Just because social challenges like communication impairment are one of the indications of autism, it does not imply that they are normal for children on the spectrum. Considering that, some parents experience challenges getting their kids to do such simple things as putting on winter clothes, teaching them social skills may seem impossible. However, with so much research and resources currently going into the field of autism, getting your child to excel in the different social aspects in school and elsewhere shouldn’t be over your head.
It is important to remember that every child with autism has a different measure of success. While, for some, remembering to eat is a goal, others may have the simple goal of navigating their daily life.
When it comes to social interaction and communication, children with autism may have a challenge interacting with their peers in school resulting in timidity, lack of confidence, or isolation. However, this should not be interpreted as an inability but as a challenge worth surmounting.
The first and most important step in helping your child to learn Social skills and socially succeed in school is getting to understand their school’s environment. Consider frequent visits to the school within and outside the school hours, and going a step ahead to request the school management to allow you some time with your son. If in case your child is joining the school for the very first time, this will help him a great deal to familiarize with the environment before reporting to school officially and reduce the irritability that often comes with adjusting to change.
If possible, have a more experienced student with you, especially if the school employs a “buddy system”. A familiar face will help your child have an easy transition to their new setting.
Neurotypical children develop social skills earlier in their lives without any structured instructions. This is one dilemma parents of ASD children have had to live with, given that their children excel in other areas. Social skills can be broken down into the following categories:
- Play skills may include observation, taking turns, joining other, sharing, coping with defeat, compromising, and conflict resolution skills.
- Conversations skills may include listening, discussion, taking turns verbally, greetings, joining and ending a conversation.
- Problem solving, important in handling various social situations like dealing with conflicts, anger, stress, assertiveness rather than aggressiveness.
- Emotions cognition reading and understanding facial expressions, body language, tonal voice, and even developing vocabulary to express emotions.
Although children with autism develop social skills slower than other children, you can be of great help easing your child’s fears and setting them up for an excellent social life in school.
An ability to make friends and have an active social life is important for a child to have self esteem yet some—and this is perfectly normal—will struggle with starting or maintaining friendships. What such children need most is practice and reassurances.
You can start by role playing various social scenarios with your child before he or she goes off to school. While doing this, try to make instructions easy by breaking them into smaller simpler steps. At this point, patience is a virtue. It is also quite encouraging to reward your child’s small achievements to motivate him to keep going.
Here are nine practical activities you can try out with your child at home to help build their social skills.
Socially oriented activities with the goal of building long-term social development in your child, and naturally at that, are likely to create an internal need be social. When this is achieved, you will be confident of setting your child up for social excellence.
The Play Space
Play is important for every child. For children on the spectrum, however, it needs proper planning as it is not just play, but a development targeted activity that involves you as the parent. A regular play schedule with incorporation like toys and pictures can help imbue different social senses into your child. Shorter regular play sessions may be important at first, but later on you may consider extending this up to two hours or so for better results.
For example, hugging a stuffed animal could be an expression of love, sympathy, or friendship. During this time try and create different normal life scenes like tea parties, schooling, eating out, food shopping, and others. Encourage turn-taking to help your child deal with situations that may arise out of playing with others such as accepting a win or a loss.
The play space or setting also matters a great deal. Select a quiet place in the house with less destruction and noise. Here you want your child to focus on you and you on him or her. Electronic toys are a no-no as they tend to draw attention away from what is important. Also remember to go for age appropriate toys and activities that will encourage your child to interact. Remember that every communication from your child to you, however small, is worth a response.
You may want to include siblings during play time, but avoid situations that cause competition among them.
Use picture cards
Get some picture cards showing various emotions on people’s faces and try illustrating to your child and how he or she can interpret such emotions as sadness, happiness, frustrations, or fear. You can also use video clips to help your child identify a visual cue of people’s emotions and how to respond to them.
Ask Questions in Order of Development
Coaching a child how to ask questions can help a child to start conversations. Questions are effective tools for opening conversations with other people who may not have any idea about relating to people with autism.
For instance, act like a famous journalist asking your child about their interests and collections, then change roles to allow him or her to ask you questions.
At the same time, consider helping acquaintances like nannies, teachers and others to follow the interests of your child. Also consider involving others in his or her hobbies. For example, you may occasionally welcome potential friends to his or her music practice sessions or just to watch cartoons together to create and strengthen a bond.
Having your child engage in role playing equips him or her with the skills needed to play and interact with others at school. For instance, just before another child is invited to visit, you can rehearse how to welcome and play with a visitor in a role-play.
Additionally, because your child may be interested in watching TV or taking part in retreats you can practice with them the things they watch on TV or engage in during retreat.
The idea is to repeat the same activity over and over until your child gets the concept. In that regard, older children can be assisted to develop scenarios relating to social problems and role play these for possible solutions. Possible role play suggestions here include dealing with a sibling's lost toy or having to share.
You may also use technology to help your son to fit into the social setting of his school.
For instance, take videos of all the social skills you will want to teach your child. Taking a video of people taking turns can demonstrate to your child the acceptable social behavior in school. The advantage of technology is that you can pause the video and let him or her repeat statements like “My turn, your turn”.
You can also record people in various social circumstances and teach your child by letting him or her identify the feelings of each person seen.
Involve the teacher
Provide the teacher with as much information about your child as you can. Such basic information includes your child’s level of communication, behavior challenges, and any support required.
Take time to prepare an information package about your child and share it with everyone who needs it. This information pack may include aggressive tendencies, irritation, and suchlike reactions. A specialist in the school will know the right way of managing such behavior.
In addition, your child’s instructor can inform you if there is any particular kid that seems to connect with your child. You may then encourage your child to be friendly and invite them over to the house.
Identify and organize activities that interest your child
You may possibly plan for play dates around fun activities. As a parent, you need to be creative and organize activities that all children willing to participate will enjoy.
For instance, you can plan for each child to join the party with a ball of pizza dough or some other interesting snack prep. Also, bear in mind that many kids enjoy sensory features and trampolines so you may want to incorporate these in the activity.
Know Your Child's Limits
As a parent, only push your child to an acceptable level of play and social interaction. It is important to note that when your child has reached his limits, he will react by getting easily irritated or changing his mood. Here, develop a strategy of making a hasty retreat without causing harm to his or her friends.
Make Use of Peer Mentors
A good school will have a system in which children with special needs are paired with their friends in class. In this regard, teachers can help with establishing positive relationships so that your son or daughter gets someone to guide him or her in developing required communication skills.
In conclusion, the language of play is a language understood by all children. It could be just for fun or to get something. It is the best platform to help your child to develop socially as he or she prepares for school. The secret is to get them motivated to be involved in activities that enhance their interaction and communication with others. Then, the potential that lies within them will be released.