Social skills are widely considered one of the most important skill sets for children and adults to develop and maintain. These skills help us to communicate effectively, build relationships, and navigate through many activities that occur in day-to-day life. Being in social situations can be fun and easy for some, while others find it a bit intimidating and nerve wracking. While social skills can come naturally for many, that may not be the case for individuals with autism. We’d like to share a few tips on how parents can help their child with autism learn social skills, to increase opportunities for meaningful relationships and for new experiences.
Remember to be patient with your child as they’re learning how to appropriately navigate a social scenario. For most of us, it’s automatic that we greet people when they walk into a room, make eye contact when speaking to someone, or even smile at someone that walks by. These skills require significantly more time and effort for an autistic child to learn, along with the recognition of many other common social cues. By taking the extra steps to acknowledge their differences and taking a more thorough approach, the likelihood for successful outcomes significantly increases.
Practice makes perfect and social skills are not learned in isolation. If your child is practicing social skills in a therapy setting, it’s important to stay consistent outside of the clinic as well. For example, if your child is currently learning how to respond to greetings from other adults, following the same schedule of reinforcement implemented during therapy is essential to generalizing this skill.
Always celebrate the little wins! No child will go from completely playing alone to playing pretend with their classmates overnight, but it’s important to remember to reinforce any and all progress. For example, if your child begins waving to others when they previously did not- provide lots of specific praise such as “I love how nice you’re waving!” with any other of their preferred reinforcers that may be available (tickles, fruit snacks, high fives, etc.). This will help children with autism pair social interactions with reinforcement and therefore increase the frequency of these skills occurring.
Helping your child develop and maintain social skills will not only improve the quality of their life, but yours as their parents as you see your child become gradually more independent and access new, exciting opportunities. As a child gets better and better at a skill, the behavior itself becomes more natural and automatic. Continue to display encouragement and support when you see your child interacting with others, it will benefit all parties involved. Remember that your clinical team is here to help determine the best ways to individualize teaching these skills to your child and support you and your family through this learning journey!