HELP FOR PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH ASPERGER'S & HIGH-FUNCTIONING AUTISM

Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders

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Showing posts sorted by relevance for query social skills. Sort by date Show all posts

Helping Children with Asperger's and HFA to Navigate Everyday Social Interactions

If you ask “typical” children how they learned to read nonverbal cues in everyday conversations, they might reply that they learned these things through observing the interactions of family and friends. Other “typical” kids might reply that they aren't quite sure how they know that a certain expression means a friend is bored or annoyed — they just know.

This is because the skills needed for social interaction come naturally during the process of growth and development. However, for young people on the autism spectrum, this process may not be so effortless, and direct social skills instruction is often necessary.

The ability to navigate everyday social interactions can frequently present significant challenges for children with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA). Social situations that present difficulties can range from the fairly simple (e.g., engaging in a conversation with a classmate) to the extremely complex (e.g., determining whether a peer who seems friendly is actually harmful in some way). Because of this, social skills are often broken down into categories (or types of skill) according to the level of complexity and interaction.



Here is an example of one way of categorizing social skills:

Skill Set: Foundation Skills
Used for: Basic social interaction
Examples: Ability to maintain eye contact, maintain appropriate personal space, understand gestures and facial expressions

Skill Set: Interaction Skills
Used for: Skills needed to interact with others
Examples: Resolving conflicts, taking turns, learning how to begin and end conversations, determining appropriate topics for conversation, interacting with authority figures

Skill Set: Affective Skills
Used for: Skills needed for understanding oneself and others
Examples: Identifying one's feelings, recognizing the feelings of others, demonstrating empathy, decoding body language and facial expressions, determining whether someone is trustworthy

Skill Set: Cognitive Skills
Used for: Skills needed to maintain more complex social interactions
Examples: Social perception, making choices, self-monitoring, understanding community norms, determining appropriate behavior for different social situations.

Social interactions are incredibly complex, and the list presented above is not exhaustive in terms of the skills that AS and HFA children may need to successfully navigate social situations. Additionally, each child’s “social skill profile” is different. Some “special needs” children may have strong foundation skills but lack appropriate interaction skills, while others may require assistance in developing more basic skills (e.g., making eye contact).

Social skills training is often used to teach specific sets of social competencies to the child with AS or HFA. A common focus of social skills training is communication skills. A program designed to improve a child’s skills in this area may include expressing feelings in appropriate ways, starting a conversation, nonverbal communication, and assertiveness.

Another common focus of social skills training involves improving a child’s ability to perceive and act on social cues. Many kids on the autism spectrum have problems communicating with others because they fail to notice (or do not understand) other's cues, whether verbal or nonverbal. For example, some AS and HFA kids become unpopular with their friends because they force their way into small play groups. But a youngster who has learned to read social signals would know that the kids in the small group do not want someone else to join them (at least not at that moment). Learning to understand other's spoken or unspoken messages is as important as learning conversational skills.

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Tips for teaching social skills to a child with Asperger’s or High-Functioning Autism:

1. A major goal in teaching social skills is to develop a program that meets the demands of specific roles or situations. This need developed from studies that found that, for kids on the autism spectrum, social skills acquired in one setting or situation are not easily generalized or transferred to another setting or situation. To assist these young people in using their new skills in real-life situations, parents and teachers should use role-playing, teaching, modeling, and practice.

2. Be careful not to intensify your child’s feelings of social incompetence (this caution is particularly important in helping children with social phobia, who are already worried about others' opinions of them).

3. Generally speaking, kids with AS and HFA gain more from social skills training in a “group setting” than in individual training sessions. Thus, when possible, it would be best to teach the child a particular skill while he or she is actively involved in a social activity with peers (e.g., teaching the child how to share during group play).

4. Move slowly so that your child is not overwhelmed by trying to change too many behaviors at one time.

5. One of the most crucial tasks in preparation for social skills training is the selection of suitable target behaviors. Things will go more smoothly if parents and teachers ask the AS or HFA child to identify behaviors that he or she would like to change, rather than pointing to problem areas that they have identified. Training sessions should consider the child’s particular needs and interests. While social skills training for some kids may include learning self-calming techniques, training for others may include learning strategies for dealing with peer-rejection.

6. Preparation for social skills training requires tact on the parent’s part, because some AS and HFA kids become discouraged or upset by being told that they need help with their social skills. One good approach to get around this issue is through reading self-help books and/or Social Stories (more information on Social Stories can be found here). Also, you can try to ease your child’s self-consciousness or embarrassment by explaining that no one has perfect social skills.




==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

7. Social skills need to be transferred from the training session itself to real-life situations. This transfer is called generalization (i.e., the child can apply what he has learned). One approach to improving generalization is to situate the training exercises within the child’s social environment. Generalization takes place more readily when the social skills training has a clear focus and the child is highly motivated to reach a realistic goal. Parents can prepare their child for homework by explaining that the homework is the practice of new skills in other settings – and that it is as relevant as the training session itself.

8. Social skills training may be modified somewhat to allow for cultural and gender differences. For example, eye contact is a frequently targeted behavior to be taught during social skills training. But, in some cultures, downcast eyes are a sign of respect rather than an indication of social anxiety or shyness. Also, females in some cultures may be considered pretentious if they look at others (particularly adult males) too directly. These modifications can usually be made without changing the basic format of the training sessions.

9. Social skills training should rest on an objective assessment of the child’s actual problems in relating to others.

10. There are a number of reasons to consider using multimedia technologies to augment social skills training. Many types of multimedia technologies can be an excellent match for the specific learning styles and preferences of children on the autism spectrum (e.g., virtual environments, simulations, videos, etc.). For children who are visual learners, videos, simulations, virtual environments, pictures and other multimedia can be effective teaching tools. For example, you could video tape your child 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 the child 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.

11. As already mentioned, a major difficulty with social skills training is that many children with AS and HFA struggle with generalizing new skills to different situations. Parents can help their “special needs” child generalize social skills in several ways:
  • Teach social skills that are valued by the child’s community (e.g., parents, siblings, peers, teachers, etc.). These skills are more likely to be reinforced.
  • Teach social skills with a variety of mediums (e.g., video, books, games, software, etc.) across a variety of settings and situations.
  • Teach new skills in the setting where they are most likely to be used (e.g., on a bus, in the classroom, at church, etc.). If this is not possible, role playing can be an effective substitute.

12. Because children use social skills in nearly every aspect of their day, every moment has the potential to be a “teachable moment.” To take advantage of this, parents and teachers should try to teach social skills throughout the day in a variety of ways. Some methods for introducing social skills include:
  • Use of Social Stories: Social Stories are a successful way of teaching social skills to AS and HFA children because they can provide them with a narrative or script about a variety of situations and appropriate behavior.
  • Social skill autopsies: After a social interaction, discuss what your youngster did, what happened, whether the outcome was positive or negative, and what he or she will do in the same situation in the future.
  • Reading and discussing kids’ literature and videos: Many stories for kids are on social skills topics (e.g., making new friends, dealing with bullies, encountering new situations, etc.).
  • Incidental teaching: This involves using a natural interaction between the child and an adult to practice a particular skill.

