Helping autistic kids learn social skills is one of the most important parts of the work we do at Blossom Children’s Center.
Autistic kids often have difficulty with social interaction, communication, and understanding social cues, which can make it challenging for them to engage with others and form connections. By teaching social skills, we can help them to improve their communication, build confidence, and develop a sense of belonging.
Teaching social skills to autistic children is important to us because it helps them to develop the skills they need to interact successfully with others and navigate social situations. Social skills are essential for building relationships, making friends, and functioning in society.
What are Social Skills?
Social skills are the abilities and behaviors that we use to interact with others in social situations. They include the ability to communicate effectively, show empathy, understand social cues, and maintain positive relationships with others. The American Psychological Association says that social skills are:
“A set of learned abilities that enable an individual to interact competently and appropriately in a given social context. The most commonly identified social skills in Western cultures include assertiveness, coping, communication and friendship-making skills, interpersonal problem-solving, and the ability to regulate one’s cognitions, feelings, and behavior.”
Because these skills are often elusive, understanding how to encourage and address social skills for autistic kids is a vital component in helping them to be empowered on their journey to leading a fulfilled life.
9 Important Social Skills for Autistic Kids to Focus On
When we plan social skills activities for autistic children, we are particularly interested in those that target specific skills that will help in that journey. It’s good to keep in mind that some children with autism will have an easier time with some of these skills, and others will be stronger with other skills. Autism is unique to all autistic kids.
Here are some of the skills that you can focus on when thinking about social skills activities for autistic kids:
Teach kids with autism how to maintain eye contact while speaking with others. As we’ve explained in our blog, “This strategy helps your child learn to scan faces more effectively for emotional cues.”
Active listening involves fully concentrating on and engaging with what someone else is saying. For autistic children, it can be particularly challenging to develop active listening skills due to difficulties with social communication and sensory processing. Work with autistic kids on how to listen actively and attentively to others.
Practice identifying social cues such as body language and facial expressions. We recommend that you “Draw your child’s attention to others in the room. Doing so is a powerful ABA therapy technique that encourages your child to absorb the emotional and behavioral responses others exhibit.”
Autism Parenting Magazine says, “Some children with autism often display issues understanding the concept of sharing toys with others, along with preferring to play by themselves.”
Help them understand the importance of taking turns in conversations and activities. If you try, you can find lots of opportunities to practice this skill in real life, from casual chats to board games.
Studies show that some autistic kids struggle to understand personal space, standing too close to others, or walking in between others who are talking. Teach them about personal space and boundaries.
Empathy is a complex discussion in the autism community. For a long time, the idea that kids with autism couldn’t feel empathy was fairly widespread.
But as Psychology Today puts it, “That’s simply false. They do have empathy.” They go on to explain that those on the autism spectrum “score the same or even have more emotional distress at the distress of others than neurotypical people.”
Even so, all children, including autistic kids, benefit from understanding empathy and how it works. Help them develop empathy and understand the feelings of others.
For autistic children, who may struggle with social communication and interaction, conflict resolution can be particularly challenging.
Learning to resolve conflicts effectively can provide significant benefits for autistic children. It can help them to better understand social situations, improve their communication skills, and enhance their ability to form meaningful relationships with others. Additionally, conflict resolution can help autistic children to develop problem-solving skills and increase their self-esteem.
Emotions can be tricky to understand and identify, and when left unexamined can sometimes be overwhelming.
We recommend helping autistic children learn about emotions by “labeling their emotions in natural contexts. For example, if you’re reading a book with your child, point out emotions, and discuss the characters’ emotions. Talk about their facial expressions, the situations that led to a particular emotional reaction, and how other characters respond. Work on mimicking the emotions of the characters and discuss how the story makes you feel.”
Asking for help
It can be difficult to ask for help, and sometimes even to identify when help is needed. Part of developing social skills for autistic kids is understanding how useful a helper can be. Reinforce the benefits of asking for help when they need it.
Speaking of asking for help, sometimes helping autistic kids learn social skills takes a professional team trained in Applied Behavioral Analysis and other techniques.
Learn more about our Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy Services