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Autism and Social Skills

A CSLOT parent recently asked if I had read the New York Times article about Siri –Apple’s application which acts as an intelligent personal assistant. Most people with a “tweenager” have heard of Siri. My son and his friends enjoy asking Siri silly questions such as the famous riddle and tongue twister, “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”. The article entitled, “To Siri, With Love: How One Boy With Autism Became BFF With Apple’s Siri” is a mother’s story of observing her son interacting with Siri.  This mother described how her own conversations with her son improved after he was able to “practice” with Siri.  

This may be because for someone who does not pick up on social cues, Siri can be a safe way to practice conversation because her answers are intelligent and kind. Also, most people on the autism spectrum are more object-oriented than people-oriented, so they feel more comfortable with things than people. (This may also explain the success of using puppets in therapy such as in Heather McCracken’s Friend 2 Friend Model –which is based in Vancouver but may be expanding to the Bay Area soon.) While researching this topic, I also found a compelling ASHA presentation about using video modeling for individuals on the spectrum.

While celebrating the use of technology, I feel it is important to note that the US Department of Health now considers the reduction of screen time for children as a health priority. Also, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states that,” Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2. A child’s brain develops rapidly during these first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.” They also recommend that parents establish “screen-free” zones, such as in the child’s bedroom and they recommend turning off TV/screens during mealtimes. They go on to say, “Children and teens should engage with entertainment media for no more than one or two hours per day, and that should be high-quality content. It is important for kids to spend time on outdoor play, reading, hobbies, and using their imaginations in free play.”

Play is important in both the development of language and social skills. Children on the autism spectrum often have delayed play skills. Instead, children on the autism spectrum often engage in stereotypical and repetitive activities with a lack of imaginative play.  In her ASHA presentation, SLP Sarah Cliffor Scheflen describes levels of play in a play hierarchy –much like a “play ladder”. Most SLPs recognize the importance of play, which is why it is often incorporated into therapy (plus it makes it more fun!).


Anna Marie Meehan, B.A., SLP-Intern