People with autism have little or no understanding of normal social interaction. They do not automatically make relationships and have difficulty understanding that other people have feelings, thoughts and intentions.
They will have difficulty relating to and communicating with others, or taking others’ feelings into account. Some will prefer to be alone and do not look to others for company; others will want friends and relationships but do not have the skills to manage and maintain them. They can not always offer sympathy and empathy to others as they may not have any concept of this.
Many children and young people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may appear solitary, to prefer their own company, even resisting any “invasion” of their space by others. They may want friendship and conversation but are uncertain how to approach others, fail to give out or read the appropriate social signals, and do not appreciate how their behaviour may need to vary in different situations. They may appear actively anti-social.
Teaching Social Behaviours
People with ASD often need teaching what is and is not acceptable in certain settings or with different people, and why. Once they understand the reason why we do certain things they are likely to learn the skills.
Be aware of their lack of 'generalisation of skills' as sometimes social skills learnt in the home, may not automatically be applied into new situations and environments. Social skills should be taught one at a time when the young person is calm and receptive, they may also prefer to do this at a regular time each week rather than an 'as and when' approach. It is also important that both home and school can work together on social skills as this is beneficial to the child.
The use and meaning of eye contact
Some children with ASD may find it physically painful to give or maintain eye contact with others so may need to be given an alternative, such as looking at someone's forehead.
It can also be difficult for them to maintain eye contact and listen at the same time so you may need to decide which is most important at a given moment.
Inflections and voice tone, volume, rhythm and speed
It might be necessary to explain what the variations mean and where they are generally used - for instance, a harsh tone means someone is angry; speaking quietly may be appropriate in a place of worship or a library.
Suitable length of coversations, including beginning and ending one
Children with ASD may need to be taught to listen, to wait for a gap in a conversation before joining in and, especially, how not to dominate a conversation with their own interests. They also frequently like to know the reason why certain things are done before they have to do them - just telling them to do something will not always suffice.
Physical proximity to others
It's important to learn the meaning of personal space and not to invade it. Some people with ASD may not understand that standing too close to people when talking to them may make the other person feel uncomfortable but that it is okay to stand close to someone in a long queue. These are skills that most of us will learn intiutively but people with ASD may not and therefore will need to be taught.
People employ body language all the time but people with ASD often have difficulty interpreting it and may need guidance to help them to understand expressions and actions. Role play can help with this, as can discussing expressions on faces in magazines or watching characters on tv.
Humour, figurative speech, sarcasm and metaphors
People with ASD tend to have very literal minds so will not understand the nuances of figurative speech unless they are explained. For instance, most people will know that 'pull your socks up' means 'try harder' but someone with ASD may very well take this literally and actually pull their socks up. There are resources, such as books and games, to help them to learn many of the literal sayings. Most will not undersand sarcasm, however, some will be able to do so.
Meeting unfamiliar and new people
This can be a stressful occasion, but is helped by knowing how to greet someone, how to behave and what to say. Again, role play can help prepare them for what could and may be said and how they could respond appropriately. They may also need to be taught that many of us are not always interested in what someone else has to say but that it is polite to sound as if we are interested. It may be helpful to let them have a start and finish time for any social events so that they know how long they will have to be there.
Having an interest in more than one topic
To show an interest in someone else's subject is not only a good way to build a relationship, but can also help to broaden horizons for the person with ASD. Being able to talk about more than one topic is also helpful in understanding that everone is allowed an opinion even if they don't agree with it.
Problem-solving strategies for troublesome situations
Social occasions and conversations don't always go according to plan for any of us. It would be reassuring for the person with ASD to learn some of the things that might happen and how to deal with them as they may not predict what may go wrong. In this way, a book of ideas can be built up to use and possibly adapt in the future. It is also important to learn that no matter how much we prepare, we cannot always prepare for every eventuality.
This could include 'stranger danger' and learning to say no. It's important to explore the possible outcomes for a variety of situations so appropriate choices can be made when they occur in real life. Using role play can help reinforce understanding.
Good friend behaviour
People with ASD often want friends but do not know what makes them a good friend, leaving them vulnerable to be taken advantage of and susceptible to bullying by peers. They need to be taught how a good friend should behave - kind, sharing, understanding, etc. and how a good friend will not get them into trouble by telling them to do things they know, or feel, is wrong.
Having good manners can go a long way to giving a good first impression. People with ASD can come across as being rude or arrogant, particularly to those who do not know them or understand the condition. Therefore, if they are taught to have good manners it can help others to understand that they are not necessarily being rude at others times. Once again, role play can help give someone with ASD a better understanding of certain situations.
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