The Skill of Teaching Social Skills
Social skills are the skills we have to get along with other people. Social skills can be as basic as saying hello and goodbye, or smiling and making eye contact with people we know. They can also be more difficult, like the skills we use to negotiate.
Some people learn social skills easily and quickly, whereas others find social interactions more challenging, and may need to work on developing their social skills. It is common for children with autism to have difficulty with social skills. Luckily, social skills are like any other kind of skill – they can be learned.
Basic social skills
- Making frequent eye contact.
- Smiling when greeting people and talking.
- Showing “confident” body language: an open, direct stance, not fidgeting or twisting.
- Basic politeness: saying please and thank-you, saying hello and good-bye.
- Showing interest in others (inquiring about a person’s day).
Building and maintaining friendships
- Approach skills: being able to talk to someone who you don’t know well.
- Sharing decision-making (not always insisting on having one’s way).
- Showing appropriate affection and appreciation.
- Being supportive (showing concern when a friend is having a hard time).
- Thoughtfulness: thinking about what might be a nice thing to do for your friend.
- Taking turns when talking.
- Listening and showing interest in what others have to say.
- “Small talk”: being able to chat about unimportant things.
- Nodding and smiling to indicate that you are following along.
- Using humor.
- Knowing when to disclose personal information and when not to.
- Noticing other people’s feelings.
- Expressing concern for others’ distress.
- Being able to recognize what someone else might be feeling.
- Showing sensitivity to others’ feelings when communicating.
How to support your child in learning social skills at home
- Target one skill at a time so your child has time to understand and succeed before moving on. Teach skills directly by breaking down a skill into smaller parts. For example, to target the social skill of greeting another person, you can break it down into these steps:
- Turn your body/shoulders to face the person.
- Look in his/her eyes.
- Say, “Hello.”
- Use positive reinforcement to reward the acquisition of each part of the social skill targeted. External reinforcement may be necessary to motivate a child with autism. An explanation of why the skill is important may be helpful depending on the child’s level of understanding. There are various types of reinforcement to provide to the child when teaching new skills including watching a favorite TV show, playing briefly with a novel toy, and verbal praise.
- Start teaching the social skill in a 1:1 setting with no distractions. Have your child sit across from you at the table, and prompt the correct response initially.
- Practice in other settings. After the skill is mastered in one setting, practice in settings where the social skill is appropriate. Generalizing the social skill is often the most difficult challenge, so try to keep reinforcement high for the child. Once a social skill is mastered in a generalized setting, introduce a new target. To maintain mastered skills, it is helpful to verbally praise the child using the social skill appropriately.
- Practice in a variety of settings. Your child will likely need practice in a variety of settings before fully acquiring the skill. For example, a child may learn the social skill “say hello” to a friend who comes over for a play date but has difficulty using the skill at school where there are more distractions. Therefore, it is helpful to practice the skill in a variety of environments.
A certified speech-language pathologist can be very helpful in supporting you to teach social skills. Contact us today for more information about our programs.