Autism and Social Skills – Facebook in Bed???

Autism and social skills go together.  Children with autism generally need a lot of help learning to have appropriate social skills.  The question is what social skills do children with autism need to learn?

Here’s a statistic that boggles my mind
They say 28% of 12-24 year olds check their Facebook account before they get out of bed in the morning Now I knew Facebook was popular . . . . but when you are still in bed????

What does this have to do with children with autism?
Did you know that parents request social skills training for their children with Autism Spectrum Disorders more than any other service?  In a California survey of parents of children with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, more than half reported that their children played with NO ONE outside of school.  Parents are identifying a significant need for those students on the autism spectrum.

How are their peers socializing?
Teaching or treatment for children with autism needs to include information about what their same age peers are doing.  Here’s the important question.  What social world are we preparing our students with autism for?  Who are they going to be socializing with?  How do their peers socialize now?

Facebook? Twitter?  Did you know they text more than they talk on the phone?  Most are more likely to open Facebook on their phones than on a computer.

At what age do “typically developing students” begin to use these “modern tools for social inclusion?”

Think of it like this.
If everyone is playing soccer and I want my child to join in with those other children, it would be a lot easier if he knew how to play soccer.  That seems pretty obvious.

So how do our children with autism join in the current social-tech environment?  Do they have the tools or the skills to join in?  Maybe the real first questions should be “What are the tools?”  “What are the skills?”

Of course age makes a difference
It isn’t appropriate to think about teaching a 4 year old how to text.  I’m not suggesting that.  But I do think it’s important to keep alerted to what same age peers are doing.

I’m not doing a value judgment here
Of course there will be opinions about how our teenage population uses or abuses technology.  That would be a powerful discussion.  But we need to wisely look at the current culture that our students with autism or Asperger’s are growing up in and trying to belong to.  In some way, we need to decide what part of that is appropriate for them to learn about or participate in.

How do you have friends?
If you want to have friends, do you need to be able to participate or play the same “games” as the other children?  When parents are requesting social skills training for their children with autism, what skills do they want to be taught?  These are questions that don’t have easy answers.

Please be sure to leave a comment.

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  1. I have tried to use facebook in social skills training with students who have Autism. The biggest problem is that most schools block facebook from their server, so it cannnot be used in a meaningful way when teaching social skills at school!

  2. Imagine yourself a Canadian born English speaker who suddenly moves to Japan and has to learn to read & write Japanese. Upon arrival at the airport people are rushing about, talking to you, yelling, laughing with each other, apparently understanding each other, while you are clearly confused! It is not a comfortable situation. Someone grabs your arm. You pull back in alarm and retreat. (Turns out this was the “Driver” assigned to meet you at the airport, but you have no idea) Clearly, what you need is data. Information about the Chinese written & spoken language. The more, the better. The sooner, the better!

    This scenario is similar for people on the autism spectrum who are thrust into a social world. They need data about the social rules, lingo, body language, topic maintenance, turn-taking, emotions & facial expressions, sarcasm, cultural norms, humor, puns, and the list goes on. The more data they can get, the better. The sooner, the better! But as with the Chinese language, Social skills may take years to learn & develop for those on the autism spectrum. It’s a subject that “just doesn’t come naturally” to them and, therefore, must be taught & learned.

    Facebook is yet another social situation, however, if anything it is likely to be one that is easier to master than many “face-to-facce” social situations because facebook doesn’t require knowledge nor use of body language & facial expression. Facebook allows for interrupting comments and/or sudden departure from a discussion, it often clearly establishes and even names topics, it is unaware of the over- or under- use of laughter and/or other noises & responses, and it doesn’t reveal odd physical gestures such as tics, flapping, wardrobe eccentricity. etc. This gives those who lack the appropriate use of such social skills a real advantage. It puts them on a closer to even slate with those with whom they are communicating.

    A final note. I have observed that a highly successful way for those on the autism spectrum to find, establish & maintain friends is through special interest groups. First, of course, one must establish his or her own deep interests. Then, with the help of parents, teachers, counselors, etc., they should seek out others who share this interest or passion. There are all sorts of teams & clubs from Stamp Collecting to Chess competition, Theater & Band to History. Such groups focus on the special interest topic rather than on slick social skills. Social skills still come into play but at a gentler pace. Awkward social blunders are more likely to be overlooked in favor of attending to the special interest topic. Slowly but surely, social skills are learned & developed (it takes years, and should be taught by someone who understands the need for specific “data input”) while, at the same time, those on the autism spectrum form meaningful bonds and mutual respect with potentially lifelong friends

  3. Thank you very much for this pertinent discussion. I find my own (old) brain boggled by what is out there, but we do want to include these things into accommodations and/or modifications in IEP’s, if appropriate. I now include some of these things in “assistive tech” portions of IEP’s if a child is nonverbal, and add a goal for familiarization sometimes as well.

  4. Linda, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head!Parents without exception express a desire for their children to have friends outside of school, to be invited to birthday parties, on play dates, etc. I agree that an important link is for teachers, related service providers, counselors, etc. to be informed about the interests and engagements of their typical peers and make that part of the activities they plan when teaching social skills. I know that many students with autism can master the highest level of video games in a short time, but do they know how to connect to peers using the media technology you mentioned, but why would they, if they don’t have that connection with their peers? I am going to make a point of finding out how much students with autism know about texting, facebook, etc. and if they are using it and with who?

  5. This is a big question that is coming up more and more in my work. It is truly a values debate and I find Districts using the argument against technology to keep my clients from assistive devices or the appropriate WiFi link to use their already purchased technology on the alter of ” technology abuse”. But my students would often be far more connected to peers if they could text or email. One such student is a second grade male with such serious anxiety about school that we can only get him to attend in a learning center. He is borderline selective mute and will often shut down when his schedule is changed (without or without visual supports) or he is expected to write. His aide has found that texting from his IPod brings him back into communicatn and gets him back on track to learn in a positive way. Another student with serious depression feels he has nothing to offer in a friendship and refuses to attempt to develop real relationships but with UTube he will create friend groups and communicate with them which is a bridge to showing him his thoughts and opinions are interesting to others! I am never one for a “when in Rome” mentality, but sometimes kicking against the goads isnt effective either!

  6. A friend of mine has a 33 year old son with Asperger’s, her biggest concern is that he has no friends his age. I fully intend to refer her to this website to give us both a place to start.

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