Assisting a child who has been identified as having Asperger’s Syndrome/Autism/PDD with social skill development requires parents and educators to determine which skills take priority. Instruction seems to be most effective when provided by peers, family members, teachers, and other adults in the child’s natural environment. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are often very sensitive to the manner in which they receive support. A positive, unobtrusive approach is recommended in order not to single out or embarrass the child.
Methods of instruction include modeling, prompting, repetitive trials, and reinforcement. Social stories, expressive language instruction, and physical therapy also have proven successful when working on social skill development with children with ASD. Depending on the child, he or she may want to participate in the development of the story. An explanation of the benefit of the skills may be helpful. Social stories may also help children understand why certain behaviors are necessary in different situations.
Step-by-step instruction of each type of skill needs to be reviewed and implemented. It is necessary and beneficial to target one skill at a time in order not to overwhelm the child. The child may also want to participate in the planning and implementation of plans and schedules. Direct instruction needs to be ongoing, corrective, and positive. Instruction may require lengthy and repeated practice. Sensitivity to the needs and interests of the child is critical. Each skill may be broken down into smaller tasks. Begin instruction with direct or small group interactions. Once each skill is developed, the skill can be further developed and generalized to other familiar settings.
If the child needs help in developing eye contact, for example, the instructor needs to adjust to the child’s level. Objects and areas of interest tend to be most successful when attempting to gain and maintain eye contact. Toys that promote interactive activities, such as puppets, often prove beneficial. The most important tool is patience. Remember to build on success; the acquisition of appropriate social skills takes time. Learning to read social cues takes perseverance and patience.
Because your child may not be intrinsically motivated, positive feedback (reinforcement) in a supportive learning environment provides maximum opportunities for dealing with ASD in children. (Many resources are available to help your child or an adult with Asperger’s/Autism/PDD to develop interpersonal social skills.) The guideline and ideas presented in this article are suggestions. Additional resources about Asperger symptoms and Asperger checklists are available on-line, in bookstores, and through health care and educational professionals.