frustration (well, I guess one social skill).

    I would strongly suggest physical activity, but sports requiring less joint attention (e.g., karate, horseback riding, bicycling, skiing, fencing, tennis and badminton).

  12. March 28, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    I have a brave and beautiful child of 7 with PDD-NOS/ADHD. He lost a kidney during childbirth and due to this he is limited to certain activities. But there is so much he can do and I encourage him and we do it as a family together. His dad helps coach his little league team so that he has a someone close by for support and helps to guide him (and watch him for he is a wanderer). He is allowed to attend school functions and we take our support system of family and friends along so that he is interacting at all times. People stare and give us the looks but I don’t back down and I smile and applaude him! He maybe different but aren’t we all! We use all the support that is offered and those who know him offer so much. That is my advise just encourage them to try, don’t worry about the looks and stares. God gave me my son for a reason… I needed to be loved by someone great! (I feel this way towards both of my children)

  13. laurie L Jarvis
    March 28, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    Hi,

    My son is 25 years old and this continues to be, and I suspect will always be his biggest challenge day to day.

    The best thing we can do to help him prepare for social interactions, is to tell him much in advance that there is an event we need him to attend or that company is arriving, so that he can process that a a speed he needs to. It was the best tool I was ever taught when he was 8 years old. When I neglect to use this tool, he will have difficulty with interacting with those he needs to interact with.

    It is a difficult decision to make as to whether those he needs to interact with, should know about his AS, or whether we should let the chips fall as they may. It is a situation to situation choice. The older he has become, the less we share that information. He is now able to control and handle the anxiety more as an adult in many situations.

  14. Becka
    March 28, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    My Kindergarten son (Aspie) does a weekly lunch group at school. Aside from this he is not in any group classes yet. He is interacting with the other children in his class significantly more then when he was in pre-school. He is still young so I am not sure how his behavior will change as he grows. I also feel that having a brother only 17 months younger has helped. Even though he generally prefers to play alone he will still, at times, play with his brother. I have thought about putting him in other classes, but I am not sure if he would like them. Does anyone know of a Special Needs automotive class for little kids? lol He would LOVE that!

  15. Donna W.
    March 28, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    My son is 19 and has Aspergers. He does have a few friends and will socialize with them when he is asked to. He would still rather be alone with his computer. For the most part, these are friends he has known for awhile now…a couple since second grade and the rest from 8th or 9th grade. He has trouble making new friends and really has no desire to. He refuses to believe that he has Aspergers and says that he is just the way God made him. On the whole, he is a good kid–kind hearted, sweet and gentle. But he is also extremely unorganized, and won’t take a shower or change clothes unless I insist over and over again.
    When he was younger, he tried soccer, basketball and baseball at the insistence of my husband. He never liked sports and didn’t feel like he fit in, until he tried kenpo karate. It has helped him build self confidence and physical strength. He is no longer taunted and bullied like he used to be when he was younger. I would highly recommend karate.

  16. Tammy
    March 28, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    My Son has friendship group at school, he finds it really difficult to concentrate when his peers talk to him, the school is teaching the other children to speak directly and clearly to him, ensuring that the other children say his name before speaking to him, its a long process but we have seen some small signs of improvement over the 2 years.

  17. renita
    March 28, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    my son is 5 and he was diagnosed with autism when he was about 3 yrs old. i am a young single mother with not much help, can anyone help me with some ideas for my son? he doesnt talk or potty yet. i found myself making extra patience for him which isnt a problem but dont really know what to do to help him, this is my first born n i want to help him at home. he is in school he sees therapists a fe ties out a week. we live in mississippi.

    • Edith
      March 28, 2011 at 6:57 pm

      the school district in your area should be helping you in providing especial education for your son, that’s how they helped me with mine, and they also help him potty trained.

    • Edith
      March 28, 2011 at 6:59 pm

      the school district in your area should be helping you in providing especial education for your son, that’s how they helped me with mine, and they also help him potty trained.

  18. Tammy Dodge
    March 28, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    Our son is 8 with PDDNOS and fortunately he does well academically. Due to this, his social skills have been his main focus. He has spent time at a social skills “camp” here in Buffalo, called Connections. It has been an amazing program for him and Canisius has more programs for these kids as well.

