Autism Minute

February 23, 2011

Autism Minute

How to Teach Social Skills to a Child With Autism
By doban, eHow Member

Children with autism often have a hard time learning basic social skills.  They often do not recognize and interpret the more subtle aspects of social situations. They also have a harder time generalizing, or transferring, new skills from the setting they were learned in to similar, yet different, settings. These difficulties can get in the way of learning new social skills unless they are specifically taught. Using the right steps in teaching and supporting new social skills is very important.


1.  Teach social skills to a child with autism by modeling, role-playing, and then prompting them.  This three step process is critical to teaching new skills. Children with autism will learn new skills much easier when they are taught in a very hands-on, concrete, manner like this. Show them what to do and then have them practice the skills. After you have role-played the skills and they can do them (shaking a hand, a greeting, etc.), prompt them to do the skills when needed.

2.  Teach new social skills in multiple natural settings.  Sometimes, a skill has to be taught in a place where it would not normally occur. For example, a child might need to be pulled out of class to be taught a skill. A parent might need to practice a skill at home even though it would normally occur at the grocery store. The problem is that children with autism have a hard time using skills in one setting that they learned in a different setting. Do not expect them to use a greeting at church that they have only practiced at home, for ex. Practicing a new skills in multiple settings greatly increases their ability to transfer skills.

3. Start teaching new social skills to a child with autism at a very early age.  Children with autism may take much longer to learn new skills. It also often takes a long time before they begin to use  new skills naturally.  Therefore, start very early to teach and support skills.

4.  Avoid trying to teach too many skills at one time.  Children with autism have a hard enough time trying to master one or two new skills. Trying to focus on too many at one time can be too confusing and can make it hard to master anything. Focus on one or two of the most concerning skills. As one is mastered, then start teaching and supporting another social skill.

5.  Reinforce the use of new skills. Children with autism often do not have an innate desire to please others. They are motivated to do certain things because they are rewarding for other reasons. Those reasons could be to escape or avoid something, to gain sensory input, or to get something they want or need. Be sure to reinforce the use of newly learned social skills until they become habit.

6.  Use social stories to support social skills.  Social stories are short real life scenarios that show how and why to use a skill. These stories are presented with very concrete and literal wording and are presented with pictures. The literal working and the pictures increase comprehension of the story since kids with autism are often very visual thinkers and often do not understand implied meanings.  Social stories are a great way to introduce a new skill before modeling and role playing it. They are also a great quick way to help reinforce skills that have already been learned but are not being used consistently.  There are many websites on the internet that have social stories already written on a variety of subjects and skills.

Read more: How to Teach Social Skills to a Child With Autism

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