As the parent or guardian of a child with autism, you know they face many daily challenges, especially in social settings.
While social situations can be difficult for any child, your child with autism faces unique challenges. How much social interactions affect them may vary from other neurodivergent children. It depends on where on the spectrum they fall, among other factors.
Trying to get your child to interact with others successfully can be frustrating. But there are social skills training techniques you can use to help improve their abilities.
1. Educate Yourself to Better Educate Your Child
Being the parent of a child with autism means you’re always learning. So educating yourself on how to improve social skills in autistic children is a good idea.
Take the time to research an evidence-based program called social skills training, or SST.
SST can help your child with autism better understand what to do when interacting socially. As an added benefit, it will help you learn how you can help your child.
Social skills training can help your child learn to recognize different expressions and emotions. It can also show them what’s appropriate when interacting with others. They’ll learn about the importance of making eye contact when someone is talking to them and when it’s appropriate.
2. Take the Time to Explain Socially-Acceptable Interactions.
Children aren’t born knowing about appropriate social skills and good manners. Most learn social skills by watching the world around them. They see how people interact with one another in public and attempt to mimic that behavior. Observing helps them see what society deems appropriate and inappropriate. The culture they grow up in plays a significant role in all that.
But children with autism have a much harder time interpreting what they see in front of them. They may not pick up on social cues or social norms quickly. You can help them by explaining to them what these norms are and why they are important. It’s more than worth taking the time to explain more clearly to your child what is going on and why.
Visual aids can be a tremendous help, too. You can walk your child through various scenarios using different types of visual aids like videos, pictures, or drawings. There are also several books for teaching children how to improve their social skills.
3. Reinforce Positive Behavior
You never want to tell your child with autism that what they’re doing is “wrong.” To an autistic child, that can sound hurtful because they always hope to do what we see as “right.”
Instead, praise them for doing well. Positive reinforcement can be a great tool in improving social skills in autistic children. In fact, this is a powerful tool used in ABA therapy for social skills.
For example, if you notice your child displaying certain positive social skills in public, reward them with ice cream or let them watch an extra hour of television that night.
Finding a positive reinforcement technique that works for your child may take a few tries. It may involve their favorite treat, activity, or something else. As you use positive reinforcement, you may notice rewards that were once effective lose their appeal. When that happens, you may need to replace them with something new.
4. Practice Social Interactions With Your Child With Autism
It’s impossible to predict the social interactions your child may encounter. So much of their daily lives are out of your control. You and your child can prepare for them by practicing social interactions by role-playing at home. This type of social skills training can help them practice in a structured, comfortable, and familiar environment.
The best option would be to simulate scenarios, walking them through what to do step by step. Perhaps invite one or two of their friends over. Helping your child practice their social skills in a private setting with people your child trusts can be very beneficial.
Try to make it more fun and less stressful by making a game of it. Have your child and their friends take turns in role-playing. This will not only help them improve their social skills, but it can also help them better understand the importance of rules and taking turns.
Remember to always provide positive feedback and positive reinforcement while practicing!
5. Be Patient With Your Child
Working with your autistic child to improve their social skills takes patience. Remember that their improvement may be gradual. It’s unrealistic to expect them to alter how they interact with others overnight.
Your patience and dedication will one day result in your child having much stronger social interaction skills. The time put in will be more than worth it.
6. Change the Way you Think About Social Interactions
You tend to take for granted how natural some behaviors can feel. You understand it’s considered bad manners to not look people in the eye when talking to you. You know it’s polite to say “excuse me,” “thank you,” or “my mistake” in certain situations.
Neurodivergent children may not always learn these things on their own. This is another reason why it’s so important to help them learn using social skills training with practice and patience.
How ABA Therapy Can Help Improve Social Skills
ABA therapy for social skills is another excellent resource to help your child improve their interactions with others. At The Autism Therapy Group, we use social skills training in our in-home ABA therapy and clinic-based ABA therapy programs. Much of the activities we use include the tips above.
Your child’s RBT and BCBA will break down complex social skills like:
- conversing with others
- taking turns
- working with others to achieve a goal
- joining a group
- understanding facial expressions
- recognizing a tone of voice
- and other skills
Our highly-trained ABA therapists will not only help your child improve their social skills, but they will also give you the tools and strategies you need to practice outside of therapy times.
We offer home-based ABA therapy in cities throughout Illinois, Texas, and Wisconsin, as well as clinic-based ABA therapy in our beautiful 16,000-square-foot facility in Lombard, IL, and a new clinic in San Antonio, TX.
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Contact us for more information about our highly-effective ABA therapy programs. We’re ready to partner with you and your child to help improve their social skills and more!