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ASNC Clinical Team Going Deeper on Social Skills



This article was contributed by Leica Anzaldo, Training Manager for the Autism Society of North Carolina.

Social skills has always been a buzz word in the autism community, but what does this really mean? My colleague and I have recently been tasked with developing a training program that addresses teaching social skills within the school, home, and community. What we quickly discovered is how immense the concept of social skills is and how varied instruction must be based on the individual child. We also discovered that while there are many social skill inventories and checklists, we have yet to identify one that really goes deeper in identifying which social behaviors the learners have in their own personalized social repertoire that they can use spontaneously and naturally in multiple contexts. Most seem to stop with what the person can perform rather than their understanding.

How do you know if the child, young adult, or adult with autism:

  • Can distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information?
  • Has the skills to problem-solve during social situations?
  • Can initiate with others?
  • Has strategies for emotional regulation?
  • Has context recognition?
  • Can not only finish a job but also meet others’ expectations of “doing it well” and understand why this is important?
  • Can accept correction and understand why?
  • Go beyond the process of social behaviors to why (specific to them)?
  • Can plan and sequence?
  • Interpret body language?
  • Understand intention of others and many more underlying features?

So this is where we start, because how else can you address not only social knowledge, but also the mental state that influences social behavior? Our plan is develop a questionnaire that is paired with video samples, stills, and modeling that will reveal how each person is experiencing social situations.

We will also address the critical feature: motivation. How can you get buy-in from learners in an area that has been so elusive and problematic for most of their lives? The intervention strategies must be on the learner’s level and reflect the interests of the person as well as the appropriate social behavior for his or her age. Some programs don’t do this, instead teaching the learner to respond in an adult-like or awkward way that their peers quickly recognize, further stigmatizing the learner.

This is a big project that while overwhelming and challenging is also extremely exciting and energizing. We want to capture the experiences of everyday life that individuals on the spectrum may be having as they relate to social skills. That said, as we begin this journey, we look to individuals on the autism spectrum to guide our efforts as well as their peers, siblings, and family members. If you have feedback or suggestions, we would love to hear from you. We will certainly keep everyone posted as things progress!

In the meantime, check out the ASNC Bookstore at www.AutismBookstore.com, where you can find these and many more great titles that include social skill curriculums and strategies:

The New Social Story Book, by Carol Gray

Thinking About You Thinking About Me, by Michelle Garcia Winner

Social Behavior Mapping, by Michelle Garcia Winner

Socially Curious and Curiously Social, by Michelle Garcia Winner

The Incredible Flexible You, by Michelle Garcia Winner

Skillstreaming, by Dr. Ellen McGinnis

The Hidden Curriculum, by Brenda Smith Myles

Social Skills Training, by Dr. Jed Baker

Social Skills Picture Book, by Dr. Jed Baker

Social Skills Training and Frustration Management, by Dr. Jed Baker

Building Social Relationships, by Scott Bellini


Leica Anzaldo can be contacted at 704-894-9678, ext. 1603, or lanzaldo@autismsociety-nc.org. ASNC’s Clinical and Training Department staff is composed of PhD and master’s-level licensed psychologists, Board Certified Behavior Analysts, and former special education teachers. We provide individualized intensive consultation using evidence-based practices to support children and adults across the spectrum in home, school, employment, residential and other community-based contexts. We also deliver workshops to parents and professionals on a wide range of topics including but not limited to, strategies to prevent and respond to challenging behaviors, best practices in early intervention, functional communication training, and enhancing social understanding in individuals with autism.

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