Teaching Social Skills to Teens on the Autism Spectrum: Tips for Parents

"How should I deal with my 13-year-old son now? Should I simply accept him as he is now, or should I actively try to teach him ways to socialize in order to ‘fit in’ better (e.g., look in a person’s eyes when talking, how to be a friend, conversations should be two way instead of him delivering a monologue, etc.). Are these skills even teachable?"

These skills are very teachable, and you should definitely work on them with your child. This type of teaching should begin even earlier than age 13. But, at age 13, your child is likely to learn them more easily than he would have at a younger age.

Teens with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger's often have a difficult time during adolescence. They become isolated socially and face rejection and bullying due to the fact that they act differently from others. They long for friends, but have very weak social skills.

There are some teens that do well during these years (if they are indifferent to peer-pressure and focused on a special interest of their own). Encouraging your child to develop a special interest may help him form friendships with other teenagers that have the same interest.

One of the biggest issues for most teenagers on the autism spectrum is that they don’t care about the usual fads, adolescent activities, and peer expectations. Sometimes their interests are more appropriate for younger kids. Males may be rejected if they are not interested in sports. Some of these issues can be resolved by helping your child learn about fads, adolescent life, and sports.
==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management

Even if your child isn’t very interested or doesn’t want to participate in them, it will help him understand his friends. Teach him how to talk about celebrities, teen rituals, and sports using social stories and role-playing. Focus on teaching him how to speak briefly, and then wait for the other person to respond before he speaks again.

Encourage your child to initiate contact with friends, leave phone messages, and arrange social activities. Encourage him to join clubs, especially those that focus on a special interest of his. Some teenagers enjoy talking with other teens on the spectrum in internet chat rooms, forums, and on message boards.

It helps "special needs" teenagers if moms and dads are involved in arranging social interactions with friends. Parents should help organize and supervise appropriate activities. Teaching your son how to join a group, become a part of it, how to converse on common topics, make eye contact, etc., will definitely be a big boost to his emotional development.

Behavioral therapy with a counselor also helps these young people learn how to function. Any kind of therapy takes effort on the part of the teen and his mother or father. The success of therapy depends on the teen’s own desire to fit in.

Social stories can be used to teach appropriate behavior in a variety of settings. Social stories may be used by parents, therapists, or educators. Social Stories are a tool for teaching social skills and provide accurate information about situations that your child may find difficult or confusing. A situation is described in detail, and focus is placed on a few key points:
  • the actions and reactions that might be expected of the child
  • why certain actions and reactions are expected
  • important social cues
  • events and reactions the child might expect to occur

The goal is to (a) increase the child’s understanding of a particular situation, (b) make him more comfortable in social interactions, and (c) teach some responses that are appropriate for the context of the social exchange. 
More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

Here's what parents of teens with HFA and Asperger's have had to say about this issue:

Anonymous said... I started teaching my kid ways to socialize since she was 2, because in the park she always wanted to play by herself, and I always tried her to play with others. Today she is 9, and she still have problems to make friends, but she has improved a lot. Yes, you can teach your kid how to socialize. Just remember that it will take a lot of effort and you will not see the results right away.

Anonymous said... Why would you want to change who he is? Society perhaps should adapt to him. Pressure to be like others and to fit in with others is stressful and unnecessary.

Anonymous said... i do accept my son the way he is but i also teach him what is acceptable socially.

Anonymous said... My daughter is 8, and it is hard for ME to see her watch other kids, look like she wants to play with them, but doesnt know how. She is a high functioning Aspie, but with social things she doesnt do well with. Now if there are younger kids she sometimes attempts to play with them, mentally she is only 5, but the lil kids are intimidtaed by her size and dont understand she just wants to play.

