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How Asperger's Syndrome Affects Social Skills
Asperger's Syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder that impairs social interaction and communication skills. While children with Asperger's usually have typical intellectual capabilities, they have difficulties identifying and responding to social and emotional behavior in themselves and others.
Children with this disorder exhibit impaired non-verbal behavior -- lacking eye contact, facial expressions and body language necessary in social situations. Communication skills are also affected, with difficulties in the ability to initiate and maintain conversations despite fluent speech. These children often have an aversion to change, preferring routine and consistency. Children with Asperger's fail to develop friendships that are appropriate to their developmental level.
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Social Skills Training: Possible Strategies
Unlike children who develop typically and learn social skills through observation, children with Asperger's Syndrome need to be explicitly taught how to socialize. Even strategies such as talking about appropriate playground behavior or playing a game about friendship will not be effective because they are too subtle. So, what is social skills training? For children with Asperger's, training can include several strategies to teach specific skills to make and maintain friendships.
Peer mentoring has been shown to be effective in teaching social skills to children with Asperger's, including preschoolers. With this strategy, peers are chosen and trained to socialize with a classmate with the disorder and respond quickly and appropriately to the classmate's initiations. Peer mentors should be carefully chosen and have age-appropriate social skills, have good attendance, and have a positive, or neutral, relationship with the classmate with Asperger's.
Mentors should also have a basic awareness of the behaviors associated with the disorder, as much as the particular age allows. Peer mentoring is effective because it lets teachers facilitate interactions, rather than act as playmates. As a teacher reminds the peer mentor to socialize and respond appropriately to the classmate with the disorder, the classmate uses acquired skills in the natural setting during the school day.
To teach children with Asperger's to recognize and understand thoughts and feelings about themselves and others, providers show the child pictures of people exhibiting various emotions. Once a child can respond to questions about identifying basic emotions and the feelings associated with them, more complex emotions should be addressed. Advanced instruction includes teaching children the reasons behind emotions, which requires the child to make inferences based on the picture’s contextual clues. Providers use similar procedures with television programs or video of social situations after children master pictures.
Another method of social skills training is the social story. A social story is a short story that presents social concepts and rules to children learning behavioral concepts. The story should interest the child and match his level of comprehension, while responding to a child’s specific need. The story should be suggestive, not directive. Social stories work best when they are used as social primers and then the child practices the skill introduced in the story. After reading a story about playing a game with his peers, for example, the child would have the chance to join children playing a game.
Role-playing teaches basic social interaction skills by having a child with Asperger's act out situations to practice new skills and strategies. This strategy takes place in a structured setting and can be either scripted or spontaneous. The child would be provided with a request to ask another child to play with him, for instance, and have to initiate an interaction. Role-playing works well in situations involving initiating, responding to, and terminating interactions. At first, the child should be given as much time as needed to understand and respond to scenarios. As sessions continue, speed and proficiency should slowly increase.
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Persistence Pays Off
Social skills training for children with Aspergers should be provided frequently and in multiple settings by multiple providers. Skill development rates differ in each child, depending on the degree of social impairment. Frequent training in different settings and with various providers best promotes social success with peers in typical settings – the ultimate goal of instruction.
- Making (and Keeping) Friends: A Model for Social Skills Instruction, by Scott Bellinni