The development of social skills in children has been identified as a critical aspect of early childhood development. Many children on the autism spectrum need help in learning how to act in different types of social situations. As indicated by Dodge (1993) childhood deficits in social skills have been linked to aggression and peer rejection, as children with ASD often have the desire to interact with others, but may not know how to engage friends or may be overwhelmed by the idea of new experiences. Children with autism have been found to demonstrate low rates of peer interaction, poorly formed play behaviours and avoidance of social situations. Therefore, building up social skills with practice can help enhance their participation in the community and support outcomes like happiness and friendships.
What Are Social Skills?
Social skills are the rules, customs, and abilities that guide our interactions with other people and the world around us. In general, people tend to “pick up” social skills in the same way they learn language skills: naturally and easily. Over time they build a social “map” of how to in act in situations and with others.
For people with autism it can be harder to learn and build up these skills, forcing them to guess what the social “map” should look like.
Social skills development for people with autism involves:
- Direct or explicit instruction and “teachable moments” with practice in realistic settings
- Focus on timing and attention
- Support for enhancing communication and sensory integration
- Learning behaviors that predict important social outcomes like friendship and happiness
- A way to build up cognitive and language skills
Social skills groups at Adora Bright offer an opportunity for children with autism and other developmental disabilities to practice their social skills with each other and/or typical peers on a regular basis.
Since simply placing a child with autism in an inclusive setting by itself, does not result in spontaneous increases in their social interaction with peers, targeted and specific interventions are necessary to increase positive peer interaction. Our team of experienced staff utilize strategies for teaching peer interaction that are supported by research on their effectiveness for children with developmental disabilities and specifically for children with autism, including;
- structure and predictability
- abstract social concepts broken down into concrete actions
- Simplified language and children grouped by language level\
- Working in pairs or groups with cooperation and partnership encouraged
- multiple and varied learning opportunities provided
- Fostering self-awareness and self-esteem
Providing opportunities for practice so that skills are used beyond the group in real life settings