Social Skills

Communication is one of the core areas of difficulty for teenagers with autism.

Some teenagers with autism may find social interaction difficult because they:

  • Have no verbal language
  • May not feel the social need to engage in conversation
  • Have excellent vocabulary in specific topics but lack the required language for specific social situations (e.g. asking for a ticket on the bus)
  • Find it difficult to understand the thoughts and feeling of others
  • May behave in a socially inappropriate way
  • May lack the strategies to establish and maintain friendships
  • May cause offence without being aware, again because they may not fully understand the context of a conversation
  • May appear egocentric or insensitive
  • May not know how to react to other’s feelings, as they may have a difficulty with Theory of Mind
  • May not read or understand facial expressions, gesture, body language or vocal intonation because of the difficulties associated with a poor Theory of Mind (Link to ToM )
  • Take things literally
  • May engage in stereotypical behaviours (spinning, rocking), which other may not understand, as it can be a means of regulating emotions and anxiety
  • Have difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and reality
  • Have difficulty with planning, organisation, cause and effect, one of the core features of those who experience difficulty with Executive Function (Link )
  • Have difficulty with change
    • Hormonal changes, puberty, resulting in physiological development and mood swings.
    • Environmental changes i.e. the varied transitions involved when moving from Primary to Post Primary School and School to Further Education.
    • Family changes such as bereavement, divorce, remarriage and gaining half siblings and step siblings or other siblings leaving home.

All these things can lead to higher levels of anxiety for the teenager with autism, which may lead to the person avoiding some social situations, which limits independence and opportunities to develop social skills.

Developing an understanding of the basic rules associated with a given situation will help to:

  • Adapt to the social context
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Reduce the reliance on socially inappropriate coping behaviours

It’s sometimes hard to know where to start when teaching social skills! Nothing should be assumed, therefore it’s sometimes best to start with – or at least go over the basics. A helpful guide by the late Marc Segar who had Asperger Syndrome can be read here (Coping, A survival guide for people with Aspergers Syndrome).

Developing social skills involves learning about how to interact with others. When we interact with another person we:

  • Look at their face, eyes
  • Read their body language
  • Respond to their body language (either by reciprocating stance, making a complimentary gesture or talking)
  • Keeping appropriate personal space
  • Listen to their tone of voice
  • Process what they are saying
  • Respond appropriately

Read previous: ← Friendship Skills