Difficulties with Social Skills and Autism

Throughout my career as a Speech-Language Pathologist, I have always had an interest in the role that social skills play in the social, emotional and academic successes of children and teens.  Over time, I started seeing more and more people who struggled with social confidence and social skills. Most of these children and teens had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and some simply felt or been told that they didn’t do well in social situations. This is definitely a common challenge faced by all people with autism no matter what their language or cognitive skills. No two people will share the exact same pattern of difficulties with social skills. This is why autism is now commonly referred to as a spectrum disorder which represents a large range of abilities and difficulties found with those who have autism.

Difficulties with Social Skills Across the Ages

Preschool   

Most social difficulties for many children with autism can be identified in early childhood or even infancy. Some of the earliest signs are:

  • Limited eye contact
  • Responding to their name
  • Sharing attention
  • Difficulties with imitating

These above signs can become worse and children might shy away from social situations or avoid them all together. On the other hand, some signs may go undetected because they are similar to the behaviours seen in typically developing children going through the regular tantrums or being defiant.

School-Age

For children who are unable to access early social intervention, the problems tend to develop as their social demands increase. They often have limited play skills and show little interest in playing with friends. Or, if there is an interest in engaging with other children, they may not have the appropriate skills to:

  • Initiate play
  • Respond to the play invitations to other children
  • Or to learn play through observations of other children
  • Attempts at social interaction is immature

When they do have friends, their friends tend to be very accommodating children who adjust to their need to control play. Difficulties with social skills and maintaining friendships as they get older can be very challenging given that typical children become less accepting of the one-sided nature of these friendships.

Teens

As children with autism age and move into high school, they continue to have difficulties with social skills and are likely to feel isolated from their peers. Schools often try to create an environment for acceptance and inclusion to help increase the potential for friendships. Often those who have high language abilities may have great self-awareness of their differences and a greater motivation to want to fit in. But, that being said, teens by this point may have faced social rejection and are more comfortable communicating with adults who encourage them in their specific interests or spend more time on their own.

What can you do to help someone with difficulties with social skills?

There are many different social skills interventions out there such as, video modeling, social stories and activity-based intervention to name a few. Cognitive Behavioural Training (CBT) can be used in teaching social skills, which involves increasing knowledge about the social world and at the same time increasing awareness of thoughts and feelings. One specific type of CBT is Social Thinking!

What is Social Thinking?

Social Thinking is what we do when we interact with people.  The Social Thinking approach (based on the work of Michelle Garcia Winner) focusses on helping individuals think strategically in social situations. It helps them to observe and consider their own and others’ thoughts and feelings.  It bridges the connections between thoughts, feelings and behaviours, paving the way for social skills that can apply to many situations.

Social Thinking also sheds light on academics; children who struggle in conversation, struggle to understand literature – not due to a lack of core skills in reading fluency and decoding – but rather, in perspective taking. Its main focus is on teaching individuals to think about how others perceive them.

When individuals are unable to interpret others’ perspectives, they may struggle with developing meaningful relationships. Social Thinking breaks down social concepts so that we can convey them in ways that are practical and logical.

Social Thinking is a language-based approach for individuals with social learning disabilities, not just specific to individuals with autism but anyone that may have ADD, ADHD, Nonverbal Learning Disabilities and/or Language Disabilities, ages 4 years through to adulthood.

For more information on Social Thinking or if you are interested in programming using Social Thinking contact us today about our March Break/Summer Camps or individual sessions!

AmyWebAmy Grossi is a pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist, practicing for over 10 years. Amy enjoys the area of early language, literacy development, apraxia and fluency. She has a passion for working with children with multiple developmental needs and implementing creative and interactive treatment sessions.

Using Visual Schedules with Your Child

What are visual schedules?

Visual schedules use a series of pictures to communicate a series of activities or the steps of a specific activity. They are often used to help children understand and manage the daily events in their lives. They can be created using pictures, photographs, or written words, depending upon the ability of the child.

Who uses visual schedules?

Visual schedules can be used with any child; however those children who are visual learners will benefit most from it.  Visual schedules are used frequently with children who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Why should I use visual schedules with my child?

