Developing Social Skills at Home and School

Aspergers (high functioning autistic) children usually want to fit in and have relationships with other people – they just don’t know how to do so properly. They lack an understanding of conventional social rules and often “appear” to lack empathy. In order to improve socialization, Aspergers kids need to learn and focus on socialization from an “intellectual” standpoint. What may come naturally for those without Aspergers needs concentration by those with it.

Perhaps the best socialization tips for Aspergers children come from practice. The only way for the youngster to learn how to be social is to participate in numerous events and outings.

How to Help Aspergers Children Develop Social Skills—

Tips for Parents:

1. Communicate with pictures. To teach Aspergers children to be social, incorporate picture stories into their daily lives. This is important for difficult subjects such as sharing and communicating feelings. The stories should communicate how to handle the situation.

2. During the teenage years, dating is often difficult. Encourage adolescents to go out with friends and to date. It may take practice, but they will learn social skills with each outing.

3. Education is an important part of Aspergers socialization. Kids may be unable to grasp socialization skills initially, but as they get older, they can learn what gestures mean and how to interact with peers.

4. Encourage socialization from a young age by bringing other kids into the home. With supervision, allow play dates to be teaching moments. A mother or father might say, "See how Michael has his hand outstretched? That means he wants to say hello with a handshake. Shake his hand."

5. Help them get involved in sports and extracurricular activities. Through practice, kids and teens can learn to be socially positive.

6. Help them make friends. In school and other social situations, Aspergers children will perform best with a parent's aid. Find a friend for your child at school that he knows and can work with. Your youngster may eventually learn from the friend how to interact.

7. Reduce anxiety for your child whenever possible. Keep the rest of his life structured and organized and ensure that the environment is a positive and rewarding one. This allows him to focus on social interactions without concern about other difficulties.

8. Utilize role-play at home prior to any type of excursion. Role-play allows the child to image all of the various scenarios that could happen. Then, teach strategies for dealing with situations that are difficult.

9. Work with a psychologist and counselor to teach and improve social skills. Therapies often teach children with Aspergers to recognize potential problem situations. In addition, these professionals teach and practice strategies with children so they can handle most situations.

10. Work with a speech pathologist that will evaluate and offer help with language. Even though your youngster may speak perfectly, learning social language is often necessary. Learning eye contact from a speech pathologist, for example, is an important skill.

Tips for Teachers:

1. A clarity and explicitness of rules in the classroom to minimize uncertainty and to provide the basis for tangible rewards should be implemented.

2. Agree to a later time and place for responding to the Aspergers child’s repeated questioning about a particular topic of interest.

3. Agree with the Aspergers child and his classmates a signal to be used by those classmates when they are tired of listening to the Aspergers child talk about his topic of interest.

4. Allow some practice of talking at a reasonable volume with an agreed signal to be given if it is too loud – or tape-record his speech so that the child can evaluate the volume himself.

5. Encourage participation in school clubs or organized/structured activities during the lunchtime.

6. Have a regular time slot for support from an adult in terms of feedback concerning (social) behavior, discussing what is going well and less well, and why – and enabling the child to express concerns or versions of events.

7. Have the child’s peers model social skills. A “buddy” might also be encouraged to be the partner of the child in games, showing how to play, and offering or seeking help if the child is teased.

8. Help the child to recognize his symptoms of stress or distress with a "script" by which to try relaxation strategies – or have in place a system where it is acceptable for the child briefly to remove himself from the class as necessary.

9. Identify particular skills in the target child and invite him to offer some help to another child who is less advanced (e.g., with the use of the computer).

10. If obsessive talking appears to mask some anxiety, seek to identify its source, or teach general relaxation techniques.

11. In a group setting, adopt the “circle-time” strategy of limiting verbal contributions to whomsoever is in possession of some object (while ensuring that the object circulates fairly among the whole group).

12. In the classroom setting, instructions should be very precise with no opportunity to misunderstand what is expected. It may be necessary to follow up group instructions with individual instructions rather than assuming that the target child has understood what is needed or can learn "incidentally" from watching what other children do.

13. Make it clear that one will respond to the question only when a given task has been completed.

14. Make use of the "Circles of Friends" approach designed to identify (social) difficulties, and to set targets and strategies by which other children in the class can be helpful and supportive, with the long term aim of increasing social integration and reducing anxiety.

15. Model social skills for the target child to observe – or view and discus a video-tape of two people talking or playing, including reference to any non-verbal messages which can be discerned.

16. Provide a visual timetable plus bulletins of any innovations so there is no uncertainty about the day's routine.

17. Provide direct advice about when and for how long the child may go on about a favorite topic, perhaps with the use of a signal by which to indicate when to stop (or not to start).

18. Provide direct teaching about social situations such as how to recognize when someone is joking or how to recognize how someone else is feeling. Begin with a series of cartoon faces with clearly drawn expressions indicating anger, amusement, etc. Then have the target child identify the various feelings and guess what caused them.

19. Provide direct teaching of social rules or conventions which guide interactions and which most children learn without direct input. These might include how to greet somebody, how to initiate a conversation, taking turns in a conversation, and maintaining appropriate eye contact.

20. Provide direct teaching of what to do (or what not to do) in certain situations, such as when the teacher is irritated either with the individual child or with the whole group.

21. Provide specific and structured activities which are to be shared with one or two selected classmate(s). These might range from some jobs to be completed in the school during break or lunch time, games involving turn-taking, or tasks or mini-projects to be completed on the computer.

22. Provide time, attention, and positive feedback when the child is not talking about the given topic of interest.

23. The establishment of a "buddy" system or a system where the child in question is encouraged to observe how other children behave in particular situations is helpful.

24. Use a video of a situation to illustrate behavior that is inappropriate in, for example, causing irritation to other children. Then discuss why. Also, make a video of the target child himself and discus where there are incidents of good social behaviors.

25. Use games or role-play to focus on the viewpoint of another person. This might include simply looking at pictures of children or adults interacting or working together or sharing some activity, and asking what is happening or what a given individual is doing, and what he might be thinking.

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