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Teaching Social Skills to Students with Autism: 5 Simple Tips

For individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), acquiring and applying social skills can be a complex journey. However, with the right strategies and support, students with autism can develop vital social skills that facilitate meaningful connections and interactions. In this blog post, we will explore key strategies for teaching social skills to students with autism, including assessing skills, creating Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals, tracking progress, and employing visual cues to foster skill generalization in classroom settings.

Assessing Social Skills

Assessing a student’s current social skill level is the first step towards targeted intervention. It is crucial to understand their strengths, challenges, and preferences. Various assessment tools and strategies can be used, such as structured assessments, and parent/teacher input. Collaborating with your team members can provide a well rounded perspective on the student’s social communication abilities! I try to observe the student in varied environments from intensive instruction periods to more unstructured times of lunch and recess to get the full picture of their needs!

Creating IEP Goals Around Social Skills Needs

Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) play a pivotal role in tailoring educational experiences for students with autism. When crafting IEP goals around social skill needs, it’s essential to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). Click here to read a more thorough blog post on how to create functional IEP goals. For instance, a goal could focus on improving turn-taking during conversations or appropriately responding to greetings. Goals should be realistic and align with the student’s developmental level, ensuring gradual progress. When developing goals, think about what skills will bring the student natural reinforcement, such as making a friend (if your learner is interested in pursuing more friendships!).

Tracking Data to Monitor Progress

Data-driven decision-making is a key component of effective teaching, particularly for students with autism! Regularly collecting and analyzing data helps educators understand the effectiveness of interventions and make necessary adjustments. Examples of this type of data collection could include:

  • frequency of successful social interactions
  • instances of using coping skills
  • decrease in maladaptive behaviors such as aggressive or disruptive behaviors

Tools like printable or digital behavior data collection sheets can help you track accurate progress over time. As you implement interventions, make a note of the date you begin each intervention so that you can see if the behaviors increase or decrease afterward. Remember that with any behavior intervention, change takes time!

Using Visual Cues to Generalize Social Skills

Visual cues are powerful tools for students with autism. They can aid in skill generalization and reducing anxiety in various settings. Visual supports can include:

  • Social narratives to describe unfamiliar or challenging situations with picture cues and positive encouragement.
  • Visual schedules that can explain the order of events or activities.
  • Picture communication tools to give learners prompts or reminders about appropriate behaviors to display.

Visual schedules offer predictability, reduce uncertainty and promote a sense of control in our learners.

Implementing Social Skills strategies in classroom settings

Often times, “social skills groups” are included as IEP mandated services for students, in which they learn skills in a structured setting such as one therapist and 3-4 target learners. While these groups are excellent for explicit skill-teaching, strategies must then be embedded into daily routines and activities, to ensure consistent exposure to learning opportunities. Imagine if you tried learning something new, and only revisited it one time per week for 25 minutes!

Integrating social skill instruction into the classroom environment requires collaboration among educators, therapists, and support staff. If paraprofessionals are able to attend the small group settings, they can then help transfer the skills back into everyday classroom settings. Alternatively, a “push-in” model can be utilized, in which the therapist does not conduct the group in a small group setting, but rather goes into the classroom and looks for natural learning opportunities. This way, they can prompt target students to engage in positive behaviors during everyday scenarios (e.g., passing materials to peers, or greeting friends in morning meetings).

Conclusion

Teaching social skills to students with autism is a process that demands patience, empathy, and a commitment to individualized growth. By assessing skills, creating targeted IEP goals, tracking progress, and utilizing visual cues, educators can empower students to navigate social situations with confidence and build meaningful connections.

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