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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content