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Teaching Social Skills for your Children.

The definition of fun time during childhood is not complete without friends. Every parent wants their child to make friends, have a nice time with them and be happy. When we talk about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), making and keeping friends which comes under social skills, is one of the core areas which can be affected. To understand and using nonverbal cues, to initiate an interaction with other same-aged children around them, could be a challenge for children diagnosed with ASD. Making friends definitely is important but social skills include acting and responding differently in various different social situations. Interacting with grandparents to visit a friend, all come under social skills.

A child diagnosed with ASD would take longer to learn the nuisances of conduction in a social situation. Understanding the need of the social situation and responding appropriately could be a difficult task. It is a huge possibility that the child feels extreme anxiety and struggles to make connections with others in the social realm. Understanding this core area of struggle, the goal of each parent should be to explain to the child each social situation in a positive light and remove the negativity attached to them. Research has suggested some scientific ways to help the child develop in this area. Some of them are –

1. Explaining and modeling social interactive situations: - It is a well-known fact that children learn a lot by watching and imitating others around them. This is by far the most accessible source of learning for any child. Therefore, it is important to model appropriate social behavior which you wish your child to learn, as many times as possible in front of the child. The added difficulty while teaching a behavior via modeling could be that the child diagnosed with ASD may not understand the social behavior playing in front of them without accompanied verbal feedback. It may be difficult to accompany each social situation with verbal information about it, but it would be really helpful for the child if both are given to him/her simultaneously. If this is not possible then it is recommended that after the social situation is over, try and discuss it with your child in the form of explaining. It is important to remember that this explanation should be as a matter of fact and in informal way. For example, while just sitting with the child you may start the topic like “how happy grandpa was on seeing you……………”. Describe what happened, highlight how you understand the child would have struggled to respond and help the child understand the small social cues like facial expression, body language, etc during the social interaction. After doing this exercise a few times, the child may have some questions like why you responded in a particular way. It is very important that you should explain the rationale for your behavior. Children diagnosed with ASD like patterns, predictability and routines. Therefore, they may start modeling the behavior by understanding the rationale and making it a part of their routine.

2. Talking through social situation: - As parents, you may not want to wait for the social situation to present itself and want to prepare the child beforehand. Visual cues come in very handy in these situations. Present the future scenario in front of the child through the medium of cards with pictures describing the situation. A verbal explanation should be accompanied with a visual presentation explaining what is happening with each card that you present. While describing you may also give options to your child on how he/she can respond from which the child may very well choose. Always explain the rationale for the responses that you would like him to favor. Story books, cartoons or other mediums of media can also be utilized to aid in your child’s understanding of social interactions. Many parents have successfully and easily incorporated this strategy in their daily routine for making their child understand the world around him/her.

3. Role-play: - Role playing is another important way by which you can help your child understand the social world around him better. Role play generally is followed after modeling and explain the social situation through the medium of social cues. You may find that the child is mostly understanding the situation but is struggling with specific interactions with his/her peer. In such a situation, act out the particular situation, explain and give feedback. You may either ask the child to assume the role of the peer or you may assume the role and play out the whole interaction. Step by step explains the different responses each of which you have displayed in the role-playing and reinforce the socially appropriate responses for the child. This is a good strategy by which you can make the child practice his/her skills in a low-risk environment before facing the anxiety-provoking real-life situation giving him time to understand and get prepared.

Support System: - The best support parents can find is among other parents of children diagnosed with ASD. Teaching social skills can be time-consuming and would need a lot of patience and understanding. Find support to organize play dates with other children and discuss the strategies that other parents are adopting to develop appropriate social skills. Above all else, believe in your kid. Believe that your child has the potential to learn and develop with time and patience.

Written By: -

Isha Singh - Clinical Psychologist

Director - Clinical Services, Ananya Child Development Centre.

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