“Typical” children have learned to read nonverbal cues in everyday interactions. For them, skills needed for social interaction come naturally. However, for AS and HFA children, direct social skills instruction may be necessary. When this is the case, using the tips above should help parents and teachers begin the process of effectively teaching such skills so that the child can learn to navigate everyday social interactions in a way that approximates how “typical” kids interact with others.



More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book


==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

The Best Treatment for Teenagers on the Autism Spectrum

“My husband is ashamed and embarrassed that our oldest son has autism (high functioning) and is not what he calls normal. If my husband knew that I was typing this, he would become very irate and the yelling would start between the two of us as he does not like it when I try and seek help. James is 15 and in the years gone by He has called him a retard to his face, he even used to hit him across the back of the head. James does not seem to get along with our 13-year-old and often hurts himself as well as our other son. Because of this, I try not to leave the two of them home alone. The other evening, I went to visit my parents for two hours leaving them with their dad. Apparently, the boys started into each other and instead of separating them and talking with them, he told the oldest with the problem. ‘I wish you would just beat the shit out of him and teach him a lesson’. When I found out about this, I became very irate and tried to explain to Michael [husband] that he just gave James permission to beat up his brother. He does not really understand right from wrong at times. So now I wait for the day they fight and he says, ‘dad said I could’ without realizing the damage he could cause or the consequences. My husband refuses to seek help, says he reads up about what is going on but I find that hard to believe otherwise he would know better how to deal with issues. Is there anything you can suggest in the way for treatment for James? I can’t change his dad but maybe I can get James some help for his disorder. I am starting to think that my feelings do not matter and I need to put my children first and remove Michael from my home so that our eldest will have a home that understands him. Even our 13 year old understands him better than his own dad. ppls help!”

RE: "Is there anything you can suggest in the way for treatment for James?"

 The best treatment for Aspergers and high-functioning autistic (HFA) children and teens is definitely “social skills training” (SST). Social skills training is a form of behavior therapy used by therapists to help these young people who have difficulties relating to other people.

A major goal of social skills training is teaching the youngster (who may or may not have emotional problems) about the verbal and nonverbal behaviors involved in social interactions. There are many teens and preteens on the autism spectrum who have never been taught such interpersonal skills as making "small talk" in social settings, the importance of good eye contact during a conversation, etc. In addition, many of these individuals have not learned to "read" the many subtle cues contained in social interactions (e.g., how to tell when someone wants to change the topic of conversation or shift to another activity).

Social skills training helps these young people to learn to interpret these and other social signals so that they can determine how to act appropriately in the company of others in a variety of different situations. Social skills training assumes that when individuals improve their social skills or change selected behaviors, they will raise their self-esteem and increase the likelihood that others will respond favorably to them. The child or teen learns to change his social behavior patterns by practicing selected behaviors in individual or group therapy sessions.

Another goal of social skills training is improving the child’s ability to function in everyday social situations. Social skills training can help these children and teens to work on specific issues that interfere with their school or daily lives.

Techniques in social skills training—

Therapists who use social skills training begin by breaking down complex social behaviors into smaller portions.

Next, they arrange these smaller parts in order of difficulty, and gradually introduce them to the clients. For example, a therapist who is helping an Aspergers or HFA teen learn to feel more comfortable at parties might make a list of specific behaviors that belong to the complex behavior called "acting appropriately at a party" (e.g., introducing oneself to others, making conversation with several people at the party rather than just one other guest, keeping one's conversation pleasant and interesting, thanking the host or hostess before leaving, etc). The teenager would then work on one specific behavior at a time, rather than trying to learn them all at once.

Such specific techniques as instruction, modeling, role-playing, shaping, feedback, and reinforcement of positive interactions may be used in social skills training. For example, instruction may be used to convey the differences among assertive, passive, and aggressive styles of communication. The technique of monitoring may be used to ask clients to increase their eye contact during a conversation. In role-playing exercises, group members have the opportunity to offer feedback to one another about their performances in simulated situations. For example, two members of the group may role-play a situation in which a customer is trying to return a defective purchase to a store. The others can then give feedback about the "customer's" assertiveness or the "clerk's" responses.

Some of the goals for social skills group training are helping autistic kids and teens to:
  • read the body language of others
  • play and have fun
  • learn to cope with mistakes
  • learn strategies for developing peer relationships
  • learn peer group problem-solving
  • become aware of their emotions

Kids on the spectrum are pliable to treatment because they tend to be compliant. Although their ritualistic behavior and rigidity may create obstacles to treatment, most of these kids are able to learn the nuances of feelings, body language and behavior to assist them in their everyday functioning.

Content of social skills training—

Social skills training may be used to teach "special needs" children and teens specific sets of social competencies. A common focus of social skills training programs is communication skills. A program designed to improve the teen’s skills in this area might include helping him with nonverbal and assertive communication and with making conversation. It might also include conversational skills that are needed in different specific situations, for example job interviews, informal parties, and dating. The skills might be divided further into such subjects as beginning, holding, and ending conversations, or expressing feelings in appropriate ways.

Another common focus of social skills training programs involves improving a client’s ability to perceive and act on social cues. Many of these teenagers have problems communicating with others because they fail to notice or do not understand other people's cues, whether verbal or nonverbal. For example, some of them become unpopular with their peers because they force their way into small play groups, when a youngster who has learned to read social signals would know that the kids in the small group do not want someone else to join them, at least not at that moment. Learning to understand another person's spoken or unspoken messages is as important as learning conversational skills. A social skills program may include skills related to the perceptual processing of the conversation of others.

Scheduling—

Social skills training may be given as an individual or as a group treatment once or twice a week or more often depending upon the severity of a client’s disorder and the level of his social skills. Generally speaking, kids on the spectrum appear to gain more from social skills training in a peer group setting than in individual therapy. Social skill training groups usually consist of approximately 10 clients, a therapist, and a co-therapist.

Culture and gender issues—

Social skills training programs may be modified somewhat to allow for cultural and gender differences. For example, eye contact is a frequently targeted behavior to be taught during social skills training. In some cultures, however, downcast eyes are a sign of respect rather than an indication of social anxiety or shyness. In addition, girls or women in some cultures may be considered immodest if they look at others, particularly adult males, too directly. These modifications can usually be made without changing the basic format of the social skills training program.

Generalization or transfer of skills—

Current trends in social skills training are aimed at developing training programs that meet the demands of specific roles or situations. This need developed from studies that found that social skills acquired in one setting or situation are not easily generalized or transferred to another setting or situation. To assist clients in using their new skills in real-life situations, therapists use role-playing, teaching, modeling, and practice.

Preparation—

Preparation for social skills training requires tact on the therapist's part, as Aspergers and HFA clients (especially older teens and young adults) may be discouraged or upset by being told that they need help with their social skills. One possible approach is through reading. The social skills therapist may recommend some self-help books on social skills in preparation for the treatment. Second, the therapist can ease the client’s self-consciousness or embarrassment by explaining that no one has perfect social skills. An additional consideration before starting treatment is the possibility of interference from medication side effects. The therapist will usually ask the client for a list of all medications that he takes regularly.

