Navigating Social Skills for Children with ASD
Misconception on Social Skills for Autism: An Introduction to Social Skills
Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD is defined by a persistent deficit in social communication and social interaction across multiple settings. Individuals with autism can present with various degrees of social challenges from being awkward to having no social interests at all. It is a common assumption that children with ASD are not socially interested. While this may be true for some children, it is not the case for all children with autism. Many children who have ASD are socially interested but may lack the skills to socially interact and communicate with their peers.
Another common misconception is that a child with ASD can be helped socially by placing him or her in a social environment among typically developing peers, such as school or daycare. A core deficit of children with autism is the lack of ability to learn from the environment or at best selective learning. As such, they may not learn how to interact with their peers by just being around them.
When a child who has not developed an interest in peers and also lacks the skills to interact with them is placed among his peers, he may find it aversive to have others trying to interact with him.
Over time, the child may start to isolate himself and his peers may also learn to leave him alone. This effect results in the child with ASD learning that they do not have to interact with peers or that peers are aversive.
When a child who is interested in other children but lacks the skills to interact with them is placed among his peers, he may often do the wrong things which may affect his reputation and result in him not having any friends or isolating himself.
Sometimes, this may also lead to bullying. It is important to recognise that when a child is not equipped, being in a social environment does not make him more social, and in some cases, the opposite can happen.
Social Skills for Children with Autism: Why are they important?
Social skills is a nuanced area of deficit that is often not looked into in-depth when addressing challenges faced by children with autism (ASD). Besides the myth that children with autism are not social, priority in developing academic and language skills often leaves social skills not addressed adequately.
Another reason why social skills may not be addressed in depth is the attribution to a child’s individuality, such as being an introvert. There is also the fact that teaching social skills is difficult.
When our goal of therapy for children with ASD is to have them live a fulfilling life with meaningful friendships and connections, teaching social skills is definitely important and should be one of the primary focus.
Social skills and developing social relatedness make a huge impact in developing better attention overall. When a child cares about the people around him and is tuned in to the environment, he would naturally be able to attend better and this leads to better learning behaviours, such as learning from observation. It will also impact many other areas of deficits making it easier for them to be more successful in school, work and life in general.
Overall, they would also be more cued in and pick up more natural language as they pay attention when others are speaking. Ultimately, by developing meaningful friendships, the quality of life will be improved.
What is the best way to teach social skills to children with autism?
The Autism Partnership Method (APM) breaks down social skills into several parts that are interlinked, namely; social awareness, social relatedness, social communication, social interaction, and social learning. Each of these domains needs to be developed in relation to the others. By increasing their skills in these areas children with autism will interact more readily with peers. We often set up practices for such social interactions by having play dates and social groups.
In our next article, we will explore more about the social skills taxonomy as well as how social skills practice can be explicitly set up during playdates and social groups.