4 Ideas to Help ASD Kids Develop Social Skills
Whether or not you are new to the diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder, the topic of social skills will be one that you will revisit throughout your child’s life. After all, humans are social creatures and we grow through our connections. It is something we want for ourselves and our kids.
I get asked by other moms for ideas on how to teach social skills to their children on the spectrum. I think social skills can be taught, but we want to teach them in a controlled way first. If your child already gets overwhelmed in social situations, then you don’t want to first teach those skills in a noisy, buzzing unfamiliar environment. So I think it is important to go back to basics.
First, you need to find the right environment that will support social skills learning. But how do you find an environment for our kids that will work?
Here are ideas for creating social settings to teach valuable social skills.
1. Talk to your Pediatric Speech, Occupational and/or Physical Therapist: If your child is already working with a Speech therapist or OT or PT, then ask them if they have a group or if they are willing to start one. In my experience, these professionals are more than happy to create programs for kids when they feel there is a need. You are probably not the first parent asking them about social skills. But you might be the first one brave enough to ask them to create one. They have access to lots of parents and they can try to get a commitment from other parents, too and then create a group. This would be the first place I would start.
2. Create a Meetup: Meetup.com is an online social networking portal that facilitates offline group meetings. You can start and create a social skills group by reaching out to other parents in your community through this site. First thing to do is to go to their site and search and see if there are any social skills groups that already exist in your area. If you find one, great! Join it! If not, then you can start one yourself. But, before you actually create one online, find your venue and book it. Often your local library will have a room you can use at low or no cost for community events. You need to find the venue and square it away because once you create your Meetup online, they will blast out the invitation to everyone that might be interested in your group and you want to capitalize on their marketing your meeting for you. If you make changes to your Meetup after they sent out the information, you will have missed out on this valuable opportunity to spread the word. This is a great resource for you to also find community support for you, too.
3. Have friends and siblings join in: If you have other children, do not miss this valuable opportunity to get them involved. It is a win-win situation when you get siblings involved. Your ASD child gets to learn from his or her siblings and your other children get to learn a lot about their sibling and about their own capacity to understand and be patient. So don’t dismiss this. Your children will probably love being a “teacher” for their sibling. Schedule 30 minutes 2xs a week to start to have your children do something together that you feel will focus on social skills. Be careful not to just let them “wing it” or just hang out. Focus on a particular skill and create a curriculum.
4. What do you teach? Once you have decided where you will teach your child, you have to decide what you will teach. One of the best places to begin, if you are new to all of this, is with a game that involves turn-taking. This is easy to prompt and you can decide before hand how many turns will be taken and increase the number of turns over time. Of course, build in your child’s favorite reinforcer into this so they will tolerate the turn-taking experience. This is an excellent place to start, and one you can get started on today, if you are stuck thinking about what skills to teach.
I also highly recommend getting a resource book like STARS-Social Skills Training and Readiness Skills. This book has a planned curriculum of activities that are ready to use to improve peer communication and cooperation through a multisensory approach. So when you are looking to expand your child’s skills, go to a wonderful resource like this so you don’t have to figure it all out on your own.
Deciding to help your child improve his or her social skills is no easy task, and it is one that as parents we will probably work on over the course of our child’s life. Even though it is overwhelming to think about, remember to take it in one step at a time and breakdown the skills so you can create small goals. At the end of the day, make sure everyone had fun so that you can bring everyone back together to continue to enjoy each other’s company!