One of the most critical tasks in preparation for social skills training is the selection of suitable target behaviors. It is often more helpful for the therapist to ask the client to identify behaviors that he would like to change, rather than pointing to problem areas that the therapist has identified. The treatment should consider the client’s particular needs and interests. Whereas social skills training for some clients may include learning assertiveness on the job, training for others may include learning strategies for dating. Therapists can prepare clients for homework by explaining that the homework is the practice of new skills in other settings, and that it is as relevant as the therapy session itself.

Aftercare—

Some studies strongly suggest the need for follow-up support after an initial course of social skills training. One study showed that follow-up support doubled the rate of employment for a group of older Aspergers and HFA adolescents, compared to a group that had no follow-up.

Normal results—

Outcome studies indicate that social skills training has moderate short-term effects, but limited long-term effects. Social skills training programs that include social perspective-taking may have greater long-term effects than traditional social skills training programs based on cognitive-behavioral models. In general, social skills training tends to generalize or transfer to similar contexts rather than to contexts that are not similar to the training. Social skills training programs for Aspergers and HFA children and teens should include programming for generalization, so that these clients can transfer their newly acquired skills more effectively to real-life settings. One approach to improving generalization is to situate the training exercises within the client’s school, work, living, or social environment.

The benefits of social skills training programs include flexibility. The treatment can take place either as individual or group therapy, and new trainers can learn the techniques of social skills training fairly quickly. An additional advantage of social skills training is that it focuses on teaching skills that can be learned rather than emphasizing the internal or biological determinants of social adequacy.

Future research should explore (a) the integration of social skills training with the needs of families from different cultural backgrounds, (b) the relationship between social skills training and different categories of mental disorders, (c) the transfer of skills from therapeutic contexts to daily life, and (d) improving the youngster's long-term gains from social skills training.

NOTE: Having said all of the above, while proper treatment for your autistic son is important, it sounds like you have bigger fish to fry (i.e., dealing with an abusive husband). If possible, try to educate him about the disorder so that he can understand your HFA son better - and hopefully show more compassion.




Promoting Generalization of Social Skills: Help for Kids & Teens on the Spectrum

"What would be some ways to teach my teenage son [age 13] social skills? He really needs some friends but turns them off much of the time, so he's kind of a loner as it goes. What ideas have worked for others?"

Children with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) are likely to have difficulties with social skills. In fact, about 75% of these children exhibit social skills deficits. Also, about 29% of teens with AS and HFA required social skills training beyond high school.

The importance of developing social competence can’t be overestimated since it is associated with academic achievement, peer acceptance, and employment success. Regrettably, the lack of social competence during early childhood is the single best predictor of mental health problems later in adulthood. Even more shocking is that experiencing significant difficulties with social skills becomes more unbearable over time, underscoring the crucial need for early social skills training.

Parents and educators can successfully teach social skills to AS and HFA children. But, the true challenge lies in ensuring that these children get the necessary social skills “where and when they count.” Most parents and educators have been relatively unsuccessful in promoting “generalization” of newly acquired social skills to natural settings (i.e., teaching social skills in a way that enables the child to apply his or her knowledge to varied situations and environments). Thus, the need to adopt intervention strategies that promote social skills generalization is critical.



Here are some ways that parents, educators, and even therapists (i.e., “instructors”) can promote generalization of social skills across situations, settings, and other people:

1. Kids with AS and HFA often need direct instruction in recognizing and labeling the emotions of themselves and others. Parents and teachers need to verbally label feelings to provide these kids with the “language of emotions.” Often times, “instructors” fail to realize that AS and HFA kids confuse emotions. Helping them to use the appropriate language and place a label on a feeling makes that feeling less scary and underscores the fact that others experience similar emotions. Kids can learn to recognize and use “para-language” (i.e., information that communicates emotion with or without words), for example, attitudes, facial expressions, gestures, interpersonal space, posture, and speech patterns.

2. Parents and teachers can capitalize on "teachable moments," which promote social skills generalization. However, some “instructors” need to learn how to incidentally teach. “Incidental teaching” involves the spontaneous teaching of skills during “naturally occurring” situations and encouraging kids to use skills at appropriate times.

3. Parents and teachers should identify social skills that are of crucial importance at both home and school (e.g., accepting criticism, controlling anger, following directions, giving and receiving compliments, listening, sharing, taking turns during conversations, understanding others' feelings, etc.). After the parent and teacher identify the social skill together, they can identify situations in which to teach it (e.g., times to share might be when peers play together, when a neighborhood youngster comes to visit, or when the family plays a board game together).

4. Parents and teachers should think in terms of "zones of behavior” when setting boundaries with AS and HFA children. For example, a green zone can include desired behavior, a yellow zone can include behavior that is tolerated in order to give these kids learning opportunities or to indulge them during a particularly difficult or stressful time, and a red zone can include behavior that isn’t tolerated under any circumstances (e.g., the behavior is too dangerous to the youngster or others, is immoral, is unethical, is illegal, is socially unacceptable, etc.).


5. Recognize an emotion as a teaching opportunity. Recognizing uncomfortable emotions as opportunities for teaching and intimacy (rather than as reasons to criticize, reprimand, or punish the AS/HFA youngster for experiencing these feelings) is an important piece to social skills training.

6. Teach AS and HFA children social skills in settings where the skills will be used. If teaching skills in a natural setting isn’t possible, parents and teachers can use role-playing to reflect a variety of settings or teach these kids to self-monitor their use of skills across settings. “Instructors” can also recruit other adults who play a role in the child’s life to prompt, teach, and reinforce use of appropriate social skills.

7. Make use of “cognitive mediators.” One method that enables AS and HFA children to generalize social skills is the use of cognitive mediators (e.g., positive self-talk, self-monitoring, self-recording, and self-reinforcement).

8.  Teach skills that are valued in the natural setting. Selecting social skills valued by peers, educators, and moms and dads increases the odds that “skill use” will be reinforced. Real-life reinforcement is essential if social skills training efforts are to continue over time.

9. Some instructors (whether a parent, teacher, or therapist) “overly-control” the instructional presentation to help AS and HFA children acquire new social skills. In other words, they adopt standardized presentation procedures, present information in a prescribed order, and require mastery before moving on to the next skill. Although these methods promote “skill acquisition,” they usually work against “skill generalization.” Thus, social skills instructors can encourage AS and HFA children to generalize by employing a variety of models and role-playing actors, reinforcing social skills across settings and situations, teaching several skills several times a day, and using natural language.

10. The importance of reinforcing or praising AS and HFA kids for using appropriate social skills (or “attempting” to use them) cannot be stressed enough.




11. Use reinforcement sparingly. After social skills are acquired, parents and educators should adopt schedules of reinforcement similar to those in natural settings. Usually, reinforcement occurs less frequently in natural settings than in instructional settings, requiring that parents and educators gradually reduce the frequency and amount of reinforcement. In some cases, AS and HFA children may need to be taught to recruit reinforcement and to self-reinforce so that they will continue to use social skills in environments lacking in external reinforcement.

12. Validate emotions by listen empathetically. Validation of an emotion does not necessarily mean “approval.” However, sometimes it’s important to just listen rather than advise the AS/HFA youngster or to impose logic on the situation.

