How Does Social Skills Training Help Individuals with Autism

Social skills training is an intervention that helps people with autism to improve their social skills (the way they interact with and respond to others). Traditionally, social skills training was provided in the context of face-to-face interventions. To enhance conversational abilities, friendship building, and conflict resolution, children diagnosed with autism would receive guidance in social scenarios involving their peers. Social skills training has been an effective way of teaching children with autism to improve their social skills.

Social Skills Training for Autism

Social skills training offers a structured environment to help individuals with autism learn and practice social skills with peers. Research has found that when people with ASD participate in social skills training, they are more likely to experience higher quality friendships and less likely to experience loneliness as compared to people with autism who haven’t participated in social skills training.

Behavioral Intervention Technologies – Social Skills Training

Regarding in-person social skills training, there is sometimes a lack of training opportunities available in many areas and it is limited to the availability of the trainer. Because of this, newer methods for social skills training are being developed. Specifically, Behavioral Intervention Technologies (BITs) are being explored. This involves the use of technology-based interventions to create improvements in the learner’s social skills.

There are benefits to both in-person and technology-based social skills training. When it comes to Behavioral Intervention Technologies (BITs), there are many benefits that have been found to be associated with social skills training for people with autism spectrum disorder. Research suggests that BITs, which offer an electronic format for working on the improvement of social skills, can have great benefits for people with autism. BITs typically utilize technology such as smartphone applications, electronic reading material, electronic games, and related methods for teaching social behaviors.

BITs offer the learner the opportunity to practice social skills that they are uncomfortable with in a setting that reduces the anxiety that may have come from practicing those skills in person. Another benefit of technology-based social skills training is that the learner has fewer distractions as compared to social skills training which is provided in a more realistic setting.

Although there has been some concern that technology-based social skills training may not generalize to real-life situations and that it may actually contribute to social avoidance, research has found that this format for social skills training actually has the opposite effect. It allows the learner to practice social skills in a safe setting which increases their confidence and supports the generalization of the skills.

Benefits of Social Skills Training

Social skills training can help individuals with autism in many ways. Social skills training can address a variety of skills that people with ASD can utilize in their everyday lives. For example, social skills training can help people with autism learn to initiate conversations. The training can also help teach the learner how to maintain a conversation.

Initiating and sustaining conversations presents a challenge for numerous individuals with autism; individuals with ASD often encounter difficulties in approaching others and, once engaged in a conversation, may struggle to determine appropriate responses when it is their turn to speak. Other people with ASD tend to take charge of the conversation and have trouble giving the other person an appropriate amount of time to speak.

Social skills training can work on skills that support the learner’s interactions with others in a variety of settings. Training can address things like taking turns with peers, waiting for your turn, expressing your opinion in a respectful manner, mastering skills that are beneficial in the workplace, and much more.

Social skills training can also help people with autism navigate certain social situations, such as what to do when approaching someone in public, like at the grocery store or at school. Social skills training can also help teach people with autism how to read body language and understand facial expressions. It can help them become more self-aware so that they intentionally use body language and facial expressions to communicate something more purposefully with the goal of helping others understand them better.

Social skills training can teach people with autism to express empathy toward others in ways that support their relationships. It is a misconception about people with autism that they don’t have empathy. Although some people with autism are less empathetic than others, this is the way neurotypicals are, as well. People in general vary in how empathetic they are toward others. Many people with autism do have empathy and compassion for others. Sometimes, they don’t express it in ways that neurotypicals do, however. Other times the empathy and sensitive nature of people with autism can be really overwhelming because they feel and experience things at a deeper level than most other people do. Social skills training can help people with autism to understand others, express their empathy appropriately, and to manage their emotions and sensitivities.

Social skills training can also benefit people with autism because it can teach them about being assertive with others. This contrasts with being too aggressive or too passive with others. Some people with autism get easily irritated or overloaded from sensory stimulation which can lead to an aggressive approach toward others. Some people with autism might struggle with expressing their needs, thoughts, and feelings and may have difficulty setting boundaries with others. Social skills training can help people with ASD to be appropriately assertive.

Social skills training has countless benefits for individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Reach out to a Board Certified Behavior Analyst at Behavioral Innovations for more support and guidance on helping your loved one improve their social skills in a way that will improve their overall well-being and quality of life.

References:
Soares, E. E., Bausback, K., Beard, C. L., Higinbotham, M., Bunge, E. L., & Gengoux, G. W. (2021). Social Skills Training for Autism Spectrum Disorder: a Meta-analysis of In-person and Technological Interventions. Journal of technology in behavioral science, 6(1), 166–180. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41347-020-00177-0

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