- Autism is a developmental disorder that impairs one’s ability to communicate and interact with others.
- If your child has autism, you can take a few simple steps to help them feel more comfortable in social situations and interact well with others.
- First, equip them with heuristics for talking with others: help them to come up with a couple go-to conversation starters and polite ways for ending a conversation.
- You can also try role playing typical social situations: for example, act out how your child can introduce him or herself to someone.
- Third, educate others about your child’s needs: this can help your child feel more comfortable in overstimulating circumstances.
- Finally, consider working with a professional who can work with your child to develop effective social skills.
- It’s important to remember that kids with autism often don’t feel uncomfortable in social situations; still, you can help them to develop essential social skills for interacting well with others.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), autism for short, is a developmental disorder that hinders one’s ability to communicate and interact with others. This can make it difficult for these individuals to engage socially and form, as well as maintain, relationships.
Fortunately, if your child has autism, you can take a few simple steps to help them feel more comfortable in social situations and interact well with others: coach them on social skills, role play, educate others about your child’s situation or needs, and consider working with a professional. Let’s delve into each step:
1. Coach them on heuristic techniques.
You can help your child with autism succeed in social interactions by teaching them heuristics, or problem-solving techniques, for talking with others. John Mathews, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, explains this tip: “The number one thing I would recommend is for parents to help their child with autism develop heuristics for how to behave in common scenarios. For example, a parent could help their child develop two or three simple conversation starters, and two or three simple and polite ways to terminate conversations. This way, the child will feel comfortable both entering and exiting a conversation, and the child can stay in the conversation as long as he or she feels comfortable. This is a great way to help the child develop his or her own social rhythm and to experiment with distress tolerance if such settings are uncomfortable for them.”
2. Role play.
Role play can also prove instrumental to helping your child improve their social skills. Kristin Edwards, Ph.D., Pediatric Psychology Fellow, who specializes in the assessment of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders, explains: “Many children with autism actually don’t feel uncomfortable in social situations. More often than not, it is the parents and other people interacting with the child that feels uncomfortable and pick up on the awkwardness. This is because children with autism have deficits in reciprocal social communication. They’re unable to pick up on social cues; therefore, they don’t recognize when a situation has become uncomfortable or awkward,” says Edwards. “Parents can help children with autism improve their social skills by role playing typical social situations. For example, parents may practice how to introduce yourself to someone new (e.g., decide when the time is appropriate, what to say, how to end the conversation appropriately). Social skills must be explicitly taught to children with autism.”
3. Educate others.
Another tactic has more to do with others than your child with autism: educate those who will be regularly interacting with your child. Dr. Christopher Ryan Jones, PsyD, details an experience he had with parents who worried about their child experience in youth group: “Things can be too noisy, too crowded, there can be too much physical contact… there are a few simple solutions that can make the child much more comfortable, however. One situation that comes to mind is of a couple who wanted their child to be a part of a youth group in their local church. But there were a lot of kids, a lot of loud music, and it was an overall uncomfortable situation for the child. I recommended that the parents talk to the leaders of the youth group and educate them on their child’s needs. Surprisingly, when you live with someone who has special needs, you often forget that others are not educated on the subject like you are. By providing basic information to the church, for example, the youth group was able to educate the other children and collectively make adjustments to make the child feel more comfortable.”
4. Work with a professional.
Finally, consider setting your child up with a professional who can equip them with necessary social skills. “Learning most skills requires practice especially when the skill doesn’t come naturally. Social skills aren’t any different,” Adina Mahalli, certified mental health consultant and family care specialist, explains. “Kids with autism have trouble relating to others, making eye contact, and even seem to be uninterested and withdrawn. Teaching the necessary social skills can be heartbreaking when there is little to no connection. Many families have turned to a social skills coach or therapist who specializes in working with kids with autism. They work with your child and give them ‘homework’ and exercise to work on together as a family. That may include role-playing and practicing what to expect before it happens. One of the symptoms of autism is that those affected need more time to process what is being said so slow your speech pattern when speaking directly to your child. Another is that they’re quite literal so it’s important to be clear with your communications.”
If your child has autism, you might worry about their social experiences. It can help to remember Edwards’ point above: “Many children with autism actually don’t feel uncomfortable in social situations. More often than not, it is the parents and other people interacting with the child that feels uncomfortable and pick up on the awkwardness.” Still, you can help your child to develop social skills and succeed in developing relationships with others by following the steps above.