13. Teach AS and HFA children how to problem-solve. Parents and teachers can teach these kids to more effectively solve social problems. Here’s a useful problem-solving sequence:
  • Define the problem
  • Identify potential solutions
  • Consider the outcomes of each solution
  • Implement a solution
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the solution

Summary—

Although many parents and teachers have been successful in teaching social skills to AS and HFA children, they have been far less successful in making sure these skills are used when and where they count. If “generalization” of social skills is to occur, “instructors” must adopt techniques that actively promote use of social skills across settings, situations, and other people.



More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book


==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Creating an Effective “Social Skills” Training Program for Kids on the Spectrum

Impairment in social functioning is a core feature of Aspergers (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA). Typical social skill problems include the following: 
  • taking another person’s perspective
  • sharing enjoyment
  • responding to the initiations of others
  • reading the non-verbal cues of others
  • maintaining eye contact
  • initiating interactions

The cause of these social skill difficulties varies, ranging from neurological impairment to the lack of opportunity to acquire skills (e.g., social withdrawal). Most important, these skill problems make it difficult for the child to develop - and keep - fulfilling personal relationships. Although social skill problems are a core feature of AS and HFA, many of these kids do not receive adequate social skills training. This is a sad reality, especially considering that the presence of social deficits may lead to the development of more damaging outcomes (e.g., poor academic performance, social failure, peer rejection, anxiety, depression, etc.). The lack of proper social skills training is particularly troubling given the fact that most of the associated deficits can be corrected.



The long held notion that kids with AS and HFA lack an interest in social interactions is inaccurate. Most of these kids do indeed desire social involvement; however, they typically lack the necessary skills to interact effectively. This lack of “know-how” often leads to feelings of social anxiety. Many moms and dads report that social situations typically evoke a great deal of anxiety from their AS and HFA kids. 

Kids on the autism spectrum often describe an anxiety that resembles what many of us feel when we are forced to speak in public (e.g., increased heart rate, sweaty palms, noticeable shaking, difficulty concentrating, etc.). Not only is public speaking stressful, but just the thought of it is enough to produce a heightened state of anxiety. Now imagine living a life where every social interaction you experience was as stressful as having to make a speech in front of a big crowd. The typical coping strategy for most of us is to reduce the anxiety by avoiding the stressful situation.

For kids with AS and HFA, social anxiety often results in the avoidance of social situations, and subsequently, the development of social skill problems. When a youngster continually avoids social encounters, he denies himself the opportunity to acquire social skills. For many kids on the spectrum, these social skill difficulties lead to negative peer interactions, peer rejection, isolation, anxiety, depression, substance abuse – and even suicidal ideation. For others, it creates a pattern of engaging in solitary activities (a pattern that is often difficult to change).


So, what can parents do to help their AS and HFA children overcome social skills deficits?

The first step in social skills training should consist of conducting a thorough evaluation of the youngster’s current level of social functioning. The purpose of the assessment is to answer one very basic question: “What is preventing my youngster from establishing and maintaining social relationships?” For most kids, the answer takes the form of specific social skill problems. For others, the answer takes the form of cruel and rejecting peers. And for yet others, the answer is both. 

The evaluation should (1) detail both the strengths and weakness of the child related to social functioning, and (2) involve a combination of (a) observation (e.g., watching how your child interacts with others, (b) interviews (e.g., talking to your child, his teachers, his peers, etc.), and (c) standardized measures (e.g., behavioral checklists, social skills measures). 

Parents need to ascertain current level of functioning and effectively intervene at the youngster’s area of need. For example, if the evaluation reveals that your youngster is unable to maintain simple one-on-one interactions with peers, then the intervention should begin at this point, and not at a more advanced group interaction level. As another example, if the evaluation revels that your youngster does not know how to play symbolically - or even functionally - with play items, then the intervention will probably begin by teaching play skills prior to teaching specific interaction skills. 

After a thorough assessment of social functioning is complete, parents should then determine whether the skill problems identified are the result of “skill acquisition” issues or “performance” issues. A skill acquisition deficit refers to the absence of a particular skill or behavior (e.g., the youngster may not know how to effectively join-in games with peers, thus she will often fail to participate). A performance deficit refers to a skill or behavior that is present, but not demonstrated or performed (e.g., the youngster may have the ability to join-in an activity, but for some reason, fails to do so). 

In discerning between a skill acquisition deficit and a performance deficit, ask yourself the following question: “Can my youngster perform the task with multiple people and across multiple settings?” For example, if your youngster only initiates interactions with you at home, but not with peers at school, then you will need to address the initiation difficulty as a skill acquisition deficit.


Too often, social skill problems and inappropriate behaviors are incorrectly viewed as performance problems (i.e., parents assume that when their youngster does not perform a certain task, it is the result of refusal or lack of motivation). Parents need to understand that the majority of social skill problems in kids with AS and HFA can be attributed to skill acquisition problems (i.e., they are not performing socially because they lack the necessary skills to do so). If parents want their kids to be successful socially, then they will need to teach them the skills to be successful. 

The benefit of discerning between “skill acquisition” versus “performance” problems is that it guides the selection of intervention strategies. The intervention selected should match the type of deficit present. Once a thorough social skill assessment is completed, and the parent is able to attribute the social deficits to either skill acquisition or performance issues, social skills training can begin. 

When selecting intervention techniques, parents need to understand the concept of “accommodation” versus “assimilation.” Accommodation refers to the act of modifying the physical or social environment for the youngster in order to promote positive social interactions (e.g., training peer-mentors to interact with the youngster throughout the school day, autism awareness training for peers, having the child participate in various group activities like the Girl Scouts). While accommodation addresses changes in the child’s environment, assimilation focuses on changes in the child herself. Assimilation refers to training that facilitates skill acquisition that allows the youngster to be more successful in social interactions. 

The key to successful social skills training is to address both accommodation and assimilation. Focusing on one, but not the other, sets the youngster up for failure. In other words, providing social skills training (i.e., assimilation) without modifying the environment to be more accepting of the youngster (i.e., accommodation) is a recipe for a failed training program (e.g., when an eager youngster attempts a newly learned skill on a group of non-accepting peers).


There are number of important questions to consider when selecting appropriate social skill strategies. For example:
  • What is the plan to evaluate the strategy’s effectiveness with the youngster?
  • Is there research to support the use of this strategy? 
  • Is the strategy developmentally appropriate for the youngster? 
  • Does the strategy target the skill problems identified in the social assessment?
  • Does the strategy promote skill acquisition?
  • Does the strategy enhance performance?

Once parents have (a) assessed social skill functioning, (b) identified skills to teach, (c) discerned between skill acquisition and performance problems, and (d) selected intervention strategies, it is time to implement the strategies. Parents cannot do this alone however. Social skills training should be provided in multiple settings (e.g., home, classroom, resource room, playground, community, etc.) and by multiple providers (e.g., parents, teachers, coaches, therapists, etc.). 

