Autism and Social Skills

By: Megan White

Many of the social interactions that we engage in on a daily basis are so commonplace that we take for granted how complex the rules and norms of our society truly are. We learn to take social cues from others that indicate when we can enter or exit a conversation, when to change the subject, or how the other person is feeling. Individuals with autism have varying levels of difficulty engaging with others and recognizing these subtle cues.  The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) outlines four different social skill areas to help determine where a child’s strengths and weaknesses are when determining goals and interventions.

  1. Survival skills (e.g., listening, following directions, ignoring distractions, using nice or brave talk, rewarding yourself)
  2. Interpersonal skills (e.g., sharing, asking for permission, joining an activity, waiting your turn)
  3. Problem-solving skills (e.g., asking for help, apologizing, accepting consequences, deciding what to do)
  4. Conflict resolution skills (e.g., dealing with teasing, losing, accusations, being left out, peer pressure)

All of these skills are important in gaining independence and increasing the quality of life for individuals with autism, especially as they reach school age. There are many different ways to teach social skills to those with deficits. Interventions to help increase socialization begin at an individual level using task analyses, modeling, social stories, and role playing (to name a few). There are also a multitude of benefits to group social skills trainings.  Social groups that focus on the four skill areas mentioned above are sometimes made up solely of children diagnosed with autism, but can also include neurotypical peers. Social groups may utilize game play, role play, social stories, group teaching sessions, feedback, and peer modeling. Teaching social skills at an individual or group level are most effective when taught using natural environment teaching strategies so that the skills are sure to generalize to other settings. Although many children with autism struggle with the complex social norms of our culture, with individual and group social skills teaching programs they will learn to be more engaged socially leading to more independence and interpersonal relationships.