Children and adults with autism vary greatly in their strengths and challenges, but most persons with autism have difficulty with social skills. Frequently referred to as “mind-blindedness”, they have trouble knowing what others might be thinking. A person with high-functioning autism (sometimes referred to as Aspergers), may act oddly, hurt other’s feelings, or ask inappropriate questions without knowing it.
Persons with high-functioning autism share symptoms with others diagnosed with autism, but their strengths allow them to function fairly well in school or at work. They do not usually have delayed language development; they often have average to above average intelligence; and usually are passionate about one or two specific topics. They don’t do “small talk” well, and often have trouble understanding the non-verbal aspects of communication such as eye contact, facial expressions and body language. They want to be involved with others, but lack the social skills of how to go about it.
But social skills can be taught, and learning them can make a big difference for children and adults with autism. A speech therapist or occupational therapist can teach specific skills like understanding facial expressions and body language, self-monitoring, and how to be part of a group. Lessons involve recognizing indirect language (like hints or implied information) and learning to make guesses. Students may also learn about understanding and interpreting emotions, understanding intentions and how to solve problems.
For more information regarding teaching social skills for children or adults with high-functioning autism, visit Michelle Garcia Winner’s social thinking program.
-Paula Gallay, MS, CCC-SLP