Teaching Social Interaction Skills to Teen Girls with ASD

For most children, navigating the teen years and the complex and sometimes frustrating social situations of daily life can be particularly difficult. For teens with with ASD, it can be particularly stressful.

The teenage years are a time when being social is the “number 1” priority for kids, particularly for girls. But for kids who have acute social challenges, these years can often be the most difficult, confusing time in their lives.

Teenage girls often have very complex relationships with each other, often competitive and contentious as well as fiercely loyal and supportive. Since most children with ASD don’t pick up on social cues or understand social rules, it’s important to find a way to teach these things in a way in which they can understand.

ASD children don’t have the same intuition as other children and they can find themselves in situations they don’t understand without knowing how to react. Having the awareness of these complicated interactions with their peers and how to handle them when they occur is an important milestone in your little girl’s transition into the teen years.

A very effective way to begin to teach your child is with short videos and movies. These present the correct and sometimes the wrong way to act in a particular situation. Kids tend to enjoy watching videos, and since children with autism are often visual learners, it is really helpful in showing your child how to react properly in any situation.

School Rules! allows parents and teachers to tailor video sequences to match each child’s individual skill level

Our Social Skill Builder video modeling software, School Rules!, presents children of cognitive age 8-18 real-life video scenarios covering those parts of school life that are not part of academic programming. The videos illustrate various social situations your teenage girl might encounter, ranging from understanding the importance of friendship, to staying calm when angry, dealing with bullying, popularity, phone etiquette, and even how to deal with last minute class schedule changes.

Armed with these tools, you can help your child find her way in what is often a very confusing time for all girls, and in a way that will offer comfort and guidance for years to come.

Summer Fun – Activities for Children with ASD

Summer is just around the corner and its time to start thinking about what activities you can plan to keep your child engaged and interested during the Summer months.

Taking advantage of the weather can provide an excellent opportunity to explore together. Go on a nature walk and collect the things that appeal to you and your surroundings. Talking about what you find, enjoying the quiet spaces, and a picnic lunch can have a great effect on your child. Reading outside, perhaps books about nature, in a quiet space can also be very calming.

Summer will bring time for free play and sports, and an opportunity for children to keep practicing their interactions with other kids in on the playground and in team games. Our Social Skill Builder My School Day App can help reinforce appropriate behaviors on the fields and in playground games. You can pause the video on teachable moments, capture it on you iPhone or iPad, and reinforce the lessons later.

For children on the autism spectrum, the opportunity to explore color, shape, and sensory experiences can stimulate attention and foster calm. Collecting and organizing materials for a craft project can make the entire experience a teachable moment. The Academic Skills portion of the My School Day App can also be used to help accomplish this task, reinforcing skills your child will need once the school year resumes.

Reading to your child is also an essential tool for broadening their vocabulary. During the quiet evening hours, visit the library and involve your child in story time, which teaches them the words they need to communicate effectively.

On days when the weather is not as cooperative, AMC Entertainment offers special movie screenings for families with autistic children. The lights remain on, the volume is child-friendly, and your child can get up, move around and talk without upsetting other movie goers.

This is also a great opportunity for families to meet and siblings of children with Autism to get to know other children as well. Our Social Skills software can help reinforce basic manners and peer interactions in these social situations.

Teaching Inference and Prediction to Children with ASD

The ability to infer or to draw conclusions given partial information is a cornerstone of our reasoning process. Predicting the outcome of peer behavior in social situations as well as inferring conclusions based on clues within social interactions can be very difficult for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Most children with ASD tend to be very concrete and literal thinkers, which means that teaching abstract concepts needs to be done in a concrete way, this is typically accomplished through the use of visual aids.

Social Skill Builder Software Teaches Children the “Rules” of Social Communication

Research has demonstrated that teaching social skills, including inference and prediction, is one of the most effective treatments for children with ASD and helps them to succeed in their personal and academic lives. Social Skill Builder has developed a curriculum of researched based, evidence-driven software programs that teach key social thinking, language, and behavior critical to everyday living for children with ASD.

Social Skill Builder Interactive Video Sequences Imitate Real Life Social Scenarios Where Children Commonly Interact with Peers

Social Skill Builder products, My School Day, School Rules and You are a Social Detective, use technology to stop the live action video and allow the child with ASD to dissect the scenario at the teachable moment when an inference would typically occur. This allows the individual with autism see what “clues” lead to the guess/inference. The Social Skill Builder software does this by asking the child to click on the paused picture to identify context, body or facial cues or to select thoughts, feelings or words to add to the social scene to make the story complete.

