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How to Enhance Communication Skills and Social Competence in Kids on the Autism Spectrum

“If we had to choose only one, what would be the best intervention strategy for our child with HFA?”

For most children with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s (AS), the most important treatment strategy would definitely be to enhance communication and social competence (i.e., social skills training).

The goal is not to force the child to “conform to societal pressure” or to stifle individuality and uniqueness. Instead, the goal reflects the fact that most kids on the autism spectrum are not loners by choice. 

Also, there is a tendency (as these kids develop towards the teenage years) for anxiety, depression, despondency, and negativism as a result of the child’s increasing awareness of personal inadequacy in social situations, and repeated experiences of failure to make and maintain relationships.

The typical limitations of insight and self-reflection found in kids on the spectrum often prevent spontaneous self-adjustment to social and interpersonal demands. Social skills training prepares the “special needs” child to cope with social and interpersonal expectations, therefore enhancing his or her attractiveness as a conversational partner or as a potential friend or companion.

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management: A Complete Program That Parents Can Easily Utilize

The following are suggestions intended to foster relevant skills in this crucial area:

1. The HFA or AS child should be taught to monitor his own speech style in terms of the following:
  •  adjusting depending on proximity to the speaker
  • context and social situation
  • naturalness
  • number of people and background noise
  • rhythm
  • volume

2. Through verbal means, the child should be helped to recognize and use a range of different means to:
  • disagree
  • discuss
  • interact
  • mediate
  • negotiate
  • persuade

3. In order to increase the flexibility with which the child both thinks about - and uses language with - other people, it is be important to help the him or her to:
  •  anticipate multiple outcomes
  • develop the ability to make inferences
  • explain motivation
  • predict

4. The effort to develop the HFA or AS child’s skills with peers in terms of managing social situations should be a priority. This should include:
  •  ending topics appropriately
  • feeling comfortable with a range of topics that are typically discussed by same-age peers
  • shifting topics
  • the ability to expand and elaborate on a range of different topics initiated by others
  • topic management

5. Explicit verbal instructions on how to interpret other people's social behavior should be taught in a fashion not unlike the teaching of a foreign language (i.e., rote fashion; all elements should be made verbally explicit and appropriately and repeatedly drilled). For example:
  • facial and hand gestures
  • gaze
  • non-literal communications such as humor, figurative language, irony, sarcasm and metaphor
  • the meaning of eye contact
  • tone of voice
  • various inflections

6. The same principles should guide the training of the child’s expressive skills. Concrete situations should be exercised and gradually tried out in naturally occurring situations. All those in close contact with the child (teachers, coaches, etc.) should be made aware of the program so that consistency, monitoring and contingent reinforcement are maximized.

7. Encounters with unfamiliar people (e.g., making acquaintances) should be rehearsed until the child is made aware of the impact of her behavior on others’ reactions to her. Strategies include:

•    watching a video recorded behavior
•    practicing in front of a mirror
•    listening to the recorded speech

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management: A Complete Program That Parents Can Easily Utilize

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