Social skills of autism: how to improve social interaction


What are social skills?

Social skills refer to a child’s ability to communicate with others in a way that is acceptable and appropriate to social situations. When a child has social skills, they can form friendships and lead a simple conversation.

Social skills and autism

It’s a common misconception that children with autism don’t make friends because they’re antisocial. This is not the case. Children with autism want to make friends and talk to others, but they don’t always know how to do it right. They often have difficulty maintaining eye contact and understanding social interactions.

When someone says that a child lacks social skills, it means that he / she does not have the expected behavior with other children, which makes it more difficult to make friends.

For example, a child with autism may take another child’s toy without asking permission. This is considered negative behavior by most people, but a child with autism might not understand.

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Social skills of autism:

How to improve social interaction

What social skills are affected by autism?

Teaching a child with autism social skills can sometimes be a challenge. This is mainly because one of the main symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a lack or delay in social and communication skills.

Symptoms that affect a child’s social skills are:

  • Delays in speech development
  • Inability to read nonverbal cues
  • Not understanding the feelings of others
  • Difficulty understanding jokes, sarcasm or teasing
  • Unable to hold a conversation
  • Repeats words and phrases over and over again (echolalia)
  • Gives unrelated answers to questions

Looking at these symptoms, it’s understandable that a child with autism might have difficulty interacting with others. This is why he / she might not make friends easily at school. At home, playing with your siblings can seem almost impossible.

What social skills does an autistic child need?

Children with autism need the same level of social skills as their neurotypical peers. Social skills are important for a child to develop self-confidence, befriend and get along with the people around them.
Autism author and advocate Temple Grandin, who was diagnosed with autism as a toddler, strongly believes that children should learn social skills to help them become more independent.

In an interview with Autism Parenting Magazine, Grandin explains that spending too much time alone for a child on the spectrum is not advisable. “I tended to become a recluse in my room and that was not allowed. If I wanted to play outside for hours experimenting on my kite designs that was perfect. I was not allowed to stay in my room, ”she said.

According to Grandin, social skills are not only important for building relationships, but also for developing the life skills that children need as adults. “They have to know how to arrive on time, learn discipline and responsibility,” she said.

Socially, a child with autism must learn to:

  • Play with others (take turns sharing, pretending)
  • Talk to others
  • Manage emotions
  • Solve problems

Once these basic skills have been identified, it is easier to develop a plan to improve a child’s social skills.

How to improve your child’s social skills

Over the years, scientists and researchers have studied different methods to improve the social skills of children with autism.

Research on social skills interventions in children with autism has advanced over the past decade. A review of group social skills training for school-aged children on the spectrum from 1985 to 2006 showed that the data is too small to be conclusive, but ideal research methods have been identified.

Today, parents and caregivers have access to new treatments that have been proven to empower children with autism to interact in social situations.

Social skills therapy for autism

To teach a child with autism social skills, parents can seek help from social skills therapists. These experts come from different backgrounds but share the same knowledge and skills needed to help people with autism develop social skills.

Social skills therapy is primarily based on a concept called social thinking. Speech-Language Pathologist Michelle Garcia Winner coined the term “social thinking” and turned it into a strategy to improve the social skills of people on the spectrum.

Therapists use different teaching strategies for students to deal with common social situations. This would include teaching a child with autism how to play, talk, share and work with other children his age. Some sessions are also conducted in groups to encourage children to apply what they have learned.

Most schools with autism programs offer social skills training. You can visit the Autism Society of America to search for social skills therapists in your area.

Strategies for teaching and developing social skills

Therapy sessions and expert interventions can improve the social skills of children with autism. But, it is just as important that parents and guardians reinforce social skills training at home for optimal results.

Here are some strategies parents and guardians can use:


Role plays can help a child learn expected and unexpected behavior in a given scenario. For example, if a child is going to school for the first time, role play can help him put into practice the actual event of going to school.

Play games together

Before sending a child to play with others, it is a good idea to “practice” playing with a parent or sibling. Parents can explain how the game works and observe the child’s behavior throughout the game.

Some games to play are:

  • Kick a ball back and forth
  • Simon says
  • Hide and seek
  • Simple board games like Jenga or Connect Four

Playing games will teach a child the importance of rules, taking turns and being a good sport.

Watch videos or watch others

If a child is anxious about a social activity, such as going to the dentist, you can watch videos of people or children during a dental visit. It is helpful to explain to the child what to expect when he arrives at the clinic. It can also help the child recognize basic courtesy skills, such as greeting the doctor and following directions.

Social Stories ™

In 1991, consultant and writer Carol Gray created Social Stories ™ to help children with special needs take care of themselves and develop social skills.

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Social skills of autism:

How to improve social interaction

A social story is a story with a social element. These stories will further illustrate how people behave when interacting with others and the best ways to work with others to solve problems.

  • Social stories are great if you want a child with autism to:
  • Develop social skills (share, ask for help, say thank you)
  • Understanding the feelings of others
  • Understanding your own feelings
  • Dealing with unexpected changes
  • Regulate emotions

There are many books that teach social skills to children with autism spectrum disorders. If your child is an avid reader, then this approach makes the most sense.

Parents can also learn to write their own social stories based on their child’s behavior. To do this, parents need to become familiar with the basics of creating social stories, including choosing what types of sentences to use, creating characters, and identifying the purpose of the story.

Interaction with neurotypical children

Children with autism can learn social skills from their neurotypical peers. If the autistic child is not yet exposed to children his or her age (who are not on the spectrum), then a parent can schedule appointments to make this happen.

How to teach social skills in different environments

Some children with autism may learn a skill in a certain environment, but will stop applying it when the situation changes. Parents, teachers, and caregivers all need to work together to help a child with autism become regular with their ability to socialize.

Social skills in the classroom

For school-aged children with autism, attending school itself is a challenge they face every day. In addition to the school challenges, they also take care of the other children in their class. Teachers can help children with autism develop their social skills by:

  • Make the classroom comfortable (no loud noise or bright light)
  • Encourage the child to participate in activities
  • Choose topics and toys that might interest him
  • Model of good social skills

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Social skills of autism:

How to improve social interaction

Social skills at home

Home is where most children spend their time. This is where they often learn basic social skills.

Parents and caregivers are expected to reinforce what a child learns from social skills training or school. Talking to the child’s therapist or teacher will help parents create their own ways of teaching social skills at home.

Games and visual aids can be used to help a child learn to read emotions, communicate with others, understand social rules, and solve problems.

Social skills are essential for everyday life. Children with autism may have difficulty learning these skills early on. But with the help of experts and qualified educators, it can be done.

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