There are many benefits to using visual schedules including:

  • Allowing child to see what is coming next in the routine
  • Decreasing challenging behaviours
  • Making transitions smoother
  • Promoting independence
  • Increasing receptive and expressive communication
  • Is a great reminder of verbal directions given

How to make visual schedules:

Materials:

  • Scissors
  • glue stick
  • Bristol board
  • Velcro
  • pictures (can be created with a camera or on a computer depending on the level of the child)
  • Pen/marker to label the picture (if not creating them on the computer),
  • laminating paper (mactac)

Instructions:

  1. Gather materials listed above.
  2. Choose pictures for the schedule you wish to create. Create them using a computer or real life objects (depending on the stage your child is at).
  3. Cut pictures and pieces of Bristol board the same size
  4. Glue the pictures on Bristol board squares or simply laminate for durability.
  5. Velcro pieces of Velcro on the back of every picture. Be sure to use the same type of Velcro on all your pictures so the opposite type of Velcro will be on your board. If you are creating a permanent schedule then simply glue the pictures on the Bristol board strip that is created in the next step.
  6. Create a strip to hold the schedule. Cut out Bristol  board long enough to hold all the pictures for the block of time you are creating a schedule. For example, you may be creating a schedule for an entire day or just for one routine, such as brushing your teeth.
  7. You may create a pocket at the bottom/end that represents “all done” for removable pictures.
  8. Velcro the pictures to the schedule in the order they will occur.

How to use visual schedules

Teach your child how to use the schedule by explaining and modeling how to use the pictures. As you move through the schedule you can remove the picture from the schedule, and place it in the pocket with the words “all done” on it. Keep the schedule located in a convenient place at the child’s eye level, to promote consistent use. Use the schedule as part of your daily routine.

When you first start to use the visual schedule, an adult will need to go through the schedule daily with the child.  Once the child becomes comfortable with the routine they can go through the schedule on their own.

Create your own visual schedule and watch your child’s independence, self -esteem and communication blossom!

GwenBlackburn-220Gwen is a Communicative Disorders Assistant with more than 17 years of experience working with a diverse client base.  Her experiences have provided her with the wonderful opportunity to be associated with adults suffering from brain injuries, those that have experienced a stroke, children with articulation and language difficulties and children who have a limited word repertoire.

Friendship and Social skills: Why are they important?

shutterstock_50844475We, as humans, are in a world filled with people. We have no choice but to interact in some way throughout our lives. With increasing technology, there is a decreasing emphasis on social skills. I see people every day, both at work and in everyday life, that need some sort of assistance with social interaction. Whether we are interacting face-to-face or via text or some other online platform, we need to be able to communicate effectively.

Social Skills or Interaction skills

The skills I’m talking about aren’t necessarily something you need to think about. People over the age of around 30, don’t usually have difficulty in social situations. We learned from a young age how to interact because we did it regularly. Instead of texting our friends, we had to go knock on their door, say hello to their parents and ask if our friends could come and play. Little did we know that these skills were something we’d use throughout life in many situations! Greetings, salutations, taking turns, and asking questions are just a few of the skills that we learn through observation and imitation when we are young. Now that technology has seeped into our lives, things are a bit different. Texting has changed our dictionary – Yes, the acronym LOL is in the scrabble dictionary now!! With all of these changes, there has been a decrease in the emphasis of face-to-face social skills. Why or when are these important? We need these skills to get a job and interact with people every day – interviews, in a restaurant, at the movies, interacting with co-workers or class mates, just to name a few. If we don’t know what to do, then how will we do it?

Friendship

Friendship is just one part of social interaction.  I have had some young clients tell me “I don’t need friends”. I beg to differ! Our friends are the first extension of our family, especially early in life. We practice social skills with them and they are usually an unbiased and unjudging venue for that practice. This is also how we learn to interact with people outside of our family – we learn that although you might hug and kiss your mom and dad, you don’t do this with friends – we are learning socially acceptable boundaries. This also teaches us skills that will transfer over into working environments when we are older. It’s also the first avenue where we learn to negotiate, express our opinions and learn to argue our point of view as well as understand other’s point of view. All of these skills will help us become a good worker and an advocate for ourselves or others in the future. I’m not saying you need 1000 friends on Facebook, I’m saying you need a few close real-life friends that you trust and trust you to help navigate this crazy world of ours!

What do I do to help my kids learn these social skills?

Have a conversation with them. Set aside time to demonstrate these skills to them and show them what they should be doing. For example, make dinner time a “no technology” time so you can actually interact with each other. Ask them questions about their lives “tell me your favorite part of the day today”. Show them how to listen and answer “my favorite part was ____ because ____”. Play outside – no technology! Teach them the games you used to play, run, skip, jump, play hide-and-go-seek! Have your child interact with the people and things in their world and set a good example for them! Don’t sit on your device, actually interact with people, on the phone or in person and show your kids how, otherwise, they might not ever learn.

For more ideas or to ask questions, feel free to comment!

LynseyWilson-220Lynsey Wilson is a Communication Disorders assistant with experience treating a wide range of clients with varying ages and disorders. She also has her Early Childhood Educator certificate and specializes in working with pediatric clients. Lynsey enjoys working with a variety of age groups to keep her on her toes!