The difference between a prediction, which is the discussion of a future event based on the “natural course of things”, and an inference, which is a theory based on evidence and clues can be very difficult to discern for children with ASD. In order to develop successful social skills these concepts must be introduced in very clear ways that the child can understand with visual examples.

Guessing, implying, hinting, suggesting, and reasoning are just a few of the mental processes in which we draw inference. Learning to correctly interpret different cues and accurately assess social situations so that children can determine how to best respond can be a challenging skill to teach without the appropriate aid. Our social skill software solutions, My School Day, School Rules and You are a Social Detective, demonstrates examples with interactive videos that show situations that teach critical social thinking and model behavior which are critical so everyday living.

Working with our Social Skill Builder software in conjunction with other therapy can help reinforce very abstract concepts, such as inference and prediction, and make them a natural progression in your child’s continued development.

Let’s Go Outside … Playground Tip for Your Child with Autism

Now that Spring has arrived, its time to get our kids outside, enjoying the warmth we’ve been without for so long. Play is fundamental, not optional, but for children on the Autism spectrum, time on the playground presents a different set of considerations.

Children with Autism enjoy running and exploring, and unfortunately, when outdoors the propensity for wandering can cause tremendous stress on parents, often causing avoidance of activities that are away from home. The most important element in a playground you can visit with your child is finding one that is completely enclosed by a fence. There should be only one way in and one way out of the playground, preferably with a gate that closes.

Finding a playground that has a wide path around all of the play equipment is also very important because this allows your child to understand the dynamics of the playground from a safe distance, away from the children that might crowd around the equipment. There should also be plenty of space for your child to run and exert energy.

The Social Skill Builder CD My School Day and iTunes My School Day App can help your child understand appropriate social behavior on the playground. The video segments visually present scenarios of interactions and problem solving as it pertains to outdoors playtime.

The aesthetic characteristics of the playground should be considered as well. Finding a playground with muted colors, where the line of sight has been considered, (can you see “through” the equipment such as rope climbers, monkey bars, etc) is ideal for you to be able to keep track of your child. Also, pleasing landscape is important since it can be very calming for children.

Also, playgrounds with plenty of equipment that allows for movement: spinning, swaying, rocking and jumping are preferable, as well as playgrounds that provide a cozy place for your child to retreat, away from the action when a brief rest is required.

Outdoor playtime is essential for your child’s continued healthy development, and finding a way to do it so that you can both enjoy your time together is essential for the continued well-being of your family.

Using Visual Aids to Teach Autistic Children About Team Sports

All children benefit from a healthy amount of physical activity, gaining concrete physical benefits like agility, improvement in muscle strength, coordination and flexibility, as well as life expectancy. For children with ASD, additional benefits can include an improvement in their quality of life and a measurable boost to their self-esteem.

According to George Frey, an associate profession at Indiana University, kids with autism need exercise for both its fitness and therapeutic benefits. He advises that, “Rigorous exercise such as running and swimming can have a calming effect on children with autism.”

Prior to starting any consistent exercise regimen with your child, whether its individual or a team sport, its important to meet with your family doctor and/or pediatric physical or occupational therapist to have your child evaluated to find out which sports or physical activity would be the best fit for your child’s personality and physical abilities.

For some kids with sensory issues, communication challenges, or difficulties with social skills, team sports can be challenging. Autistic children, even those who are considered low functioning, can excel at sports like swimming, martial arts, golf, bowling, tennis, running, skiing and surfing – sports that don’t entail having to read social cues or figure out for example, when to pass the ball.

Social Skill Builder recommends using visual aids when teaching your child about sports

Our Social Skill Builder software offers visual examples that can help children with ASD navigate through interactions they can encounter on the playing field. The scenarios depicted in the Social Skill Builder videos can help children with emotional or behavioral challenges understand the dynamics of playing sports as a team.

 

Social Skill Builder can assist in teaching non-verbal cues

Choosing the right option for your child may depend on your child’s ability and desire to interact with others. Children with autism are usually unable to imitate others; merely telling them to follow what the other children are doing on the team is not enough. Providing physical and visual help as you proceed with the game is the best path to success.

For example, autistic children are very visual, and the use of visual aids when teaching your autistic child about a sport may help them begin to understand the non-verbal cues which can be critical to any sport that is played on a team. As autistic children have difficulties understanding body language, you can teach them for example, how to tell whether a teammate is about to pass them the ball, when they look at a teammate they understand what the teammate is expecting. The Social Skill Builder software, especially the My School Day CD, can help towards this goal as it addresses playground games, team dynamics, and the basics of good sportsmanship.

