Sunday, October 2, 2011

Turning Common Interactions Into Meaningful Social Skill Lessons for a Child With Autism

Do you have a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who is challenged socially? Do you realize that you don't have to rely on the professionals who provide services to your child to enhance their social skills. Social skill groups and classes led by experts in the field are extremely beneficial but you also have the power to take every social interaction your child experiences and turn it into a teaching/learning opportunity.

As parents we interact with our children numerous times during the day. Each interaction has a specific reason attached to it, helping a child dress, tucking them into bed, or reading them a story are simple encounters that are almost done by default as if we are on automatic pilot. These can be anything from a greeting, asking them a question or giving them a direction that may be brief yet powerful. When you think of it, every contact we have with our children is a social one and as simple as it might be we can make it even more significant to our autistic child if we take 30-45 more seconds to describe what we are doing.

Children with Autism are very concrete and literal and we should not assume that they are picking up everything we do via watching or observing us. We need to be more mindful and deliberate when it comes to parenting a child with autism because they do not always absorb things just by being exposed to them. Realistically, there is much that is happening that is not being noticed unless we specifically point it out.

The best strategy for turning a social encounter into a meaningful learning experience for your autistic child is to call attention to the manner in which you relate to them and why. This is a simple yet effective way to expand your child's social toolbox. Here are some tips on how to make each interaction you have with your child more meaningful and useful.

- Use the rewind button. After a typical social interaction you have with your child, rewind what you just did and replay it for them in slow motion. Ex. "Did you notice what I just did? I wanted to ask you a question so I made sure I was close to you instead of hollering from across the room." Replay the scene using each approach and ask which one works best. For older children you can also get into a discussion of why that tactic was the better one to use.

- Pretend you need help. All children like being asked to share their opinion - it makes them feel important. When you have time to think ahead, try involving your child in a social skill decision. "I want to ask your dad a question but he looks as if he is busy right now, what do you think I should do?" Then present two plausible options, one more socially acceptable than the other and ask your child what do you think will happen if I use option A, then examine option B.

- Paint a picture of what you just did. "I wanted to make sure I had your attention so I leaned over and looked into your eyes." Then follow up with a specific description of using that skill - "When you want to make sure someone is listening to you, it's best to get in front of them and look at the color of their eyes." Add any specific details that you think your child will need - in front of means an arms length away, not right up in their face, etc.

- Point out your mistakes. Even as adults, not all of our interactions are successful but we often know where we went wrong. This is a great opportunity to share your experience with your child and prompt them to think about what you could have done differently. When asking their advice do not let too much time go by after you pose the question or make them feel pressured by it, simply fill in the answer for them and briefly discuss it, if possible.

Remember, there is no such thing as too much repetition for a child on the autism spectrum. It is always a good idea to end each one of these possible scenarios with a specific description regarding the social skill you are trying to teach and duplicate it as often as you think you need to in order for your child to grasp the skill.

There is always ample opportunity to practice most of these skills because they occur over and over again in our daily activities. The added benefit to this process is that we grow in awareness as to how we utilize our own social skills to communicate and get to practice them more consciously.

Connie Hammer, MSW, parent educator, consultant and coach, guides parents of young children recently diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder to uncover abilities and change possibilities. Visit her website to get your FREE resources - a parenting ecourse, Parenting a Child with Autism - 3 Secrets to Thrive and a weekly parenting tip newsletter, The Spectrum.

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