AUTISM AND BACK TO SCHOOL TRANSITIONS

shutterstock_130517294Back to school can be a time of year filled with mixed emotions for all children and parents. Children may be excited to move up a grade, yet fearful of a new teacher or their closest friends not being in the same class. Parents may be delighted that structure will soon return to their daily life, yet worried about challenges their children will face in the year to come. For children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their parents, these negative emotions are often magnified and may very well outweigh the positives. Children with autism struggle with handling transition and change. It can evoke intense emotion and anxiety leading to behavioural issues and total meltdowns.

Why are transitions so difficult for children with autism?

The brains of individuals with autism process and interpret information in a way that is different from the average person. Particular environmental stimuli or the entire environment often present as overwhelming and confusing. Children with autism often attempt to implement repetition in their lives and resist change in order to minimize the chaos and uncertainty.

How might my child react?

A child with autism might become overrun with emotion and overreact to even a tiny change, such as mom forgetting crackers in the lunch bag. This overreaction could range anywhere from a 3 minute crying fit requiring verbal redirection, to a 1 hour tantrum involving flailing on the floor and throwing things, ultimately requiring physical, visual and verbal supports to get under control.  If such a small change or unexpected error can result in such an intense reaction, it is scary to even imagine how difficult starting a new school year might be, particularly for those children who may not have the ability to communicate their fears and frustrations. So many factors change – new teacher, new classroom, new peers, new schedule, new expectations etc…

How can I help with these back to school transitions?

While preparation and planning is good for any child, and in fact many adults, it is vital to successful back to school transitions with children with autism.  This involves the use of repeated visual and verbal supports, such as:

  • Photos to create familiarity with the unknown
  • Visual schedules to organize the daily routine
  • Social stories to address feelings, provide reasons, redirect  and offer resolutions
  • Select specific language and phrases then repeat, repeat, repeat

AmandaBrown-220Amanda Brown is a Speech-Language Pathologist with nearly a decade of experience in providing assessment and treatment to clients in the clinic and community settings. Amanda enjoys working with clients of all ages and applies a strong client-centred approach to her therapy, balanced with family/team collaboration.

Program Review: Hanen – More Than Words

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The More Than Words Program was designed for parents of children ages 5 and who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This program addresses the unique needs of these children. It provides parents with strategies and support they need to help their children reach their fullest communication potential.

More Than Words is an evidence based program that was developed by expert speech-language pathologists.  The program itself is only delivered by Hanen Certified Speech-language pathologists who have completed specialized training from The Hanen Centre.

What goals will be targeted in More Than Words?

There are three specific goals targeted in this program:

  1. Improving your child’s social skills.
  2. The ability for your child to engage in back-and-forth interactions
  3. Improving your child’s understanding of language.

What will I learn when I attend the More Than Words program?

You will learn the following:

  • How your child learns best and what motivates him to communicate
  • Why your child behaves in certain ways, and what you can do to either increase or reduce those behaviours
  • How to use your knowledge about your child to set realistic goals
  • How to make interactions with your child last longer and be more meaningful
  • Tips for using pictures and print to help your child’s understanding
  • Tips on how to talk so that your child understands you
  • Strategies for developing your child’s play skills
  • Ways to help your child make friends

One example of a strategy you will learn in the program is ROCK

Repeat what you say and do
Offer opportunities for your child to take a turn
Cue your child to take his turn; and
Keep it fun! Keep it going!

What does the More Than Words program consist of?

The program consists of:

  • 8 training sessions in small, personalized groups
  • A Hanen Certified speech-language pathologist leading the program
  • A pre-program consultation for you and your child with your speech-language pathologist
  • Three individual visits for you and your child with your speech-language pathologist in which you are videotaped while practicing with your child. Then, you and your speech-language pathologist watch the video tape together and see what is helping and what you could do to help your child even further.

What do I need to get started?

You will need to locate a program nearest you. You will also need the More Than Words guidebook: A Parent’s Guide to Building Interaction and Language Skills for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Social Communication Difficulties (you may choose to purchase this book a head of time to get a start on your learning, if you are waiting for a program).

What are the benefits of taking the More Than Words program?

The program teaches practical strategies you can use in everyday situations

The More Than Words Program focuses on your natural, day-to-day life with your child. You will be able to take everyday activities like meal time, story time and bath time and use them to help your child improve his communication and social skills. And you’ll have fun together while you’re doing it!

The More Than Words approach is easy to understand and easy to put into practice. With each strategy you learn, you will be given the opportunity to practice this with your child and receive feedback from the Speech Language Pathologist.

Look for a program near you!

GwenBlackburn-220Gwen is a Communicative Disorders Assistant with more than 17 years of experience working with a diverse client base.  Her experiences have provided her with the wonderful opportunity to be associated with adults suffering from brain injuries, those that have experienced a stroke, children with articulation and language difficulties and children who have a limited word repertoire.