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Autism and Social Skills: How to Teach Effective Communication of Wants and Needs

Posted by on in Behavior Analysis
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Social deficits and impairments are a common feature of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), (Dogan, King, Fischetti, Lake, Mathews, and Warzak, 2017; and Thompson, 2015). With these deficits acquisition of social skills can be a prolonged process. It can also cause worry for families and caretakers that their loved one may not be able to develop personal relationships in the future. Some examples of social difficulty are initiating interactions, responding to initiation, maintaining eye contact, sharing common hobbies and enjoyment, reading nonverbal cues, taking perspective, understanding and using speech prosody and non-literal language (White, Keonig, and Scahill, 2006). This can seem like a daunting list, but there are empirically validated interventions that have yielded positive results in increasing social skills (Peters and Thompson, 2015; Dogan et. al, 2017).

Breaking the Stigma: Want Versus Ability

Some indicate that individuals with ASD do not have the desire to communicate with others. However, this could be attributed to a lack of knowing what to do in social situations instead of a lack of interest (White, et al., 2006). When someone doesn't possess the skills to appropriately interact with people, then they may not acquire positive experiences communicating and interacting with other individuals. The purpose of this post is to showcase evidence-based interventions that have increased social activity and the acquisition of social skills in individuals with ASD.

Behavioral Skills Training

Extensive research has shown that behavioral skills training (BST) is an effective method for teaching new skills within a brief period of time (Dogan, et al., 2017).

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1. Instruction

2. Modeling

3. Role Playing

4. Feedback

Teachers, parents and therapists can all implement behavior skills training to increase social behaviors in individuals with ASD.

-Instruction (Dogan, et al., 2017)

1. Say the name of what you are teaching (i.e., "We are going to talk about how to start a conversation with someone").

2. Say why it's important ("When you talk to people you can make friends and friends are great!")

3. Explain the steps that they are going to act out and work on ("We are going to work on posture walking up to someone and how to greet them").

4. Ask if there are any questions about what you are going to learn.

­-Modeling (In Person/Video) (Dogan, et al., 2017; Bellini, 2006)

This part of the intervention is when the individuals in social skills training watch someone else demonstrate the skill. This can be done by video or in person by teachers, parents or therapists. There are a lot of great YouTube videos as well as certain video series that show different types of skills being modeled.

1. Start by saying that you are going to take a look or watch how to complete the skill.

2. Demonstrate the skill via video or modeling the skill in person.

3. Model all the steps of the behaviors.

4. Review the process of correct behaviors to complete the skills.

-Role Play/ Rehearsal (Dogan, et al., 2017; Bellini, 2006)

This is when the therapist, teacher or parent switches place with the individuals in social skills training and they act out the skill. This can be a scripted role play or it can be spontaneous.

1. Start by saying that it is their turn to practice the skill.

2. The individuals will practice the skill.

3. Use prompting if needed to remind them to do all the steps.

-Feedback (Dogan, et al., 2017)

This is when the therapist, teacher or parent provides praise or corrective statements right after the role play.

1. Feedback is given right after role playing. Do this immediately following role play/rehearsal.

2. Provide social praise for the steps that they did correctly or better than usual.

3. Be descriptive when you give feedback ("You did an awesome job walking toward the person and keeping your head up! That was great!)

4. Provide corrective and descriptive feedback and repeat steps that were done incorrectly.


Bellini, S. (2006). Making and keeping friends: a model for social skills instruction. Indiana Resource Center for Autism. Retrieved from:

Dogan, R. K., King, M. L., Fischetti, A, T., Lake, C. M., Mathews, T. L., and Warzak, W. J. (2017), Parent-implemented behavioral skills training of social skills. Journal of Applied Behaivor Analysis, 50(4), 805-818.

Peters, L. C. and Thompson, R. H. (2015). Teaching children with autism to respond to conversation partners' interest. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 48(3), 544-562.

White, S. W., Keonig, K., and Scahill, L. (2006). Social skills development in children with autism spectrum disorders: a review of the intervention research. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37, 1858-1868.

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Guest Saturday, 19 October 2019