  19. Angie
    March 28, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    My kids joined a “Social Skills Play Clinic” at CARD (Center for Autism and Related Disabilities) in Jacksonville, Florida, led by a wonderful coordinator who taught the kids social skills while playing. They had so much fun, that they didn’t even realize that they were learning proper ways to interact with other people. I wasn’t sure if they would be able to assimilate these skills to every day situations, but one day when we were walking around Target, both kids said “HI!” to everyone they encountered using DIFFERENT greetings each time: “Hi!” “How ya doin?” “What’s up?” I almost cried happy tears. :)

  20. Michelle
    March 28, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    I worry about my sons isolation from other children. My son is 10 years old son, he is an only child and has very limited verbal skills. He is also in an autism specific class. I have looked and looked for a social skills class but no one has a class that will take someone with his verbal abilities. He is enrolled in a special needs Cub Scouts group that is wonderful.

  21. Jeff Winberry
    March 29, 2011 at 3:13 am

    My son Jonathan is nineteen. He had tremendous support all through K-12, and was diagnosed as aspergers. The kids he went to school with really watched out for him, as did his teachers. He graduated with a 3.6GPA, and was accepted to the Univercity of Arizona without a problem (we chose Arizona because they were supposed to have a great program for Aspergers kids.). For the first semester he seemed to be doing ok. But, at the start of the second semester he had a complete meltdown. Stopped attending class, basically he locked himself in his room (living off delivery pizza, and ice cream). No one at the school noticed. He is back living at home now. He has been reclassified as Autistic. He very rarely leaves the house, and doesn’t interact with anyone except his 9yr old brother.
    We have him in group therapy, and one-on-one counseling. I fear he may never recover the lost ground. Any ideas?

  22. Debra Van Den Elzen
    March 29, 2011 at 11:45 pm

    My 4 year old son has difficulty with social interactions. I take him to our local children’s museum or library on a weekday when I know there will be only a few younger kids. This gives him opportunities to socialize with a few kids and I can be nearby to coach him. Also, I arrange for 1 play pal to come to our house to “practice” socializing. Occasionally, I will invite 3-4 kids over to challenge him.

  23. Beverly Miller
    March 30, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    My son has Asperger’s. Luckily, I identified early the things that he excelled in. Unfortunately, most were things he could do individually, as he has trouble making friends. He’s in college and I have to make certain that he dresses properly and is clean; he simply doesn’t care. But by being clean and he’s good looking, he won’t offend strangers. When he was little, I put him a group called Brothers Keeper, an afterschool program my sister founded. He stayed in it until he graduated. I have put into place at his university, where a number of my friends work, a support system. It was hard, but it works. And mostly I continue to pray that God will put in path, the right people.

  24. margaret olivares
    March 31, 2011 at 12:59 am

    My son is 13 years old and has a lot of difficulty with social skills. Things that have helped him have been social skills groups one in school and one outside of school and karate. Like a few others have said karate has made him stronger, more coordinated and much more self confident. I can’t imagine where he would be without it. I have also been really working with him to make phone calls and socialize with friends

  25. Lisa Royster
    March 31, 2011 at 8:10 am

    I have worked with children with Autism for 20 years now and LOVE MY JOB!! Social Skills is an area where many children need assistance – not just children with Autism. But, it is so important that children be accepted ~ period. Growing up in todays world is difficult enough let alone if they have a disability. Love these children!!!!

  26. Izzy
    June 13, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    Social skills education is definitely the answer, and is something everyone should have. But forcing kids into social situations is…iffy. I am exhausted by constant interaction, and putting someone into a situation where there are expectations that they don’t recognize is usually pretty unpleasant. Even after years of learning social skills, I still dread going to camps, parties, or even sleepovers, and I’m 16! It’s simply exhausting.

    Simply put, social skills are a good thing to learn for autistic kids, but please, please please don’t force them into uncomfortable social situations.

  27. September 28, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    Ive taught a few kids with disabilities. I get a great sense of pride from it. I alway get told how karate helps them so much .

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