Spotlight On: Social Skills for Individuals with Autism

The Multi-Media Social Skills Projects for Adolescents and Adults teaches skills that are relevant for teens and adults such as how to effectively use humor and sarcasm as well as job-related skills like anxiety management. When choosing social skills to target, it’s important to focus on skills that are relevant and meaningful to the individual. It’s also important to consider life circumstances, goals, and skills needed to reach these goals.

Communication Domains

Need for Social Skills Training

Social skills training is one of the most consistently identified needs, with 55% of adolescents and 58% of adults with autism living in PA not receiving adequate training.*

*2011 ASERT PAAutism Needs Assessment

Choosing Skills to Target

  • Skills needed for 1:1 interactions are more easily mastered than skills for group interactions. Start with basic interactions and build from there.
  • There are four main communication domains (see diagram below). Basic skills are needed as a foundation for more sophisticated skills within, and across, domains.
  • Consider social validity. The individual should feel the skill will be helpful for them in achieving their social goals.
  • Consider ecological validity. Skills should be effective for the individuals current circumstances.

Four Main Social Communication Domains

  1. Basic interaction skills: Eye contact, greeting others
  2. Social communication mechanics: Active listening, verbal turn taking
  3. Conflict resolution skills: Respecting the opinion of others, negotiating
  4. Group dynamics: Engaging the group, assess changing contingencies

Choosing Skills to Target

Possible Skills to Target

  • Reading non-verbal communication
  • Finding and maintaining friendships
  • Starting and maintaining conversations
  • Dealing with conflict

How to Teach Skills at Home

Consider Short- and Long-Term Goals

  • Do they want to ask for a raise at work? Do they hope to find a romantic partner?
  • What social skills are needed to reach those goals: Assertiveness, active listening, speech fluency, etc

Learn About Identified Skills and Goals

  • Watch real-life examples and “how to videos”
  • Get some advice! Talk to people that you trust to get their opinion on good ways to do these skills.

Get Practice Using Skills

  • Participate in a social skills or other social/support group
  • Join a Toastmasters group

Addressing Conversation Skills

One of the first social skills to teach is conversation skills. Mastering conversation skills can be difficult, but beginning with basic skills and then adapting them for a variety of contexts can help expand abilities and teach individuals how to navigate social relationships. When tailoring these concepts to individuals, consider the person’s current abilities, circumstances, and social goals to make the skills person-centered.

Back-and-Forth Conversation: Teach the general rule of conversation partners sharing 50/50 of the conversation. Use the idea of a game of catch. Topics and ideas are “tossed” back and forth between two or a group of people several times until the topic is changed to a new subject.

Stay on Topic: Learning how to stay on topic can be difficult. People may not know what to say or run out of ideas. But staying on topic makes others feel comfortable in interactions. Teaching a skill such as asking showing interested body language, can improve conversation skills.

Asking relevant questions: Asking questions related to the conversation is a good way to keep a conversation going, and show interest in what the other person is saying. Teach the concept of high-yield, open-ended question to build conversation skills.

Commenting: Commenting shows you are paying attention to the conversation. Commenting demonstrates a level of perspective-taking, being able to make empathetic statements, and sharing the person’s thoughts and feelings on the subject. Remember to balance asking questions and commenting.

Video Modeling

What is Video Modeling?

  • Video modeling is a visual method for teaching behaviors or skills that uses video recording. The video model can be the individual (in the case of video self-modeling) or another person performing the behavior.
  • Video modeling can be used for many different types of skills from adaptive skills to social skills.

How is Video Modeling Useful?

  • A person can watch a specific behavior being completed, whether it is washing dishes, using transportation, or practicing a social skill such as a job interview. Video self-modeling is when a person is able to watch themselves successfully complete this skill.
  • The MMSSP uses video modeling and video self-modeling to improve active listening, verbal turn taking, and other conversational skills.

How do I do Video Modeling at Home?

  • Choose and define a specific behavior to teach, creating a list of steps to complete the skill
  • Plan the video self-modeling by creating a script.
  • Record the video of the successful completion of the skill and then watch the video. When you are watching the video, observe what makes the skill successful.
  • For conversational skills, include another person such as a friend, neighbor, or a family member. Observe their body language, verbal turn taking, and facial expressions during the conversation.

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Other downloads

Name Description Type File
Spotlight On: Social Skills Communication Domains pdf Download file: Spotlight On: Social Skills
Spotlight On: Social Skills Choosing Skills to Target pdf Download file: Spotlight On: Social Skills
Spotlight On: Social Skills Addressing Conversation Skills pdf Download file: Spotlight On: Social Skills
Spotlight On: Social Skills Video Modeling pdf Download file: Spotlight On: Social Skills

This information was developed by the Autism Services, Education, Resources, and Training Collaborative (ASERT). For more information, please contact ASERT at 877-231-4244 or ASERT is funded by the Bureau of Supports for Autism and Special Populations, PA Department of Human Services.