While academics are normally viewed as important to a student’s success in life, social skills are an integral part also. Unlike typically developing students, those with autism are unable to pick up these skills from their environments. However, in order to successfully develop relationships, interact with others and later on in life, have employment, developing these skills is a necessity. Developing social skills lesson plans requires considering the needs of the individual student, proper preparation and allowing the student to practice in the actual setting that the skill is required.
When beginning to develop a lesson plan to teach a social skill, consideration should be given to the needs and desires of the individual student. Choosing a social situation that will involve something the student is enthusiastic about will make it easier to generalize the skill into everyday life and help motivate them to make effort. A child that enjoys art and drawing will be more likely to participate in required social skills for that than if forced to play a sport that is not enjoyed.
Knowing the long term educational goals of the student with autism can also assist in determining what social skills should be the focus. A student who will be attending a community college might require different social skills than a student who is more likely to work in a place where repetitive skills are necessary.
Once the skill is defined, it is important to prepare the student to increase the likelihood for success. Letting the student with autism know what is going to occur should be done in whatever way is best understood. Having the event on a schedule, reading social stories that explain what is going to happen and practicing the steps of the skill can all help increase the student’s confidence and provide support for when the actual social situation is going to happen. Choosing social situations in settings that will provide the least amount of anxiety for the student can also help determine success. For example, if the student does best first thing in the morning, social interactions would best be planned then. If a student has trouble in crowded areas, shopping trips in the community should be planned at times when the store is not busy.
When developing actual social skills lesson plans, it is important to have a way to determine success. Repetition will be required, therefore each attempt should be documented so that progress can be observed. This type of data collection can be done through a check list, written narrative, or filling out a chart.
Because social skills involves interacting others, it is important to choose age appropriate settings so that the child with a disability is seen as capable of the interaction. When working on specific social skills, it will be helpful to have help from peers who are able to model the correct behavior for the student with autism in the actual social environment. For example, social skills required to eat lunch in the cafeteria should be modeled by friends while in the cafeteria. Although some skills might require practice, using real life situations provides the highest chance of the student with autism being able to generalize it and use it in the appropriate context. Another example would be when paying for an item. Instead of playing store in the classroom, allowing the student to purchase lunch or an item from the school store is more likely to teach the student how to properly pay for an item.