Article by Stephanie Ekis, MS, CCC-SLP

Supporting social skills development for individuals with autism can be a challenging task for service providers and caregivers.  Children and adults with autism (depending on severity) may have difficulty communicating with others and may have very few friends and shy away from the conversation or interaction.  Children with autism may avoid contact with their peers in school and in turn, classmates may not make an effort to build a relationship or friendship because they do not understand his/her “stand-offish” behaviors (Spivey, 2009).

Possible obstacles to social success…

  • Limited or no opportunity to participate in meaningful social interactions with peers
  • Limited life experiences
  • Low expectations of communication partners
  • Limited access to appropriate communication tools
  • Anticipation of needs/wants by caregivers and educational staff
  • Communication environments that do not support learning and practicing new skills

It has become very clear to me that many children and adults with autism have limited access to meaningful social experiences.  Many of the obstacles listed above could easily be removed by creating a positive communication environment.  Spending a few minutes every day to select activities and set up situations where children and adults with autism have access to meaningful social interaction can make a world of difference.  This small step can provide opportunities to build and practice social and communication skills.

Social participation Quiz…

One quick way to know if you are giving ample opportunities to practice social skills would be to answer the following yes/no questions:

  1. I give the child/adult many opportunities to initiate interaction with others.
  2. I ask a lot of questions that elicit a yes or no answer.
  3. I give the child/adult daily opportunities to practice skills in social situations.
  4. I give the child/adult enough time to answer/comment when we are talking.
  5. I encourage the child/adult to express their opinions.

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, a social opportunities intervention plan is warranted.  Start by creating a list of 5 opportunities each day when the individual will participate in a meaningful interaction.  Make sure to provide them with the tools they need in order to be successful (e.g. communication board/device, script, etc.).  Also, make sure that you vary the communication partners (e.g., peers, adults, familiar, unfamiliar, etc.).


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