Helping Children on the Autism Spectrum to feel more Comfortable in Social Situations
Updated: Dec 11, 2018
Social skills training is often used to address the needs that children with autism have in social interaction and social communication. Being more adept with social interaction can have its advantages:
· Social interaction can enhance the ability to express wants and needs.
· Social interaction can help to develop a network of supports.
· Social interactions are often required in educational and vocational contexts.
· Social interactions can enhance quality of life (for example through the sharing of common interests)
While social skills training can help to increase and improve social interaction, a more holistic and autistic-informed approach is called for.
You can teach children a range of social skills but if they don’t feel comfortable or accepted in social situations then they are not going to be able to carry out those skills.
I learned this lesson while I was conducted social skills groups for teens in Ireland. The group was attending to and processing the skills but were hesitant in carrying them out. It wasn’t until I began to address comfort level (through anxiety management) that the learning began to take hold. This experience taught me that feeling comfortable in a social situation was just as important as any skills that I could teach.
Over time, the kids, teens, and young adults that I have worked with on the spectrum have helped me to understand how daunting social situations can be for someone with autism. Excellent, first-hand accounts by autistic adults have further elucidated my thinking on this topic.
Some of the more common ways that we can help to makes social situations more comfortable for kids with autism are illustrated below:
This is NOT to say that social skills training does not have its benefits. Such training (when done with compassion and empathy) can provide a safe and structured way for kids with autism to begin to learn how to navigate the social world. However, it is crucial to understand the social world from the perspective of someone with autism. It is also our responsibility to do what we can to make the social world a more accommodating and welcoming for kids with autism.