By Kristina Tindall
There's never a one size fits all when it comes to teaching social skills, and having a child with autism can be more challenging. As a mother who raised a child with autism, I would like to share a few tips that I found helpful and I hope you will too.
First of all, there are many social stories that start with the very basics: "Hello, my name is ______, what is your name?" So simple, but it's a start. I read many books that would have stories with short dialogue between two characters. It didn't have to be a specific social story, but I picked out books that would have this simple back-and-forth conversation.
My son watched videos on social skills which were mainly provided by his teachers in school.
I also drew him pictures of different social situations which kept his attention a bit longer.
His teachers created an extensive binder of photos and short stories that had different types of social situations that would be familiar to him and his dad and I added to the binder as different social situations came up. It contained everything from how to act when we had guests in our home, to how he needed to act as a guest in someone else's home. We even had things that related to behavior at his tennis and piano lessons, or something as simple as how to invite a friend over for a playdate.
One thing that was particularly helpful was the use of puppets. He thought that was so fun! By doing role-playing with the puppets, he was able to get the connection more quickly.
Of course, all these tools were just the prep work before he was actually put into a social situation. Believe me, I held my breath every single time just praying all the work we did beforehand would come through. Sometimes it did, many times it did not and I would need to remove him from any given situation because it was just too much for him.
Did I give up? Absolutely not. Time after time, year after year I kept trying different ways to help my son and eventually, he was able to understand what was expected of him in most situations. But he had to learn and memorize all of it. It was not easy for him.
I'll be honest, it was extremely hard always doing the extra work that I felt most other parents didn't have to do. Sometimes I felt like the easiest thing to do was just keep my son at home where things were quiet and we had a predictable routine. It would be less stress on him and less stress for me as well. Depending on the circumstances, there were times when that was the best decision, but for most part I kept him engaged in the real world around us. I knew I couldn't teach him social skills if he never had the opportunity to practice.
My son is a grown adult now and at times he still needs a little "coaching" (as I call it) if he's in a social situation that he may be unfamiliar with. If I am with him, I will very discreetly whisper in his ear a few hints that may be helpful. But let's face it, the world is a very unpredictable place no matter how polished our own social skills are.
If you're just starting out in your journey with your son or daughter that has been diagnosed with ASD, please reach out for support and be assured that all your hard work is well worth the effort each and every day. 😊