There is no “best” place to teach social skills, though it is important to keep in mind that the purpose of all social skills training should be to promote social success “with peers in the natural environment.” For example, if the youngster is receiving social skills training from a private therapist, it is crucial that a plan be put in place to facilitate transfer of skills from the clinic to the child’s natural environment. Moms and dads and educators should look for opportunities to prompt and reinforce the skills that are being taught in the clinic. 

The rate of social skills acquisition will differ widely from one youngster to the next. Some kids will begin using their new skills after only 3 or 4 sessions, while other kids may require over 6 months before they begin to “get it.” In any event, simply trying a new skill is just the first step towards success. The youngster will need additional time to master the skill that he is learning and developing. 

“Assess and modify” is the last stage in the intervention process, but it is not the last thing to think about when designing a social skills training program. As soon as parents are able to identify the social skill problems to be addressed, they should begin to develop the methods for evaluating the effectiveness of the intervention. For example, if the target of the intervention is social initiations, then parents and teachers should take baseline data on the frequency of initiations with peers, and then continue to collect data on social initiations throughout the implementation stage of the intervention. 

Accurate data collection is important in evaluating the effectiveness of the intervention. It allows all parties involved to determine whether the youngster is benefiting from the training, and how to modify the training to best meet her needs. In school settings, accurate data collection is especially important. When parents work with school staff, the focus should be on integrating the social skills program with the youngster’s behavioral and social objectives. Also, the “assess and modify” stage is typically a very important part of IEP development and implementation.

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book


==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Social Skills Training for Teenagers on the Autism Spectrum

What’s the best thing that can happen to a teenager with Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism? Without a doubt, the answer is: a good dose of social skills training!

One of the most significant problems for teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) is difficulty in social interaction. This difficulty is made even more significant due to problems with speech and language. But the disorder also seems to create problems with "mind reading" (i.e., knowing what another person might be thinking or feeling).

“Typical” teens can observe others and guess (through a combination of tone and body language) what's "really" going on in one of their peers. But without help and training, Aspergers and HFA teens will struggle in this area. This "mind blindness" can lead even the highest-functioning teen to make social blunders that cause all kinds of problems. Without knowing why, a teen with the disorder can hurt feelings, ask inappropriate questions, act oddly or generally open themselves up to hostility, teasing, bullying and isolation.



In general, social skills therapists are social workers, psychologists, occupational therapists and speech/language therapists who specialize in working with children and teens on the spectrum. Over time, they have developed or learned techniques to build social interaction skills ranging from basic skills (e.g., making eye contact) to complex and subtle skills (e.g., asking for a date).

Since there is no official certification for social skills therapists, techniques vary. In a school setting, social skills therapy may consist of group activities (e.g., games and conversation) with Aspergers and HFA teens and their typically developing peers. Groups may be overseen by school psychologists or social workers, and may be held in the classroom, lunchroom or playground.

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

Out-of-school social skills groups are similar in style, but are paid for privately. Teens are grouped by age and ability, and may make use of specific social skills curricula as developed by well-established practitioners of social skills therapy.

Drama therapy, a variation of social skills therapy, has the potential to be both fun and educational. Video modeling, video critiques of interactions, group therapy and other approaches may also be available in your area, and are especially appropriate for teens on the autism spectrum. Typical cognitive therapy with a psychologist or psychiatrist may also be helpful.

In theory, social skills therapy will provide these teens with the ability to converse, share, play and work with their typical peers. In an ideal world, such therapy will allow these teens to become almost indistinguishable from their typical peers.

Since there is no official certification for social skills therapists, it can be a challenge to find a qualified practitioner. Most of the best social skills therapists are not so much trained as born. In other words, they happen to be very talented therapists in their own field, with an innate understanding of how to help Aspergers and HFA children and teens comprehend how others think, feel, and act. Thus, the fact that someone has been trained in a particular social skills method does not necessarily make him/her an ideal therapist. The best way to decide if a therapist is right for your teenager is to attend a few sessions.



Most school programs for special needs teens include social skills therapy. There is no guarantee that the facilitator running those programs has specific training in - or experience with - running such programs, so it may be worth your time to inquire into just who is offering such programs – and why they were chosen to do so. It's not at all unusual for a school psychologist or social worker to run social skills programs with relatively little training or background. So beware!

Social skills learning and therapy groups are offered to help teens on the spectrum who have difficulty making and keeping friends, coping with frustration and aggression, dealing with loneliness, and much more. These groups are good learning environments for Aspergers and HFA adults too.

Meeting in social skills groups with others with whom they have no past experience allows these young people to learn freely, without labels or expectations, thus offering relief from rejection and the anxiety of having to live up to a social image. Shedding labels and sharing experiences with others is liberating and builds a sense of peer-acceptance. A sense of bonding results from positive experiences in relationship.

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

The best way to learn a skill is to first have a reason for learning it, then to have it modeled for you, and finally to try it out on your own. Social skills therapy groups provide Aspergers and HFA teens with models for thinking and problem-solving in this way. Exposure to new ways of thinking about their problems and being aware of social attitudes leads to self and peer-acceptance. For example, through learning to recognize fear and anger beneath a situation and being taught skills, more appropriate responses become obvious and workable. Seeing how one's choices affect others also leads to improved ability to recognize “cause and effect” and being able to see oneself in context. Above all, the experience of success begins to ground more confidence in dealing with conflict situations.

It is difficult for Aspergers and HFA teens to self-reflect on actions and exercise self-control. When these teens are anxious or overly stimulated, impulsivity can become more exaggerated. In fact, structure can help focus and control, but often at the expense of the opportunity for feedback. Recognizing difficulty with impulse control, or what to do to acquire it, or how to avoid the traps of social labels, can be difficult and exhausting without feedback. Group learning can be more effective for gaining self-control because it offers a different kind of interactive learning in a less demanding environment. Learning respect for personal boundaries, adjusting to limits, and safe exploration of social problem solving are much more likely to happen in a small therapy group.

When with an autism spectrum disorder teens are taught more appropriate strategies in place of those that don't work, the effect can be very liberating. Some of the skills learned in the past really worked at some point, until the strategies got worn out due to the complexity of situations. Those that are updated are remembered because it helps to cope better. Trial and error can be effective. Practice makes perfect, and encouragement is vital to discovering new skills. A teenager’s sense of confidence will grow in leaps and bounds with the experience of “power of informed choice” working for him/her. Applying effective strategies to otherwise painful situations in a safe environment can elicit feelings of acceptance, satisfaction, success and harmony.

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


==> Do you need the advice of a professional who specializes in parenting children and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorders?  Sign-up for Online Parent Coaching today.

The Top 5 Social Skills to Teach Children on the Autism Spectrum

Difficulty with social skills is not isolated to kids with High-Functioning Autism (HFA) and Asperger’s. Many of these young people exhibit difficulties with a variety of social skills for numerous reasons.

However, a social skills program developed to address general social impairments doesn’t adequately address the social skills deficits specific to HFA and Asperger’s.

When selecting social goals for intervention, it’s crucial that parents prioritize and address the skill deficits that are most relevant to their child (e.g., eye contact may be a greater priority than negotiation skills, given its significance in social interaction, such as monitoring other’s reactions to indicate interest or engagement).

In addition, it’s important that all instructional activities have an underlying social purpose. Make clear to your child how and why the goals selected are relevant for him or her.

