What are social skills and why are they important?
Social skills are the skills we have to get along with other people. Social skills can be as basic as saying hello and good-bye, 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. Below is a list of social skills: (information and skills taken from: Embrace the Future)
Basic interaction 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 (asking how their day was).
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.
Knowing when to disclose personal information and when not to.
Noticing other people’s feelings.
Expressing concern at others’ distress.
Being able to recognize what someone else might be feeling.
Showing sensitivity to others’ feelings when communicating.
How do I teach social skills at home?
Social Skills to try teaching at home:
- Say Hello
- Take Turns
- Stay on Topic/Reciprocal Conversation
- 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 as shown below:
Target social skill: “Say Hello”:
1. Turn your body/shoulders to face the person.
2. Look in his/her eyes.
3. Say hello
- Use positive reinforcement to reward 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 playdate, but have difficulty using the skill at school where there are more distractions. Therefore, it is helpful to practice the skill in a variety of environments.
-Michelle Smith, MS, CCC-SLP