Sports help the rate of social inclusion for children with autism and special needs and can help children experience a taste of what it feels like to be a part of a team instead of win and the personal satisfaction that goes with it.

Teaching Children with Autism How to Enjoy Jokes and Idioms

Understanding-Idioms

St. Patrick’s Day approaches and so continues the decades-long tradition of the St. Patrick’s Day pinch if you’re not wearing green. We all remember a time or two when our arms stung from forgetting to wear St. Patrick’s green. While harmless on the whole, for children with autism it can be hard to understand the difference between a harmless prank and something that can physically harm another child.

Humor is important to your child’s social development

Humor is important for children because being able to tell jokes and laugh with others helps them interact and make friends. Unfortunately, children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) tell significantly fewer jokes than their typical peers. Not being able to understand humor, or inspire laughter in others can negatively affect the development of peer relationships and social participation. In ASD children, this could lead to a further deterioration of social skills and interpersonal relationships.

Studies have found that using jokes or teaching humor and laughter to children diagnosed with autism can improve social skills and relationships with peers.

Children with autism and special needs, particularly those with social or communication delays, may need more direct instruction in the skill of joke telling and the understanding of idioms. Because children may not make the connections needed to sometimes understand the abstract language that can make a joke funny, it is important to use visual tools and concrete examples to demonstrate how jokes and idioms are constructed.

The My School Day CD and My School Day App have a whole category dedicated to understanding the difference between laughing AT someone versus laughing WITH someone. In this selection we discuss teasing versus enjoying a joke together.

Simple strategies to expand your child’s sense of humor

Its important to experiment with positive and appropriate jokes, trying them out at home and perhaps even memorizing a few that are appropriate to tell in social environments.

  1. Look into visual humor: Use cartoons, comic books and slapstick comedy to demonstrate what is considered funny, making sure to remind them that the images shown are unrealistic and should not be duplicated.
  2. Memorize one or two jokes: Knock-Knock jokes are great place to start. The examples should always include the differences between a good-natured joke and doing something that can hurt someone’s feelings.
  3. Teach idioms: Gradually expose your child to idioms and explain their meaning. Use tools such as videos or flashcards to help them develop a better understanding of these complex statements.
  4. Train your child to seek clarification when they are confused. Idioms are ambiguous and often leave children with ASD confused or accepting the statement as fact yet denying the possibility.
  5. Practice, practice, practice: For children with autism humor is an ever evolving and developing skill. Have fun developing your child’s sense of humor; a family that laughs together, has less stress and grows together in amazing ways.

Making an effort to add humor to daily activities, giving your child the opportunity to recognize the funny in the every day will allow him or her to practice and develop a more sophisticated sense of humor in time.

As children get older, the ability to see and understand humor is increasingly important. Children with a sense of humor are better liked by their peers, and have more friends, higher self-esteem, and a more positive outlook on life. Perhaps most importantly, they can be more tolerant of others, and are better equipped to handle situations at school and the inevitable teasing and bullying that often accompanies childhood.

Organizational Tools, Tricks and Apps for Children with Special Needs

It’s normal for a child to hate doing homework, but for children with special needs, this hatred can quickly develop into tantrums and meltdowns and make a necessary task difficult for everyone involved. If the right amount of structure and routine is built into the task however, the daily experience of doing homework can build a stronger relationship between the parent and child.

It is important to find the right place for your child to do homework, and that place may not necessarily be a desk. The kitchen table, where you can monitor progress, or even on the floor if it’s too distracting to sit for long periods of time, will work. Its important to remain flexible and adapt to whatever will continue to work for the child, allowing for flexibility when an approach stops working.

Keeping your child’s work organized so that what needs to be accomplished can be easily found and tracked is essential. Our Social Skill Builder Software, School Rules can help your child organize their materials and offers a way to track their progress with easy to navigate prompts. Additionally, there are apps available that can help children of any age accomplish their tasks in an efficient manner. For example, Plan It, Do It, Check It Off by I Get It, LLC can help pre-readers make lists they can understand by using pictures that can be checked off when the task pictured is completed. In this same vein, Photomind, allows for a multi-sensory approach to a calendar or a to-do list, attaching a specific photo to a reminder or a task.