The five broad skills that are particularly relevant to HFA and Asperger’s are: social problem-solving skills, play and friendship skills, emotion-processing skills, conversational skills, and basic interactional skills.

Specific social skills to teach should include the following:

•  Conversation skills need to cover basic elements of how to start, maintain, and end a conversation. The subtler aspects of conversations should be included as well (e.g., asking questions of others, choosing appropriate topics, joining a conversation already underway, making comments, taking turns in conversation, and using nonverbal indicators to express interest).

•  It’s crucial to teach basic friendship and relationship skills. The concept of friendship and the important qualities of being a good friend should be discussed, listed, and practiced (e.g., compromising, following group rules, greeting others, responding to greetings, sharing and taking turns, and joining groups).

•  It’s also important for parents to teach the nonverbal behaviors that are important to social interaction (e.g., appropriate eye contact, social distance, voice volume, facial expression, etc.).

•  Parents should also help their child to understand thoughts and feelings of self and others. You can begin by increasing emotion recognition and vocabulary skills, because most kids on the autism spectrum are not familiar with emotional terms beyond the basics.

•  Perspective-taking and empathy training are two other great skills to teach. Here, you want your child to act out situations in which different people think different things or have different underlying motives.

•  Social problem-solving should be taught (e.g., what to do when your youngster is teased, feels left out, or is told “no”). The focus here is on the development of practical solutions, coping mechanisms, and self-control for difficult interpersonal situations.

•  Make use Social Stories to introduce new social skills. Social Stories are “written illustrations” that present social information. Although they provide some specific guidance about what to do or say in a social situation, they also highlight social cues, the motives or expectations of others, and other information that the child may not have appreciated.

Your youngster should be aware of his or her personal target goal and should be “reinforced” for meeting it throughout the social skills training you implement (e.g., reinforcement charts posted on the wall, goal or point cards, cups in which the goal is affixed and tokens are placed, etc.).

For new or emerging skills, the child can be reinforced the moment the skill is displayed spontaneously. 

For more information on teaching social skills to children with HFA and Asperger's, click on the link below:

==> https://www.social-skills-emotion-management.com

Social Skills Education for Children on the Autism Spectrum: Tips for Parents and Teachers

"I understand that social skills must be taught to children on the autism spectrum, but how can parents actually do this outside of a formal skills training course? Thanks in advance for your response!"

The process of teaching social skills to children with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) involves a six-step plan:
  1. assessment of existing skills
  2. defining what skills will be taught (i.e., setting goals and objectives)
  3. planning how the skills will be taught (i.e., teaching strategies)
  4. implementing the teaching plan
  5. assessing child progress
  6. adapting the teaching strategy so that the child acquires the target skill

Most social skills programs for kids with Aspergers and HFA fall into one of two theoretical frameworks: (1) behavioral and (2) developmental.

1. In a behavioral approach, the youngster’s behavior is evaluated according to (a) the presence of dysfunctional behavior (e.g., presence of abnormal behaviors, abnormal frequency of certain behaviors) and (b) behavioral deficits (e.g., absence or low frequency of typical skills). Behavioral teaching strategies are then designed to increase the youngster’s performance of deficit skills and decrease dysfunctional behavior. These strategies involve:
  • identifying the target of teaching
  • determining the appropriate antecedent and consequence for the target behavior
  • using systematic instruction and assessment to teach the target behavior
  • assess child progress

CLICK HERE  for an example of a Behavioral Intervention Plan.



2. The developmental approach involves assessing each developmental area (e.g., motor, cognition, communication, social development, etc.) and using the youngster’s successes, emerging skills, and failures to determine his or her area of development. This area indicates the set of skills that the youngster appears to be ready to learn next, based on his or her assessed performance. Those skills are then targeted for teaching.

Goals for specific social skills identified in interactions with adults may focus on early prelinguistic behaviors (e.g., joint attention, turn taking, imitation, responding by gaze to adult initiations, initiating social interactions with adults, etc.). These interactions occur within a play context, so establishing and supporting “toy play” with an grown-up may be a goal for kids on the autism spectrum.





As these young people grow older, interactions with adults may more often occur in classroom contexts. Although such classroom-based interactions may also occur in a play context, the nature of adult-child interactions will extend to behaviors necessary for functioning independently in the classroom. Social skills (e.g., responding to teacher directions, independently participating in the routines of the classroom, expressing needs to teachers, requesting assistance of the teacher, etc.) all become important functional skills necessary for Aspergers and HFA kids to be successful in classroom settings.

Since communication is the process by which individuals carry out social relationships, the special needs child’s communication skills are a big part of social development. Developing social goals and objectives needs to be conducted alongside developing communication goals and objectives. Therefore, assessing communication skills and needs, and making sure that teaching strategies for communication are integrated with social teaching strategies, are critical for developing skills that are functional for the youngster.

Play, like communication, is an important social activity in childhood. Play skills, like communication, must be assessed and considered within the social context. Development of more mature play skills in both independent play and social play is important for the social development and peer-interaction of kids with the disorder, since play is the glue that holds together peer-interactions in childhood.

Assessing an Aspergers or HFA youngster’s actual behaviors toward other kids (e.g., initiations, responses, interest in others, level of social play, etc.) provides an important baseline against which to measure the degree to which interventions are having valid effects. This assessment, when paired with information about priorities, parents’ concerns, skills needed to be successful in the current educational settings, and skills needed to be successful in the next educational setting, can serve as a basis for selecting functional social outcomes that parents and teachers can select for young people on the spectrum.




==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book


==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism
 

COMMENTS: 

Mark, This is another of your excellent works!  Keep up the good work... there's nothing out there like yours!

Hi Mark, I bought your ebook on aspies and relationships. It is good. I have only read some of it, but of all the asperger relationship books I've read, yours is definitely the best. 

How Therapists Teach Social Skills to Children on the Autism Spectrum

“The importance of teaching social skills is mentioned a lot on this site. I was wondering what a therapist actually does when he or she is training a child with Asperger syndrome or high functioning autism. Can parents accomplish the same results at home?”

The therapist who teaches social skills to children on the autism spectrum usually begins by breaking down complex social behaviors into smaller pieces. Then he arranges these smaller parts in order of difficulty, and gradually introduces them to the child.

For instance, a therapist who is helping a child learn to feel more comfortable in group activities could make a list of specific behaviors that belong to the complex behavior called behaving appropriately in groups, which would include specific actions that will make in more likely the child will “fit-in” with his/her peer-group (e.g., introducing oneself to others, making conversation with several peers in the group rather than just one “favored” peer, keeping one's conversation interesting, sharing, etc.). The child can then work on one specific behavior at a time rather than trying to learn them all at once.



Some specific strategies in social skills training include: feedback, shaping, instruction, modeling, reinforcement of positive interactions, and role-playing. For instance, “instruction” may be used to convey the differences among assertive, passive, and aggressive styles of communication. The strategy of “monitoring” may be used to ask the child to increase his/her eye contact during a conversation.

In “role-playing” exercises, group members have the opportunity to offer feedback to one another about their performances in simulated situations (e.g., Michael and Sara may role-play a situation in which Michael asks Sara if he can join in a particular activity with Sara …then the other group members give feedback about Michael’s assertiveness or Sara’s response).