Anonymous said... I could have written that myself !!! LOL Mine comes home from school crying that she's not allowed to play with the kids she understands, and doesn't understand the kids she's allowed to play with

Anonymous said... My son is 14 and he is different but he dose his best to fit in and it works he is very popular with many of his friends he go, s to under age disco, s and dances, and he is very lucky , but iv just let him be who he is and yes he has been bullied when he was younger but lucky he has gone forward in being a teenager and has gone leaps and bounds, my other aspie child is very different and she is nearly a teenager not sure how she will go but iv bought her up to be confident , in her normal self and with her differences made them special and all her friend love her , so all I cam say is love who they are and appreciate there differences and they will be fine ......:)

Anonymous said... Re: Why would you want to change who he is? Society prehaps should adapt to him. Pressure to be like others and to fit in with others is stressful and unnecessary... ...Unfortunately society is not likely to adapt to the Aspergers child. In fact, if the Aspergers child does not learn how to "fit-in", he/she may very well find himself/herself on the receiving end of some form of abuse. Sad fact for sure.

Anonymous said... In order to succeed socializing is a key component help him to learn skills that will help him navigate a social setting when necessary. There is a difference between choosing not to socialize and not knowing how to. You want him to know how to. We don't change our children that is impossible we equip, empower and build their skills. Socializing is a skill.

Anonymous said... They definitely are teachable. Some of it will depend on how much he wants to fit in. I was desperate to fit in, so I learned to look at people's mouths instead of eyes. I often don't say much to people to begin with, I tell them straight-up that I would love to get to know them but I struggle sometimes because I have Aspergers. Try to teach your son the important stuff... Good listening skills, the ability to try and see things from another's point of view, and most importantly that there are other people with Aspergers who he can vent to when the world frustrates him. He needs to feel comfortable being himself, even if he doesn't always fit in (no one ever fits in everywhere, Aspie or not). It took me til I was 29 to be told by my ASD son and daughter's psych that I have Aspergers. My own psych confirmed it. All I knew was that I never felt right. It used to make me really depressed. Now I know why I always felt like a freak, I love being Aspie. I accept myself, and I'm much much happier.

Anonymous said...This article could have been written about my 14 year old son. It is a constant effort to coach him through his social interactions. Luckily he is not defiant, and he is making progress, but it is slow . I wish society could be more forgiving, but it's tough out there, so I won't give up. Thank you for a great article.

Anonymous said... Your never going to be able to teach him anything.....All you can do is hope he grows out of his ways.trust me I've tried everything. And also me and my wife don't believe in meds.....That's just another addicting drug to add to an already bad situation.

Anonymous said...  My son is now 15 we/ he will never stop learning and growing! I think if I just left things as is , even though there are struggles my son Liam goes through, he would be disappointed in me if I didn't stay growing in this life with him and help him, yes help him not push him for all the negative commenters, to be his best him. Think about it, is it really any different if he didn't have Asperger? I also have a younger son, 14, its my responsibility and privileged to help him in any way to figure out his life, get him any help he needs as he grows. There are sooo many things you can do to still challenge him and yet make his life fun at the same time. Just get some help, lots and lits of help lol cuz us Asperger/autism moms need it! Don't give up just because it may seem hopeless at times or frustrating, it will be worth it in the end! God bless, Good luck, were here for you!

Anonymous said... All kids are different...me and my wife are not being discouraging. Even his doctor said all I can do is hope he grows out of some of his ways and over the last two years he has started to actually grow up some.

Anonymous said... as soon as I adopted my son, I asked a doc to take him off his meds. He's fine now. He's 15 and as he gets older, I see less awkwardness and more maturity. It's just a process but mostly you just have to keep pointing them in the right direction.

Anonymous said... Aspergers is just ONE part of your child! It is not the definition of your child ... Of course You should "accept" him - what else are you going to do, shun him!? Oh yes, please - lets do what everyone else in society is doing so he has no sense of safety!!! Grrr. This is 2015, people! Of course you should teach your child manners and expect him to behave accordingly (tho no one is perfect.) It's an on-going thing - social skills, learning to read social cues from peers - it's an every-day practiced task .... It takes patience & training. and for what it's worth - I feel like there is nothing wrong w/ using meds if that's what works for you ... I used to say "I never ..." Well guess what - life has taught me to never say "never" and never say "always." Can we please stop judging one another & try to be supportive?! If you're a parent of a child who is on the spectrum, you should at least know this much: you've met one kid on the spectrum, you've met one kid on the spectrum .... No one is alike in their diagnosis. So please - when everyone else in the world is shunning our amazing kids, can we please try to show them a little love & understanding?

