Social skills can be difficult to navigate for everyone. Even as adults, we often worry and wonder about our social interactions with others: Was our message received the way we intended? Is our friend mad at us for a perceived faux pas? What did that look passed between two others while we were speaking mean?
We learn basic social skills mainly by observing others and refining these skills as we become older, but for children with Autism or ADHD, these skills may not come as naturally and easily. There are methods for specifically and directly teaching skills to children who have a disability or condition that impacts their communication skills, or who are more shy or awkward. Below are some ways to get started!
Model, practice and repeat.
Draw your child’s attention “in the moment” to the conversation or interaction that you are engaged in, explaining what is happening, and how to correctly address the situation. For example, if you are about to talk to another family member ('Sam') about what they did today, you would say to your child ('Johnny'):
“Johnny, I want to ask Sam about what he has been doing today so I am going to walk closer to him so he can hear me and see my face. I am going to start by saying his name to get his attention and then I am going to ask my question. I am going to make sure that I look towards him and listen when he answers.”
Then, continue with your interaction while your child ('Johnny') watches.
Afterwards, repeat the interaction with your child, having them play your part and respond as you did. Every chance you get to do this with your child will reinforce for them how to react appropriately.
Practice more, and shake things up.
Children need many repetitions to commit things to memory and apply them, so practicing just a few times won’t be enough.
Also, generalizing how to respond appropriately can be difficult to do, particularly for kids with Autism. They may not understand that the response they should use when they bump into someone at home is the same as at school. It’s the “Vegas” effect — it “stays” or only applies in that particular location. To help them understand that it's not just something to use at home, practice applying the idea in various situations and in various locations.
Make learning social skills fun.
Find 'social skills groups' (in person or online), or start your own with your child and some of their friends. Collaborate with other parents to determine what skills your child needs to work on, and help them learn to engage in reciprocal conversations with peers.
Work on skills such as turn-taking and winning/losing gracefully by playing games as a family. There are also games developed specifically to teach social skills which can be incorporated into family game night or play-dates with friends.
Here are a few resources that I have personally used and would recommend:
- How To Talk With Friends: A Step-by-Step Social Skills Curriculum for Children With Autism by Janine Toole, PhD
- Social Skills Activities for Kids: 50 Fun Exercises for Making Friends, Talking and Listening, and Understanding Social Rules by Natasha Daniels
- Socially Speaking Game by Didax Educational Resources
To learn more about helping your child develop social skills while at home, watch the webinar.