All children (and many adults!) have difficulty with social skills, but kids with ASD face even more challenges, since any difficulty speaking or understanding language can make it hard to manage social situations. Also, social rules are not simple, they require interpreting sometimes complex situations and reacting appropriately.

Here are some tips that could be helpful to any parent teaching social skills:

OBSERVE: The first step is figuring out what the child has difficulty with. Sometimes it’s obvious, for example if the child speaks too loudly or plays too rough. Other children are simply more quiet, which can make it hard to read what they have trouble with. Observe how they are in a group or class versus when they’re with one person. Do they know when to speak or what to say? Fixing a problem is easier when you know what it is.

UNDERSTAND ANXIETY: Some children who have a hard time with social skills have raised anxiety levels. It’s not always obvious, but can be worth exploring with their doctor or therapist.

FEELING VS. DOING: Children who act out or exhibit negative behavior have a reason for it, and that’s okay. Let them know that their feelings are genuine and natural, but that their reaction to it is what’s important. If someone is mean or too physical with them, for example, help them understand that the appropriate thing is not to kick or scream, but to walk away or find an adult who can help.

EXPLAIN!: You can’t expect a child to know what to do if you’ve never explained it to them. Children who have difficulty with social interaction aren’t learning the rules on their own and need things spelled out with language and examples they can understand. For younger kids this may mean repeating “no kicking” each time such an incident occurs, while older kids could be told that people don’t like to stand so close to each other when talking, for example. Always use praise when the child recognizes and improves their problem behavior.

GIVE THEM A SIGN: We often support behavior with words, but a sign or gesture can also help kids remember. Coming up with a gesture that means “pay attention” or “don’t stand so close” can be a helpful, non-verbal reminder. Also, with older children, seeing is believing. Try to record certain situations using your phone, then review it with them and have them comment on what behavior was appropriate or inappropriate. Be discreet, though—don’t be that parent who films every moment of their children’s lives!

REPEAT: Practice makes perfect, so give the child opportunities to practice good behavior with people and in places where they feel safe. Eventually, expand it to different people and places so it becomes a more general behavior. Don’t get frustrated if they don’t do it automatically, remember they need reminding. And don’t forget to praise progress and positive behavior.

USE REAL TIME EXAMPLES: The best way to practice and learn a new skill is within a real situation.  Playgrounds, group settings and family settings all offer opportunities to practice and demonstrate new skills.

BE POSITIVE Nobody likes to be nagged, so always remember to give praise or offer some type of positive response when a skill or behavior is done well.

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