Anonymous said... Be thankful your child didn't need meds. Mine could not have attended school if we didn't use them for anxiety and he is now a pleasant 17 year old. His behaviors have constantly changed and improved over the years. Maturity and experience help. We still limit too much exposure to crowds, smells, stress, but he is so much more willing to try different situations now.

Anonymous said... I don't give my Apsie 13 yr old daughter meds. I have never treated her like she is different, she gets enough of that at school. Aspie kids are NOT dumb, stupid, or idiots. They learn. Right now my aspie kid is helping my sister in law out with organizing stuff. She is the laziest child, part of this may be the apsie in her, part I know is the 13 yr old. I make my kid go places sometimes, not all the time, just sometimes. Take him swimming at the public pool. If that's too much, go early when it first opens. Take them to the mall, even if it's a 15-30 min trip. Never give up, and never think anything is impossible! My kids teach me this everyday!

Anonymous said... I thinks dads in general are negative. My son's father told him he was sick of his aspergers. Just stop it. HELLO!!!! It isn't going away. You have to deal with it. Two young men in Seattle that have aspergers started a self help and coaching. Aspergers experts.they are awesome.

Anonymous said... I work with children and aspergers children, its in my family and I'm told I am. Teach your children love, kindness and acceptance. I am always real with children I have had some lovely experiences of aspergers children, I love their honesty. We all have to fit into this world, thus sometimes cruel world, but they'll be fine if they have guidance.

Anonymous said... Where there is a will there is a way. I will never give up on my son and if one way does t work we will find another. My son is 8 and we take each day as it comes. We have looked foe things he is good at and it turns out he is a great springboard diver. We are looking to get him a service dog (they have great success with aspergers kids) we see a therapist every other week because he like going and talking to him. His meds doctor has been great and monitors him closely. We still have bad days and we still have our struggles but really what kid doesnt. Things sink in you just can't give up

Anonymous said... Meds are more then likely not for Aspies, but for anxiety. My son has major anxiety and could not even leave his room without them. Being an Aspie is not a problem at all! Unless you blame the anxiety from having Aspergers. Learning daily and trying to get through.

Anonymous said... My aspie is beautiful xx and from a young age has been a blessing .. he events teaches me stuff and in return he wants to learn to socialise we reach each other . And I wouldn't have him any other way .. the anxiety comes in stages and at his age it's up to me to recognise when and what to do quickly.

Anonymous said... Are you a parent? Then it is your job to teach your child how to function and act in their world. I'm confused why if a child is an Aspie, you aren't supposed to parent? I'm an Aspie, my son's an Aspie. Most people think he is neurotypical in brief meetings, and that I am outgoing. Why? Because we work to learn how to convey behaviours that are socially acceptable. That doesn't mean we are completely without our quirks. My son is 11 and feels more comfortable in his skin knowing he can respond appropriately in certain situations, and minimize awkwardness. Once he gets to know someone, they've already achieved some comfort in his presence and are accepting of his quirks. He'll never be a cookie cutter person, but he also will have the know how to convey compassion and empathy to the people he cares about, even if he doesn't fully understand the problem they are having.

Anonymous said... We help our son as much as we can.he has special help at school,special docs etc we haven't given up its just that the more things change the more they stay the same it just gets discouraging to us at times.....that's all...prayer is the thing that works the best.without God we couldn't deal with it as we do.but it is hard but with Gods help he will grow up into a fine young boy and we do love him.

Anonymous said... We tried to connect with other families with kids that are simular and we joined a social group. We go out to other kids houses and special outings by our group. We found that the more confortable our son is with something the more like he is to be more social. An example is finding friends for our son, he is now confortable going out in public with his friends or with groups where he has already meet people. He has taught some of his friends the things he like (yu gi oh) and they have taught him some of their's. That way they are not always talking about their one thing. Also if you can find a group for things your son likes then he can talk with them about stuff. The more you get out the more confortable he will be. Not sure where you are but there is a group called TAG teens w/ aspergers group in our area and we do a lot of fun things together. It's a nice time for parents to talk too.

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