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Incorporating Social Skills in Autistic Students

written by: KLeeBanks • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 8/2/2012

Autistic students often find it difficult to interact and communicate with their teachers, peers and other individuals in the classroom and in society. It, therefore, becomes our major responsibility to teach them social skills of varying levels and make them socially compatible with societal norms.

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    Children with Autism and Social Skills

    Autistic children suffer from impaired social interaction and communication. Therefore, their social skills need to be explicitly developed by training. If the child is not home-schooled, then the major responsibility of developing his/her social skills lies with the teacher and oftentimes, his/her peers.

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    Types of Social Skills

    Social skills of an individual, regardless of whether he/she is an adult or a child, need to be polished from time to time. Some of the common examples of social skills are active listening, equal participation, sharing tasks and ideas, asking for help and helping others, clarity in communication, sharing and recording ideas, speaking in low voice, taking turns, praising and encouraging others, etc.

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    Autism and Social Skills

    Autistic children thrive on the basis of rules and routines. Teaching all the skills together might increase their confusion and stress. Instead, the teacher must have one-on-one sessions with the child and teach him/her one skill at a time in a step-by-step manner. Teaching social skills to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) is always a challenge and requires immense patience and empathy from the teacher’s end. Unlike other children who imbibe social skills when exposed to social situations, autistic children need to be taught explicitly.

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    Teaching Social Skills

    Autistic children find difficulty in initiating conversations, creating personal relationships, maintaining eye contact, empathizing with others, etc. This does not mean that they do not desire social interaction; the major issue here is that they lack the social skill to socially interact with others.

    Before teaching an autistic child to develop his/her social skills, it is necessary from the teacher’s part to analyze the behavior of the child with the help of his/her parents.

    Involving the parents can go a long way in identifying the behavioral characteristics of the child, which would make the job of the teacher much easier. At times, anxious parents also must be educated regarding how to help their child in acquiring social skills.

    As mentioned above, one-on-one sessions with the child before allowing him/her to practice the skills in public or in groups will considerably help the child in overcoming his/her fears to communicate and interact socially. It should be noted that social skills training is not confined only to the child alone.

    Creating autism awareness among his/her peers is an important step. Most of the autistic children do not engage in inquiring about others nor do they interact with others. When other children are aware about the child’s condition, then it makes his/her life easier. Playgroups should be organized so that his/her peers can initiate conversations, thereby facilitating two-way interaction. Lack of awareness may lead to several related problems such as the child becoming the target of bullying, which may even lead to social withdrawal.

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    No Fixed Strategy in Teaching Social Skills

    Finally, while training the child, it should be kept in mind that there is no fixed strategy. Each child is unique and has his/her own special needs. The effective use of picture cards, video tapes, play groups, and peer mentors can considerably help the child in developing his/her social skills. Hence, social skills training should be tailored according to the needs of the child for making him/her socially compatible in society and in the classroom.

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