Autism tools for social learning

It’s common to identify social needs as a prime area for educational intervention for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), but there isn’t consensus about what social skills are. 

Before determining HOW to teach, it’s critical to decide WHAT to teach.  What areas need to be considered?

Core Skills for Social Development

Here are three core areas of social development.  These are skills that lay a foundation for social relationships.  They’re essential needs for a student to become an interactive part of social relationships. 

Think of the foundation of a house.  A strong foundation provides support for what is built on top.  Having a strong social core will prepare students for learning more ways to have relationships and engage in social opportunities.

1.    Establishing a “Social Connection”

By definition, students with ASD demonstrate challenge attending to people and responding to them.  In the first weeks and months of life, that bond between mother and child is the beginning of their social connection.  It’s the giggle and coo and peek-a-boo time with babies.

As those babies mature, their social efforts become a bond between with other people.  It incorporates paying attention to people and responding to them.  High-level language is not a factor here.  Paying attention and responding is the goal.

Joint attention refers to making a connection with people and paying attention to the same things they are attending to.

2.    Communication Basics

Communication is what connects us to the rest of the world.  It is a complex process that encompasses understanding others, expressing wants and needs and more.  Developing an effective communication system will give students the tools for social participation. Expressing emotion in appropriate ways and sharing experiences are important social communication goals.

3.    Self-Regulation

Children need to develop the ability to manage their behavior and their emotions.  As they acquire an interest in the world around them they need to learn to modulate how they respond. 

In the beginning, parents and other caregivers provide children with external controls.  They provide the structure so the student’s behavior will be acceptable in the environment.  Gradually, children learn to manage their own behaviors and emotions so they will be appropriate for the environment they are in.

Children can become active participants in social environments when they learn to modify their behavior for the situation.

What comes next?

These foundation skills prepare students for further learning.  Establishing a social connection, developing effective basic communication skills and being able to manage and modulate behavior are the beginning.

When those foundation skills are present, students will be able to participate in a greater variety of social opportunities. 

This is just the beginning. . .

Strength in these core social skills will help students participate in social environments and social relationships. But identifying the next steps of social learning will depend on that individual student’s age, over all skill level, environment and many more factors. It’s not a “one-size-fits-all” curriculum.

Social learning tends to be individual

Teaching appropriate social behaviors is quite different from teaching reading or math or other academic learning. Here’s just one reason why. The social skills you need to teach might become quite individual. Every student’s social learning needs are not the same.

But visual tools work really well

The visual tools that I teach about in my workshops are extremely effective for helping students acquire a great variety of social abilities.  Now we have some awesome high tech options like apps and video that make social learning much more meaningful than in the past.



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