By Mary Stefanski, mother of Daniel Stefanski, author of How to Talk to an Autistic Kid
I answer honestly: “He has more autistic friends but still no neurotypical friends. He’s still not invited to parties or other extracurricular activities except by kids from his autism social group.” After I give my response, I see a sad look on people’s faces. As a mom, I find this sad, too, especially since Daniel has been working hard to improve his social skills.
One way he’s been working is in his social skills group, which one of his wonderful special education teachers has started. Social skills groups are used to teach individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) ways to appropriately interact with typically developing peers. They typically involve small groups of two to eight individuals with disabilities and a teacher or an adult facilitator. Most social skills group meetings include instruction, role-playing or practice, and feedback to help learners with ASD acquire and practice skills to promote positive social interactions with peers.
Teenage social life can be frustrating for many teens, and it’s even harder for teenagers with autism, who report feeling lonelier than their typically developing classmates. But social skills can be learned, and Daniel is fortunate to have a teacher who recognizes this.
Since taking the class, I have noticed improvement in Daniel’s conversation and friendship skills, emotion recognition, and problem-solving abilities. In addition, specific interaction skills such as greeting, giving and accepting compliments, taking turns, sharing, asking for help, and offering help were also improved.
Social skills classes are common for young children with autism, because problems with social interactions and communications are a hallmark of the disorder. However, little help is available for teenagers and young adults, despite the fact that teenage life is all about communicating with peers. Because autism research is in its infancy, it might be difficult to find a social skills class for your teen, but if you can, I highly recommend enrolling him or her in one. If a class is not available now, see if you can convince your child’s special education or a regular education teacher to start one.
If you are involved in a social skills class either as a teacher or the parent of a student, please describe your experience in the comments.
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Autism Speaks Blog: Promoting Teen Social Skills by Matthew Lerner