Children who are on the Autism spectrum are extremely diverse in personality and the various struggles they face in social situations. While many can be reclusive and introverted, others might be very talkative and affectionate. If you’ve met a person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism—meaning that their character traits vary so much in that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to guiding them. So, this article will give a mixed bag of methods, some that might work and some that might not, depending on where on the spectrum your child is.

Social Skills and Autism

Much like language, people tend to learn social norms as they grow up naturally. This is not as easy for those on the spectrum, and making friends can be a challenge for them as they do not exhibit expected social behaviors. The following are what the symptoms might look like:

  •  Unable to converse
  • Trouble understanding sarcasm, jokes, or figurative language
  • Difficulty understanding non-verbal cues or feelings of others
  • Repeats words or phrases over and over again
  • Speech deficiency
  • Gives answers that don’t address the question

These traits might make school and any social interaction seem overwhelming for a child, which is why it’s so important to find a learning strategy that addresses the individual needs of the child. Listed below are a few methods you can try.

Give Examples

It’s crucial that children on the autism spectrum can observe many kinds of social situations. Therapists emphasize the importance of writing social stories because they can help them learn appropriate behaviors and responses to any commonplace scenario they might struggle with on their own. Showing children videos of everyday situations and acceptable behaviors is also a good option for visual learners. Any kind of examples of social etiquette will be very useful to a child with ASD.

Role Play

Role-playing has proven to be a highly effective learning tool for individuals with Autism because they can simultaneously be observers and participants. Rehearsing expected behaviors and practicing responses in a comfortable environment where there’s no pressure will mentally prepare the child for everyday interactions.

Ask the child how they might feel in certain scenarios and guide them through possible responses. Ask them questions during the game to get a feel for how they react in any given situation. This will help you learn about the child’s unique personality while also giving them time to reflect on the proper way they should respond.

Go to the Store

Going to the store is an opportunity for children with ASD to practice social skills in real-life scenarios. It’s basically taking role-play to the next step because they’re in an actual social situation, but it can still be viewed as the practice where they have support if they need it. Many cashiers will notice that your child is struggling to count the money or decide on paper or plastic and will offer to help them. Ensure that you step in and encourage the child to perform all the check-out tasks on their own.

Play Games

Playing games with peers has a big part in how children learn to interact with one another. Sportsmanship, focus, and following instructions are a few things that young people learn to do in daycare or school during games, but these are more difficult for children with ASD. These are qualities that children need to see and practice many times to reach the point where they can exhibit these traits naturally.

Help explain the basic structure of different games to your child and introduce many possible scenarios and outcomes. This will help them learn how to step outside their comfort zone to play with others.

Parallel Play

This is a method where children can perform the same playtime activities as other children separately but in close proximity. Parallel play allows them to be watchful observers of common childlike behaviors. This is how most children learn how to interact with others when they’re toddlers, by watching and mimicking the actions of those around them.

Set your child’s toys and play area up next to another child’s next time you visit the playground. Encourage them to play on their own until maybe their curiosity gets the best of them and they want to join in with the other children.

Cooperative Play

Once a child has practiced carrying out conversations and activities with your support, they’ll need to try out their new skills with peers. Set up the activity, such as playing in the sandbox or hopscotch, for your child, as they may not be comfortable initiating the interaction themselves yet. This is a chance for you to show them how to ask peers to play politely. Try this a few times for them, and then ask them to do it by themselves later.

Peer Initiation

All of the games mentioned above and activities will lead to this. Properly initiating peer interaction can be one of the most challenging skills for a child with Autism to learn. Even those who are not shy still struggle the most with this one because their behaviors are not the type that other children often encounter. Thankfully, children can change their opinion quickly, if you give them a reason.

Rejection can often feel like the end of the world for a child, but reassure them that it’s not while spurring them along to ask other children if they’d like to play together. Go through the basics of how to ask if they can join a game politely. Give them a few reasons as to why their peers might not let them join in right away. For example, they already have the maximum number of players, or the boys don’t want to play with girls.

Ostracizing amongst children is very common because they crave acceptance and tend to gravitate towards familiarity and things that conform to the norm. Encourage your child to persevere with their efforts to make friends and join in games even if they are not accepted immediately. Practice social skills as your child grows, as social norms will continue to evolve and change as time goes on.

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