It can be challenging to add a social skills training component to an already full curriculum. And yet, unaddressed, the social skill and performance deficits of students with ASD can often be more debilitating than any lack of academic success.
No matter how skilled and able you are to read, navigate a computer, solve challenging math problems or convey sophisticated information about a special interest, if you can’t take turns, wait, share, show concern for others or have a conversation you are at risk for failure socially, and later may have trouble getting and keeping employment.
Although many students with ASD are lucky enough to get early intervention to address some of their social learning difficulties, and others attend social skills groups either in school or as an extra-curricular therapy, they still need opportunities to practice these skills in daily life i.e., with their typical peers in the classroom!
Although the strategy below does not replace the need for the comprehensive program that is needed for some students, we’ve observed improved skills when teachers use variations on the following strategy:
- identify a key skill that is needed by the student with ASD, that you can work on with everyone in your class. Skills such as waiting, offering assistance to another, giving a compliment or asking someone a question about their life or interests are great behaviours to target. There are many social skills checklists available on the internet, and in books that target social skills (see recommended resources). The Social Responsibility Performance Standards in the BC curriculum also describe some social skills we should target in school aged children. We liked the checklist we found from the University of Illinois – Urbana that you can have older students do on their own or that can help frame your observations: http://my.extension.uiuc.edu/documents/257081302080208/lp_careadult_socialskills.pdf The speech/language pathologist or school psychologist is also a resource for social skills checklists.
- Pick a skill and designate it as the “skill of the month”. Brainstorm with your students all the ways they might display that skill in the classroom, at home or on the playground. For example, “waiting” could include waiting for the teacher to call on you when you have your hand up, waiting in line, waiting for a turn in a game, etc. Students could make posters, draw comic strips or do other projects to illustrate the concept if there is time. Post the “Skill of the Month” in a prominent place in the classroom as a reminder of the target skill.
- Get the students to describe or role play what the behaviour looks like and how it makes others feel. For instance have the students role play “waiting patiently” and get them to explain how that may make others feel. Use Social Behaviour Maps to show the impact of the expected behaviour as compared to the impact of the “unexpected” behaviour (e.g., barging in, calling out, interrupting, etc.)
- Reinforce the students for exhibiting the target behaviour. For instance, notice when students show good waiting behaviours. Put their names in a jar for a draw for a prize once a day or once a week. Let students nominate other students during class meetings (e.g. I noticed that Sandy waited really patiently when I was taking a long time at the drinking fountain.) Put the name of the nominator and the nominated student in the prize draw jar to encourage students to support each other in meeting the target.
It is much easier to target a particular social skill and reinforce its use with all students than it is to target a different social skill for each child. As well, the student with ASD will benefit from the repetition and modeling of the target behaviour as it is displayed by his or her peers.
Building Social Relationships: A Systematic Approach to Teaching Social Interaction Skills to Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Other Social Difficulties Paperback – July 7, 2006