Two_girls.jpgImpairment in social functioning is a central feature of ASD. Typical social skill deficits include: initiating interactions, responding to the initiations of others, maintaining eye contact, sharing enjoyment, reading the non-verbal cues of others, and taking another person's perspective. The cause of these skill deficits varies, ranging from inherent neurological impairment to lack of opportunity to acquire skills e.g., social withdrawal). Most important, these social skill deficits make it difficult for the individual to develop, and keep meaningful and fulfilling personal relationships. Although social skill deficits are a central feature of ASD, few young children receive adequate social skills programming (Hume, Bellini, & Pratt, 2005). This is a troubling reality, especially considering that the presence of social impairment may lead to the development of more detrimental outcomes, such as poor academic achievement, social failure and peer rejection, anxiety, depression, and other negative outcomes (Bellini, 2006; Tantam, 2000; Welsh, Park, Widaman, & O'Neil, 2001). Social skills programming may be enhanced for these students through the use of tools and strategies that address the need.

R4ATandAutism wikispace explains more about the strategies and interventions that support social skill acquisition.

No Tech Tools and Strategies
  • Specific opportunities to practice social interaction skills need to be scheduled during low-stress times of the student’s day and in environments that are neutral or calming.
  • Often, direct instruction of specific skills may be necessary before the individual is able to generalize the social skills into the natural environment.
  • The individual with ASD also may require retraining of the skill once other people or other environments are introduced.
  • Peer in-service and autism awareness training can improve the social experiences of children with ASD by helping the people around them adapt to their needs. Since neurotypical adults and children usually possess more flexible social expectations, this is often the easier path to improved social engagement for people on the spectrum.

