School is starting and or autistic children, it can be a revisit to a frightening time in which they never feel socially comfortable, especially for kids with higher functioning autism, such as Asperger’s Syndrome. There are some things parents can do to help.
The first step is for adults to realize that kids in school do not have the control adults do about how much socialization they have. They are constantly forced into groups, often with other kids they do not know well. They are expected to be adept at basic skills may lack, such as following the rapid verbal exchanges in a classroom setting, small talk exchanges, turn taking, and verbal multi-tasking outputs, such as following multi-step directions or listening and note taking.
Forced socialization for a young autistic child is not all bad; they live in a social world and a certain amount of socialization will be needed throughout life. School, however, may be difficult when they are thrown headlong into the intense social environment in a “sink or swim” model.
As adults in an autistic child’s environment, one of the most necessary skills that can be taught is acquiring the social skills necessary for making friends but remaining sensitive to their needs and challenges.
Autistic children need explicit teaching and practice of social skills. They usually do not acquire them appropriately only through observation. If they do, there may be gaps in the cohesive flow and structure of the social interaction flow. A good place to start is basic definitions.
Define the terms in age appropriate words and examples. What does a friend look like, act like, sound like, and make you feel like? For young children it may be someone of the same gender, someone who has the same toy, someone engaged in parallel play, or even someone who makes a basic sharing overture. These are starting places to recognize.
Move to how to choose a friend- how to look for someone with similar interests, schedules, someone who helps them organize, is in more than one small group with them, or shares classes.
Keeping friends is hard work and autistic kids don’t easily generalize the skills. They need lots of reteaching about how to keep the relationship going. Lessons on respect, empathy, and turn taking, can be difficult because they are more abstract.
Working on “what if” social scenarios will raise social awareness and give the autistic child some grounding in recognizing and weaving a pathway through unexpected but likely interactions he will encounter. The results may not always be successful, but discussing options and role playing can go a long way to avoid awkwardness and even bullying.
One of the most important parts of leaning social skills is lots of practice. We live in a very social world and no two interactions will ever be the same. The more exposure, practice and “debriefing” an autistic child has in the social milieu, the larger the information and knowledge pool he has to draw from will be. With a large and stable base to the social platform, the more likely the appropriate social outcome will be.
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