Let Them Be Social!
SPONSORED BY: Easterseals of Southwest Florida
The importance of Social Skills training for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder should not be underestimated.
Persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often miss important social cues that include reading emotions, gauging appropriate reactions, and establishing and maintaining functional communication.
For a person with Autism Spectrum Disorder, it may seem as if everyone has a road map to navigate social situations, except for them. These deficits can lead to lack of friendships, inability to obtain and retain employment, increased loneliness, and isolation.
What exactly is social skills training? Social Skill Training is an evidence based instructional strategy that is taught in a group setting. Most often, these groups are conducted by a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Autism Specialist or Board-Certified Behavior Analyst. Social skills groups are used to teach individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) ways to appropriately interact with typically developing peers. Social skills groups typically involve small groups of two to eight individuals with disabilities and a teacher or adult facilitator. Most social skill group meetings include instruction, role-playing or practice, and feedback to help learners with ASD acquire and practice skills to promote positive social interactions with peers. These groups are often taught in a school or clinical setting and may include typically developing peers and/or siblings.
Social Skills training teaches a variety of skills. Most topics revolve around communication, friendship skills, and interpersonal interactions. Because the unemployment rate for those with ASD hovers at around 85% nationally, the teaching of communication skills and ability to demonstrate positive interpersonal interactions is a key to securing and maintaining gainful employment.
Social skills instruction should begin in the preschool years and can extend through post-secondary training to ensure mastery in a variety of settings. As situations change in the lives of those with ASD, social skills instruction and support can be beneficial across the lifespan.
The format for social skills groups typically include a brief introduction to ensure the comfort of participants. This leads to a topic focused direct instruction, followed by modeling of the skill and practice by the participants. During the practice the group facilitator will provide coaching and the participant will join in the problem-solving process as the need arises.
In addition, a key to successful social skills instruction is the inclusion of fun and celebrations. It is important to keep the instruction upbeat and motivating to ensure engagement of all participants. Practice social outings give the group participants the opportunity for real life practice, across a variety of settings. The generalization of skills for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder is a key to success.
Where can you find social skills instruction in your community? Start by checking with your child’s pediatrician for a referral to a social skills program. Your local Autism Society may also be a good resource. Social skills groups may be reimbursed by Medicaid and insurance plans, dependent on the individual’s insurance coverage. Social Skills groups may also be offered at low or no cost to the participants by social service agencies. When seeking social skills instruction for your child it is important to ensure the group is taught by qualified staff. Staff should have specialized training in the conducting of social skills groups, instruction for persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and clinical training in comorbid conditions and behavioral needs.
If you are in an area where social skills instruction is not offered, an excellent alternative can be topic focused social groups such as chess club, after-school community center groups, video or card gaming communities, lego clubs, book clubs, etc. Park districts may also offer a wide variety of social opportunities for those with ASD and other unique abilities. !
Jacque Ruch, MEd., LCSW, Autism Specialist and a parent of a young adult with ASD. Vice President Easterseals Southwest Florida.