Light Tech Tools and Strategies
As the student with autism spectrum disorder will need to be directly taught various social skills in a one-to-one and/or a small group setting, various low tech strategies can be used to focus on increasing this skill area. In addition, social skills training will need to address the student’s possible difficulty in generalizing this information to other social contexts, which can also be accommodated through appropriate low tech support strategies.
  • Social Stories - Use of Social Stories(Gray, 1993) provides the student with visual information/strategies to use that will improve his understanding of various social situations and teach specific behaviors to use when he is interacting with others. Social Stories are...
    • ... written in first person and are individually written for each student for the social situations that are difficult for that individual (e.g., staying in assigned seat on the bus, waiting in line).
    • ... visually represented in a mode that the student can most readily understand (e.g., written words, line drawings and written words, photos and written words).
    • repetitiously, at times when the individual is not engaged in the challenging social situation; this is what leads to the success of this strategy.
    • We suggest two 3-ring binders of identical Social Stories, kept in page protectors for both at home and school, for the student to read at his or her leisure. This has been proven to be a very successful strategy for many students in learning to recognize, interpret and respond appropriately in a variety of social situations.
  • Social Scripts- Although similar to Social Stories, Social Scripts involve the development of an actual script for a specific social situation.
    • The Social Script is individualized and is dependent upon the specific social situation(s) with which the student is struggling.
    • Use of Social Scripts can also assist in role-playing these various social situations with peers.
    • Puppets and other methods can be utilized.
    • Social Scripts can be used to visually, and thus clearly, indicate what went “wrong” in a social situation.
  • Comic strip conversations -used to visually “work through” a problem situation and to identify solutions (Gray, 1994). Primary elements are
    • a description of the event that caused the problem
    • feelings and thoughts of everyone involved
    • a solution to the problem and ideas on how to avoid it in the future
    • reinforcement
    • appropriate symbols (stick figures, smiley faces, thought bubbles)
    • colors used to express feelings (green-happy, blue-sad, black-angry)
Comic strip printables- free templates
    • Strip Generatoris a free online tool to create comic strips
    • Pixton is a free (or for fee for greater capabilities) online comic strip creator
    • ToonDoo is another free (or for fee) online comic strip creator
    • MakeBeliefsComixis another awesome (free) site. Thanks Sara Parsons with Harlingen CISD!
      • The Super Hero Squad Show is a fun (and Free) way to create a comic strip or comic book of your favorite Marvel super hero.
      • Professor Garfield's Comics Lab is another free resource You do not have to log in, but if you do, you can save your work to finish or tweak later.
      • Creaza lets you do so much more than just create comic strips. It is "an integrated, web-based toolbox for creative work, both at school and in your free time. You use the toolbox along with various fully developed thematic universes: historical periods, fairy-tales, fantasy worlds, and current challenges, such as climate/environment."
      • Comic Strip Creator may be the one you want to use for your students. Comic strip creator is a freeware, standalone application for making comic strips and has been developed by CosyLLab at the Department of Technology Education and Digital Systems of the University of Piraeus, in Piraeus, Greece. Because it must be downloaded to your computer, there is little chance that your students will encounter inappropriate images or content that they might see on other comic strip creation websites.
      • Comic Creator is from the folks at ReadWriteThink as is complete with lesson plans for its use. From the site - "The Comic Creator invites students to compose their own comic strips for a variety of contexts (prewriting, pre- and post-reading activities, response to literature, and so on). The organizers focus on the key elements of comic strips by allowing students to choose backgrounds, characters, and props, as well as to compose related dialogue (shown at left). This versatile tool can be used by students from kindergarten through high school, for purposes ranging from learning to write dialogue to an in-depth study of a formerly neglected genre. The tool is easy to use, made even easier with the Comic Strip Planning Sheet, a printable PDF that comic creators can use to draft and revise their work before creating and printing their final comics. After completing their comic, students have the ability to print out and illustrate their final versions for feedback and assessment."
  • Turn-taking cards - These cards are useful for visually representing and marking whose turn it is. Typically, these cards utilize a visual representation mode (PCS, object, written word, etc.) familiar to the student and thus, are a very effective means to teach this social skills concept.
  • “Wait” cards - This tool helps to visually represent the abstract concept of “Wait” with a large orange-colored oval card printed with the word “wait”. These cards can be used at any time to represent the abstract concept of “waiting” (e.g., place the “wait” card on the computer monitor while waiting for the computer or a program to boot up, have the individual hold the “wait” card while waiting in line.)
  • “Help” cards - These tools aid in teaching the individual the abstract concept of raising his or her hand to indicate that help is needed. An “I need help” visual representation (PCS, photograph, written word taped to a craft stick or object) is used for the student to raise up in the air to indicate that he or she needs help. The item that he or she raises in the air can gradually be eliminated until the individual is readily raising only his or her hand to seek assistance.
  • “Waiting hands” card - An outline of a person’s open hands on colored paper is used as a guideline as to where the individual should place his or her hands while waiting—either for his or her turn, a chance to perform an action, or other activity.
  • Social “rule” cards - These can be taped to the student’s desk in the classroom (e.g., “I will raise my hand and wait for the teacher to call on me”). For various environments other than just the classroom, one “rule” card per environment can be developed. It can be written on index cards and laminated and then given to the student to carry along as a visual reminder of the social “rules” for that particular context. For example, social rules for the library might include: “I will sit at a table with at least one other student.” “I will discuss my book with one other student.” “I will discuss one other student’s book.”
  • File Folder Activities - The use of file folder activities can assist the child to independently focus on numerous academic tasks.