Time management is an abstract skill to teach and is essential in the life of a productive adult. Effective time management can be learned from childhood, and using an app like Binary Hammer can help your child get started on the road toward effective routine time management. This app will also allow you to set up a list of tasks and assign a length of time in which to complete them. Because the app is very visual, it makes it easy for child with learning disabilities to see when they are working efficiently towards their break time, or whether they need to work faster.

For high-school aged children, the app iStudiez can help your child organize their schedule, summarize their course load, track their grades, and keep up-to-date with pending tasks and upcoming classes. All of these skills are difficult to teach on their own, and useful throughout an entire lifetime, so it is a long-term investment in your child’s future.

Talking with Children with Special Needs About Love

Any child’s experience with first ‘love,’or their first crush, is a milestone we all look forward to, and dread, in equal measure. It can be a maze of emotions and social cues that can be very hard to navigate without proper guidance. The first experience any of us have with love is within our own families, it feels natural and effortless, but the first crush is often a bittersweet experience.

With a child who has special needs, approaching the subject well ahead of their first crush is ideal. He or she is far more likely to listen and then remember your advice if they are not in the midst of experiencing those confusing feelings. Keeping your examples clear and simple, and preferably talking with your child while playing a game, sport, or doing a craft, makes the discussion easier. Staying positive and reminding them that these feelings though intense, do pass, and that it is important to avoid engaging in behavior that your family does not approve of.

Explaining to your child with special needs the temporary nature of new crushes, their unpredictability, and their intensity can sometimes be very confusing. Using tools, such as videos, to help demonstrate the various scenarios can be very helpful when children are not yet experienced enough to observe the social cues on their own.

The Social Skill Builder School Rules! Vol. 2 CD offers videos that talk about and demonstrate the differences between a friend and girlfriend/boyfriend


The Social Skill Builder School Rules! Vol. 2 software demonstrates real-life scenarios that prompt you child to ask questions and make decisions on what to say or do next, while observing real-life examples of the situation in question. Learning by example allows for a deeper understanding of what can be a very confusing time for children with special needs. Our software also provides an ability to keep track of progress, and simplifies the scope of what your child understands and builds from there.  Click below to view a sample of the many video scenarios within the School Rules Vol. 2 CD :

Sample Video from Social Skill Builder's School Rules Vol. 2

As your child matures, the nature of their questions will change, and our software allows for those continuing challenges. We also point parents to videos on You Tube to help them discuss the differences between crushes and friends with their middle school and high school-aged children. The visuals, that can be paused and played at teaching moments, help start a conversation about clear differences between the crush and friend behavior.

Learning to distinguish between a crush and real love is a developmental milestone, but using the right video modeling tools, including School Rules! Vol. 2, can make a sometimes difficult time of transition a lot easier.

Development of Social Skills in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

By Jennifer Jacobs, M.S., CCC-SLP

For many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), succeeding academically at school is an achievement they work long and hard for. Sometimes, however, this intent focus on academic competence can lead parents and educators to overlook critical social skill development. This is most apparent on the playground and other places at school where large amounts of unstructured time leave children with ASD to sink or swim in a complex social environment.

Over the last twenty years, much research has indicated that social impairment is a common feature of ASD, and a common misperception is that these children lack interest in relating to others. Kids with ASD do not choose to alienate themselves – they are simply missing skills that are essential for developing meaningful peer relationships. You may have noticed some of these common social deficits:

  • Opening and closing a conversation
  • Initiating peer interaction and joining play
  • Decoding facial expressions and body language
  • Observing and mimicking appropriate social behavior in specific situations
  • Predicting and understanding the emotions and reactions of others

If you stop and think about it, these are not easy concepts, and in fact, most children succeed socially at recess or in the locker room because they’ve acquired these skills automatically through repeated exposure to real-life scenarios. Children with ASD, however, don’t have that ability. In fact, it is notoriously difficult for these children to acquire social skills that come to many of us naturally. In order to master social skills, children with ASD must be taught them explicitly, and have the opportunity to practice them again and again and again. This last point is a key one, because many children with ASD don’t master social skills simply because the adults in their lives arbitrarily decide that a certain number of trials should be sufficient and give up on the effort too soon.

It’s critical, however, that caregivers and educators make a concerted effort to teach social skills to children with ASD despite the challenges. Otherwise, they may find it impossible to interact with peers one-to-one, or in an informal group. Instead of eagerly anticipating unstructured play periods like other children, they might dread them. Over time, they might become anxious and depressed, and might purposefully avoid the very social situations in which they need to become competent. They’ll carry their deficits into adulthood and may spend their lives feeling lonely and rejected.