Parents can indeed do a lot to help their child gain social skills. Many children with Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism are unable to see social clues, understand age appropriate behaviors, and read body language. The first step in teaching a youngster who struggles with social skills is to educate yourself on the possible reasons behind his/her lack of skills (e.g., behavior management problem, communication problem, problem with sensory integration, etc.). There are many possible reasons behind your youngster’s behaviors, and knowing the root cause will give you clues as to what he/she needs to work on in the way of social skills.

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

If your youngster struggles with learning social skills, you may find that you have to repeat yourself a lot, or your youngster may learn a new skill – but then regress. This is typical, so don’t allow yourself to get frustrated.

Some examples of social skills training techniques include the following:
  • Picture cards, social stories, and visual reminders are great for kids who need to learn organizational skills.
  • You can use a script to help your child role play through a difficult social situation at school. For example, if your child is having trouble with bullying, write a script for him and encourage him to role-play possible responses and actions. Scripts can even help your child through very basic scenarios (e.g., asking for help in the classroom).
  • Relationship role-play can be used to practice conflict resolution, learn how to share, and develop effective communication skills. This particular brand of role-play allows the child to practice skills for any imaginable scenario so that she can use it to her advantage when feeling anxious about a situation.
  • Using games and puzzles can be extremely helpful in developing “cooperative play.” 
  • Visual cue cards can provide the youngster with suggestions to (a) prompt him/her in appropriate behavior and choices when interacting with peers, (b) help the youngster remember how to open and eat his/her snack, (c) learn how to get ready for school in the morning, (d) know how to pack up his/her backpack at the end of the school day, and so on.
  • You can create a script to outline procedures and events – and to help your youngster feel less anxious. Scripts can help the youngster to understand why things are happening. For example, for your daughter's first visit to a dentist, prepare a simple script that outlines the process, go over the script with her ahead of time, and show her the script during the appointment so she will remember what to expect.

Other examples of social skills training techniques include social games, combining cue cards and scripts with social games, and video modeling.

Social skills activities give mom and dads the opportunity to interact with their “special needs” youngster in a fun and structured environment. Social skills training can help the youngster feel more confident, boost his sense of self-esteem, alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, and help him feel less isolated and more confident in life.


==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

Teaching Interpersonal Relationship Skills to the "Friendless" Child on the Autism Spectrum

One of the most significant problems for children with Asperger’s (AS) and High Functioning Autism (HFA) is difficulty in social interaction. AS and HFA also create problems with "mind reading" (i.e., knowing what another person might be thinking or feeling).

Most young people can observe others and guess (through a combination of tone and body language) what's "really" going on. But without help and training, AS and HFA children can't.

What comes naturally to “typical” kids does not come naturally to kids on the autism spectrum. The lack of interpersonal relationship skills makes it difficult for these boys and girls to make and keep friends – and often leads to social isolation. Now for the good news: Parents can learn to teach interpersonal relationship skills to their “special needs” youngsters.

Indicators That Your Child Needs Social Skills Training 



Here are some concrete ways to give AS and HFA children the tools they need to interact appropriately in social situations:

1. Practice reciprocal interactions. Some kids with AS and HFA have very one-sided conversations. They often talk only about their favorite subject, fail to ask questions to the peer they converse with, and fail to acknowledge interests of the peer. Thus, teach your youngster how to ask questions during a conversation, and practice taking turns while talking. Let your youngster ask a question, answer it, and let him ask another question. Do this exercise regularly to teach him how to have a conversation.

2. Rehearse social situations through role-play. If your youngster has difficulty in a specific social situation, practice it beforehand. Kids with AS and HFA must be taught what to say and do in specific situations. Engage in role-play with your youngster to physically act-out the situation. Tell him what he is expected to say or do, and then actually have him act it out with you.

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management

3. Consider involving your child in a skills-acquisition group. Relationship skills groups offer an opportunity for children with AS and HFA to practice their interpersonal skills with each other and/or “typical” peers on a regular basis.

4. Teachers can play a crucial role in teaching social skills to students on the autism spectrum. These skills need to be learned and understood well enough by the AS or HFA students to generalize them to outside situations beyond the classroom environment. Thus, to promote “skill generalization,” interventions should focus on orchestrating peer-involvement by prompting students to engage and initiate social interactions with classmates.

Teachers can also work with each individual student to practice new skills learned. Involving outside people (e.g., moms and dads, other family members, other classrooms) to promote different interactions can easily support this. Additionally, field trips can help provide natural and safe settings to practice interpersonal relationship skills outside of the classroom. Lastly, intervention sessions should be used to practice skills (e.g., assigning homework tasks) to increase repetition of training and ensure long-lasting learning.

5. Interpersonal relationship skills should not be a set of hard-and-fast rules. You can’t force AS or HFA kids to memorize them the way they would a set of multiplication tables. Different situations call for dynamic thinking. Thus, teach problem-solving and new ways to approach a particular challenge.



6. Parents can teach their youngsters how to recognize the feelings of others. Many kids with AS and HFA have great difficulty understanding how others feel by reading cues. This greatly impacts their social interactions. Therefore, use picture cards, books and magazines to point out facial expressions to your youngster. Teach her what each facial expression is and what it means. Let her practice by telling you what each facial expression is and what it means.

7. The biggest mistake parents can make is to assume that interpersonal relationship skills can be taught once and remembered forever. Social interaction is fluid, with so many variables that it can be daunting even to a “typical” youngster. For those on the spectrum, the training must continue far longer. Challenges get more and more complex as a youngster ages, bringing more things into the picture. So, be sure to go over the skills your child learned in the beginning on a regular basis, adding in more skills that can help her fine-tune her interactions.

8. Make use of “social skills training” materials. There are many tools and interventions available that involve using videos, software or virtual-reality programs to teach complex interpersonal relationship skills (e.g., recognition of emotions in facial expressions and tone of voice).

9. Make use of social stories. Social stories are simple stories written from the youngster's point of view. Each story describes a specific situation, what other people will do or say in that situation, and what your youngster is expected to do or say in that situation. Information on how to write social stories can be found HERE.

10. Locate resources in your area. Drama therapy, for example, is somewhat unusual, but where it's offered, it has the potential to be both fun and educational. Video modeling, video critiques of interactions, group therapy and other approaches may also be available in your area.

Training an AS or HFA youngster in relationship skills may take months – or even years. You may not see any improvement at first – but over time, it will happen. Stay the course, try new training methods, and be there for your youngster as he matures. Positive results will come if you keep at them.

Take into account the many facets of social interaction. Think about your youngster's strengths and weaknesses. Know his abilities as well as his language skills. With plenty of forethought, you can implement a good social skills training program for your child.

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management

Social Skills Training for Children with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

This post will provide some crucial guidelines for how parents and educators can teach social skills to children with Asperger’s (AS) and High-Functioning Autism (HFA) at home and in the classroom.

These “special needs” children often have difficulty saying what they mean, planning and controlling what they do, noticing and interpreting facial expression and body language, understanding what someone has told them, and accurately perceiving what other people do, say, or demonstrate.

