Helping Children On The Autism Spectrum Who Have Difficulty Picking Up On Social Cues


Our 10-year-old son is diagnosed with high functioning autism. He is bright and inquisitive, but has great difficulty picking up on social cues and understanding many aspects of friendship. We struggle to coach him in these areas ...our explanations often don’t make sense to him. Any suggestions?


High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger's presents kids with a variety of social and emotional stumbling blocks. Due to difficulties understanding implied meaning, humor, and other inferential reasoning skills, these young people are often confused by the rapidly changing landscape of social interaction.

Their tendency toward quick and literal interpretation of words can produce significant problems with establishing and maintaining friendships. Preoccupations with narrow, solitary interests can impede their capacity to converse on the range of topics that typically interest peers.

Moms and dads of kids on the autism spectrum often help them make sense of their social world, but success can be fleeting and isolated to certain circumstances.

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management

Here are some coaching tips that may increase the success rate:

 Road Maps--

Think of the social world as a variety of “relationship road maps” that your youngster needs to perceive accurately and use talking tools to be able to follow. On various pieces of paper, draw “roads” of how conversations flow depending upon environmental cues. Cues include who your youngster is with, where it takes place, what the other youngster says and the degree of familiarity your youngster has with a peer.

For instance, if your son bumps into a friend at a movie theater, depict how the initial greeting may lead to a short period of questioning about the movie, and finally to a closing remark about the next time he might see the peer again. Be sure to emphasize that what is said is just as important as perceiving the available cues in order to keep comments on target and within the boundaries of the environment.

Refer to boundaries as the lines that keep people within the relationship road they are supposed to be on. Boundaries are a critical piece of the social puzzle, but are often ignored by kids with HFA and Asperger's since they are subtle and hard to distinguish.

Make boundaries visual by depicting the kinds of statements and behaviors that are appropriate to the particular “road” (write them within the road) and examples of responses that are not (write them outside of the road). Explain how behaving within the boundaries protect the feelings of others and tells people that we are aware of what is going on around us. Depict how boundaries are more narrow when first meeting people, but gradually widen as they become more familiar. Likewise, display how boundaries are narrow or wide depending on the people present, situation and other circumstances.

Offer ways of understanding humor or typical childhood banter that uses available environmental cues. Kids on the spectrum can easily get caught in the throes of strong emotional reactions to common antagonistic statements made by peers. The intention of such comments may be to entertain bystanders, self-inflate, or trigger over-reactions by the youngster in question. But no matter the intention, if your son reacts with verbal or physical aggression, he is going to pay severe penalties. This makes it especially critical to coach anticipation skills that normalize typical peer-baiting.

Draw another relationship road that depicts some of the standard comments that kids say to each other in various circumstances. Add a thinking bubble that contains a self-instruction to help your son keep his cool.

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management

Multimedia Technologies--

Consider using multimedia technologies to augment social skills training for your son. Many types of multimedia technologies can be an excellent match for the specific learning styles and preferences of children with HFA and Asperger's (e.g., virtual environments, simulations, videos, etc.). Since most kids on the spectrum are visual learners, videos, simulations, virtual environments, pictures and other multimedia are effective teaching tools.

For example, you could video tape your son playing with friends, and then use the video to conduct a discussion (or “autopsy”) of the social interactions. Still images from the video could be captured and used to create a slide show with text or loaded onto a smart phone to be used as reminders when your son is in mainstream environments.

AS and HFA children seem to learn social skills best when they are taught in authentic situations using a variety of mediums. Role playing, listening to Social Stories, observing peer behavior, and conducting social skills autopsies can all be augmented with the use of multimedia tools.

==> Click here for information, and the associated parenting strategies, on dealing with Oppositional Defiant Disorder in kids and teens on the autism spectrum...

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management

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