That desire to belong that propels most people to learn whatever it takes to fit in is not something that’s necessarily implicit in children with ASD. For some, this type of “social sense” may never be fully achieved. But in order for a child with ASD to grow into a well-adjusted adult, he must learn basic social functioning, even if he never gets to the point of emotional relatedness. Social skills are the entryway to all relationships that involve two or more people, from friend/friend and teacher/student to boss/employee and salesperson/customer.

For this reason, it’s unfortunate that social skills acquisition is not automatically included as part of most children’s school curriculum. However, with our guidance and persistence and the right training program, even the most emotionally challenged children can master effective peer interaction at every stage of the game, from the moments just before class starts and conversation in the lunchroom to locker room changing sessions and afternoon recess.

Priming Kids with ADHD for Interpersonal Success

By Laurie Jacobs, M.A., CCC-SLP

Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) face substantial social difficulties at school, but in the face of their learning challenges, these issues are often overlooked. Kids are either mislabeled as “behavior problems,” or their social issues are just slight enough to slide under the radar. As a result, they don’t qualify for professional services and are left to survive on their own in the harsh social environment of the American school.

Inattention. Impulsivity. Hyperactivity. Lack of empathy. These are well-known ADHD traits, and they are ones that prohibit 50-60% of children with the disorder from making friends and establishing healthy peer relationships (National Resource Center on ADHD). Most children acquire social skills through general experience and observation: watching their parents, copying the behavior of schoolmates, and learning from feedback. Over time, they pick up the nuances of conversation and are able to ascertain how their actions impact others.

However, because of the nature of their condition, children with ADHD miss many of these lessons. They never fully master the subtle social cues that allow for interpersonal success. They aren’t able to perceive what works and what doesn’t, so they repeat ineffective behaviors and experience repeated interpersonal rejection, which eventually leads to low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. Long-term outcome studies have suggested that these problems only worsen as children grow into adulthood.

Fortunately for the millions of American children with ADHD, research by the Intragency Committee of Learning Disabilities and others has demonstrated that social skills training helps afflicted children to approach normal functioning in their personal and academic lives. Social competence training techniques can be implemented in any and every environment from school and home to community events and Internet chat rooms.

So where do we start? Well, as the adults in the ADHD child’s life, the first thing we must do is pay attention. In order to determine if social skills training will help a particular child, we must assess the nature and severity of his social deficits. Formal methods for doing so include standardized testing, but I prefer to interview the child’s caregiver and observe him interacting with his environment. Teachers can do this too, by watching the child during unstructured activities such as recess, and by using support staff to make note of breakdown times.

When I work with children with ADHD, I apply several “low-tech” (no technology) and “high-tech” (using technology) devices to teach social skills. Some of the successful low-tech applications are as follows:

  • Create an “emotions scrapbook” using magazines and photographs
  • Employ social skill workbooks and board games such as Do Watch Listen Say (Quill) and Boardmaker (Mayer-Johnson)
  • Engage in one-to-one thematic and pretend play
  • Form social skill groups with the child’s peers
  • Read single-themed social stories and comic strips with the child
  • Perform “social autopsies,” dissecting social situations as they occur in a non-accusatory, non-punishing way

All of these low-tech techniques facilitate the learning of critical social skills. In recent years, new technology and high-tech devices have allowed for the development of computer-based, interactive training methods. Such techniques are highly effective because they are designed to facilitate learning while providing opportunities to pause and discuss information, and to replay scenarios for greater recall and understanding. Specific high-tech exercises include:

  • Using voice-recording systems to help the child identify topic maintenance, intonation and preseveration
  • Watching television and videos, such as age-appropriate sitcoms or child-friendly soap operas, that feature dramatic emotions and social scenarios
  • Practicing vivo or video modeling by having the child watch live players re-enact a social situation, or by taping the child and his peers in a social situation
  • Using computer programs that depict social scenarios and asking the child to determine what should be said or done next

Available social training software includes the CD-ROM series from Social Skill Builder, which teaches children and adolescents the “rules” of social communication. Social Skill Builder’s CD-ROMs, My School Day, My Community, and the new School Rules Volumes 1 and 2, use interactive video sequences to imitate real-life social scenarios where children commonly interact with peers.

While social skills training can be implemented in many formats, it’s important to choose a method that allows the child to practice everything from appropriate social touch and speech volume to appropriate classroom behavior and lunchtime interaction in a safe, non-threatening environment. It should allow children to carry learned skills into everyday social interactions so that they can catch up to their peers and build the proper foundation for a happy, well-adjusted adulthood.