What is the best way to teach social skills to my adolescent son who has Aspergers?
Asperger’s Syndrome (high-functioning autism) makes it hard for people to handle social situations. It is important to remember that a person can appear socially comfortable, using proper speech, good behavior, and impeccable manners. However, these things do not make a person socially able. Having these qualities will not help with the real issues of socialization. You have to find ways to teach basic, age appropriate social skills so your son will feel natural among his peers.
Social skills therapy is used to teach real interaction within a peer group. At school, your son should be able to participate in a social skills group. This type of therapy is guided by a therapist and includes kids in the same age and social ability ranges. The therapist will initiate conversation within the group, and then have the kids practice some basic pre-scripted situations among themselves. They are given the tools they need during therapy to use in real-life opportunities.
Some schools have peer group shadowing. Peer shadowing enlists the aid of a select group from the general education population, preparing them to assist children with Asperger’s in the daily communication and interaction skills they are missing. The shadows are trained to break down the normal conversations that they automatically understand and deliver the skills in a step-by-step fashion. For example, the peer is taught to ask about another child’s day in simple terms and then how to respond in a straight-forward manner to keep the conversation going. The child with Asperger’s is then able to mirror the behavior he sees coming from his peer. The peer learns valuable lessons in tolerance while the child with Asperger’s learns the basic social skills he so desperately needs. Not only will your son learn how to deal with social situations this way, he will also get a chance to interact with kids at school that may have never given him a chance.
Social stories are a very popular option for teaching social skills. More often thought about for younger kids, you can now find them written specifically for the needs of the adolescent or teen Asperger’s kids. Some are even in comic book form. Your son may find these interesting, easy to read and effective. Plus, he will be in control of the situations he learns about. As he ages, he probably will not want his parents to know everything about what he’s thinking on a social level.
Direct involvement is one of the best ways to reach kids this age. Give your son ownership by allowing his input when searching for answers. Adolescence is the time to encourage a bit of independence. Let him know that he can learn to handle and even enjoy relationships.
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