To most, socializing can become easy and natural, and inherently, a learned skill. But, for most children with autism, social skills do not come naturally, especially picking up on social cues. In fact, some even avoid socializing all together.
I thought I would generate some helpful tips for parents who struggle to teach their child social skills. By no means am I a professional or doctor! These are just helpful tips I’ve learned along the way with my son. If these tips help, then great! In fact, share with me a tip that has worked for you!
- Try to educate yourself on the reason behind their lack of social skills. Is it because of sensory? Is there a communication problem? Figuring out the cause will help you move forward.
- Model appropriate behaviors. Most likely, children with autism are unable to see social clues, understand age appropriate behaviors and read body language or facial expressions. I often have to model the appropriate behavior for my son by role playing. For example, before we go for a play date I explain to him that you are going to see and play with “Johnny”. I ask, “Do you remember how we greet our friends?” Based on his answer, we role play how we greet other people. Or if you see a behavior that is not acceptable you can say something like, “What you are doing now is not socially acceptable. If you need “abc”, a more acceptable way is to do….”
- Validate their struggles. My son always feels a bit better when I validate his feelings before I instruct, remind or teach him the social skill. For example, he’s a hugger, a big, squeeze-tight, hugger! Time after time, when he is excited to see someone, he typically runs up to the person and literally latches on, squeezes tightly and hangs on a bit too long. It’s obvious to me that the person is not very welcoming to this HUG, but my son just is not picking up on the body language. Instead of me just saying, “let go, you’re being too rough, they don’t like that!”, I typically say something like “I know you’re really excited to see “Johnny”, but remember personal space. We say hello first, then maybe a soft, light hug or a high five.” That way, my son doesn’t feel he’s in trouble or feels bad about himself. We never want our children’s self-esteem to go down; we want to empower them! Validate first, then re-direct. Always works for me!
- Social Stories. This is HUGE, especially with preschool, young children. You can easily research online social stories and read them aloud with your child. I have a section about social stories in my “behavior strategies” section. Social stories are another great way to help your child understand everyday expectations within social situations.
- Games. Choose games that involve teamwork or cooperation with others. Not only is taking-turns a skill that needs to be learned, but working together is a key social skill to learn. Not all games are about winning first.
- Ease anxiety. Entering a social situation can be very hard for children and cause their anxiety to spike. Always reassure your child that they are safe and if they need a break from the situation they can certainly take one. Maybe they take along their favorite plush toy, have a fidget toy in their pocket, or maybe take a quick snack break with quiet. Whatever calms your child, use it as a tool to ease anxiety in social situations.
I hope these tips were helpful. If you have a tip I’d love to hear about it!