Fortunately, they have a patient and supportive adult like you. The ideas presented below will show you how to support them as they struggle to show the new behavior, and how to focus on progress rather than perfection.



Social skills are those self-management, problem-solving, peer-relations, decision making, and communication abilities that allow the AS or HFA youngster to initiate and maintain positive social relationships with others. Deficits in social behavior interfere with learning, teaching, and the classroom atmosphere. Social competence is linked to peer-acceptance, teacher-acceptance, inclusion success, and post-school success.

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

Displaying poor social skills is THE #1 factor involved in the “odd” behavior that gets AS and HFA children rejected and bullied by peers. Young people on the autism spectrum often fail socially because they have difficulty monitoring and controlling their behavior when unexpected situations occur. They may misread social cues given off by others. They may view the positive social interactions of others as threatening. And they may not even notice when a peer rejects, teases, or bullies them.


Why AS and HFA Is Largely a Disorder of Social Skills



Depending on the child’s specific needs, a good “social skills training” program can include any of the following:
  • ability to respond to a given environment in a manner that produces, maintains, and enhances positive interpersonal relations
  • acceptable ways to resolve conflict with others 
  • accepting the consequences of one's behavior
  • approaching others in socially acceptable ways
  • appropriate classroom behavior
  • asking for permission rather than acting
  • attending to task
  • awareness of own and other's feelings
  • being able to predict how others might feel in a situation and understanding that others might not feel as you do
  • better ways to handle frustration and anger 
  • coping with negative feelings
  • counting to 10 before reacting
  • dealing with stress
  • distracting oneself to a pleasurable task
  • following directions
  • handling teasing and taunting
  • how to make and keep friends 
  • learning an internal dialog to cool oneself down and reflect upon the best course of action
  • listening
  • manners and positive interaction with others 
  • positive, non-aggressive choices when faced with conflict
  • seeking attention properly
  • seeking the assistance of the teacher or conflict resolution team
  • sharing toys and materials
  • using words instead of physical contact
  • what to do when you make mistakes
  • work habits and academic survival skills

How to Teach Social Skills to AS and HFA Children—

You will do well to teach social skills just like you teach academics. Assess the level of the AS or HFA child, prepare the materials, introduce the material, model it, have him or her practice it, and provide feedback. If you purchase a social skills curriculum, simply follow the directions in the kit (it should include an assessment device, lessons, and activities). If you're developing your own curriculum and devising lessons, follow the tips below.

How to teach social skills to one specific child:

1. By way of an assessment, select the AS or HFA child who needs training in certain skills.

2. Task analyze the target behavior(s). Task analysis will help to teach complex behaviors by breaking down a task into smaller objectives. Applicable replacement behaviors are usually taught when the student displays inappropriate behavior in specific environments. AS and HFA students respond well in learning new goal behaviors when they're broken down into individual steps.

3. Determine what behavior to modify or replace by observing the AS or HFA student in a variety of situations. Expose the child to a variety of environments to reveal where the behavior occurs most frequently and why he or she feels the need to engage in negative behaviors in that situation. Examples of target behaviors may include:
  • accepting "no" for an answer
  • accepting praise from others
  • accepting responsibility for one's own behavior
  • accepting the consequences administered by the teacher
  • apologizing for wrong doing
  • asking permission
  • asking questions appropriately
  • avoiding fighting with others
  • complimenting others
  • compromising on issues
  • cooperating with peers
  • coping with aggression from other
  • coping with taunts
  • coping with verbal or physical threats
  • dealing better with anger
  • dealing with frustration
  • dealing with losing
  • following directions
  • greeting others 
  • initiating a conversation with others
  • interrupting others appropriately
  • joining a group activity already in progress
  • listening
  • making a mistake in an appropriate manner without yelling or physical aggression
  • making friends
  • respecting the opinions of others
  • saying please and thank you
  • seeking attention in an appropriate manner
  • showing sportsmanship
  • understanding the feelings of others and accepting them as valid
  • waiting one's turn


4. Speak directly with the child to get a better idea of what is important in his or her life and why the behavior is occurring. This can give a lot of insight as to what the child is trying to communicate by using negative behaviors.

5. Determine an appropriate replacement behavior and decide when it should apply. Make clear the focus and purpose of the positive behavior. The behavior should promote acceptable choices in the classroom.

6. Break the appropriate behavior or task down into small and clear objectives. This encourages quicker success instead of teaching the entire task at once. Move on to the next task as the child masters each one.

7. Determine where, and under what conditions, the child should practice the behavior. Specify the expected amount of change before moving on to the next objective. Make sure each objective is measurable.

8. Discuss and model the replacement behavior with the child. Practice the appropriate behavior or smaller objectives of the behavior in the appropriate environment.

9. Use positive reinforcements. AS and HFA students who are learning to apply appropriate behaviors may display the action more frequently if they receive a tangible reward each time they behave appropriately.

Teaching social skills to a group of students:

1. Create groups of 3-5 youngsters with similar skill deficits (smaller groups give the participants a chance to observe others, practice with peers, and receive feedback).

2. Try to meet early in the day so that the participants are attentive and have the whole day to practice what they learn in the lesson.

3. Introduce the program to the participants, and describe why and how it will benefit them.

4. Identify the behaviors that you will reward during lessons (e.g., raising hands when wanting to ask a question, one child speaks at a time, paying attention, etc.). These selected behaviors will need to be taught in the initial lesson.

5. Teach the easy-to-learn skills first to ensure success and reinforcement.

6. Teach to the higher-functioning children in the group first. Have them demonstrate the new behaviors, and then reward them. Have the lower-functioning children demonstrate the behaviors after the leaders do so.

7. Have the child self-monitor and self-assess in order to build internal motivation and control.

8. Have the participants practice through homework assignments, review sessions, and assignments to real life settings.

9. Make sure your lessons are interesting and fun so that the participants look forward to the lessons.

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

10. Monitor the child’s behavior outside of the lessons. Keep track of the behavior for IEP documentation.

11. Promote generalization to different settings and circumstances by (a) having the child submit self-report forms for each class period, (b) meeting with the child to discuss performance throughout school or home life, (c) practicing in different settings and under various conditions, and (d) prompting and coaching the child in naturally occurring situations.

12. Recognize and reward proper behavior in everyday school situations.

13. When you see a good situation for a child to display a "new" behavior, prompt its use with cues or hints.

As a side note, remember that AS and HFA children generally display negative behaviors to communicate thoughts or feelings – not because they are purposely trying to be defiant. Also, as with the teaching of academics, begin with the prerequisite skills and then move on to the more advanced ones. Your social skills training program should be comprised of the skills that are most important to classroom etiquette and the AS or HFA child’s social needs.

Lastly, understand that while the teaching of social skills may consume a lot of time during the school day, over the weeks and months ahead, you will likely gain back lost time as the “special needs” child displays more acceptable behavior.

==> More crucial parenting techniques to teach social skills to kids on the spectrum can be found here...


More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book


==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

Click here for the full article...

Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

Click here to read the full article…

Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

Click here to read the full article…

Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

Click here
to read the full article...

Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

Click here for the full article...

My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content