Mid Tech Tools and Strategies
Some of the items previously mentioned in this section can be used very successfully to teach social skills.
  • One message devices- These devices can help the individual with ASD participate in turn-taking activities. Countless turn-taking activities can be created and incorporated into every aspect of the school day. Opportunities during “circle time” include: taking turns pushing the device to respond to prerecorded calendar routines, songs and books (repetitive lines work great); “turn the page” during large group reading; “my turn” as a visual/physical marker during focus on specific turn-taking tasks; and others. Older individuals may benefit by initiating a conversation with a peer by using the device to say, “Did you see that Packers game on Sunday?”
  • Other speech generating devices - Other speech generating devices that offer four to eight or more messages as mentioned in Expressive Communication may be used to sequence the social script or social story for repeated review and practice.
  • Audio recording - Any type of social interaction, both appropriate and inappropriate, can be taped and then replayed as a audacity-macosx-small.jpgteaching method to assist the individual in identifying and discussing social communicative behavior. Examples include interrupting, asking for assistance, drawing attention, initiating varied topics, maintaining topics initiated by others, etc. Focus on various nonverbal social communication skills, such as awareness and use of appropriate volume or emotional tone of voice, can be addressed through the use of audio taping. If needed, visual supports can be created to be used along with the audio tape to help the student understand what happened and what could be done to make the situation go more smoothly in the future.
    • Audacityis free, open source software for recording and editing sounds. You can use these recordings within other software programs such as PowerPoint, Boardmaker Plus, Classroom Suite, and with video recordings.
  • VoicePod - The VoicePod is a digital recording and playback system ideal for photos, language cards and communication symbols. It features thirty-six reusable, two-sided sleeves with an ID strip to access recordings. For an individual who is able to imitate, the VoicePod could be used as an imitative model for the individual to use to engage in a social interaction. For example, at the end of a student’s activity schedule book is a VoicePod card with a picture of bubbles and the written words “I want bubbles.” The student then places the card in the VoicePod sleeve and inserts it into the VoicePod to hear it. He could then take the card and gives it to someone while repeating the utterance.
  • 001752s.gifLanguage Master - For a child, who is able to imitate, the Language Master could be used as a model for imitation, as well as an opportunity to engage in social interactions.

High Tech Tools and Strategies
  • Video recording- A variety of social situations can be videotaped and replayed to teach identification of appropriate/inappropriate social behaviors, as well as emulation of appropriate social behaviors in various social contexts. Videotaped segments of any area in which the individual is experiencing difficulty can be viewed (e.g., interrupting others, asking for assistance, drawing attention to communicative utterances, initiating varied topics, maintaining topics initiated by others, perseverant utterances or question asking, etc.). Non-verbal social communication skills can be effectively taught through videotaping (e.g., tone of voice, facial expressions, body postures/language, gestures, personal space, vocal volume, etc.). In addition, how to appropriately engage and/or interact in various social contexts (such as recess, lunch, music class, McDonald's, church, etc.) can be taught via videotaping. Facial expressions showing various emotional states can also be videotaped to teach identification of various emotions/feelings.
    • Flip video camcorder
    • Computer - The computer can be used to review appropriate social behaviors in much the same way that the Social Stories, Social Scripts, and audio and videotaping used. The specific script can be presented in pictures or line drawings with printed words. Then the student can use the mouse (or adapted input such as the IntelliKeys) to place the pictures in the correct sequence. The computer can be set to speak the words or the student can read them. Online support and interaction systems can also be a valuable resource for people on the autism spectrum.
  • Videos for modeling social skills
    • Software titles
      • - My Community, My School Day, School Rules! Vol 1-2, Preschool Playtime Vol 1-2 . Some use real-life videos others use animation to teach social skills such as turn taking, hygiene, waiting in line, and following directions. Each program contains a lesson plan feature that allows the facilitator to choose what video and targets are presented to the user. You can choose a Pre-Set Lesson plan to target specific areas of need including Problem Solving, Social Language, etc.
      • - Choices is a grades K-5 series of CD-ROMS to help teach social studies skills the 3 software titles are Kids & the Environment, On the Playground, and Taking Responsibility. They contain real-world scenarios via cartoons. Students can replay scenarios to make different choices and see different outcomes. Each CD-ROM includes lesson plans, student worksheets, and extension activities.
      • - Right Choices is a video driven Social SkillsTraining program DVD/Video Lessons with 150 activities & worksheets designed for teens grades 6-12. This Department of Education award-winning social skills training curriculum & behavior management program includes 34 easy video, DVD driven program lessons on: problem solving, listening, apologizing, negotiating, responding to teasing, assertiveness training, using self-control, keeping out of fights, saying no, dealing with peer pressure etc.
      • - is a research-based instruction package based on ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis)research_based.gifpackage that includes on-computer lessons, off-computer generalization activities, data tracking and communications tools for school personnel, parents, students and other intervenors.
      • Social Skill Builder - Uses real-life scenarios combined with systemic and direct instruction with reinforcements and progress monitoring.
      • Model Me Kids - videos demonstrating social skills in all environments for students at all ages.