Children on the autism spectrum may face a number of challenges, ranging from severe impairment of the skills needed for daily functioning, to social challenges involving interaction with peers and family members. Many therapies and interventions are available to help kids with autism spectrum disorders. Social skills activities can help you bond with your child and help kids on the spectrum gain confidence.
Visual Cue Cards
Visual cue cards can provide a child on the autism spectrum with suggestions to prompt him in appropriate behavior and choices when interacting with peers. You can make cue cards for your child by cutting out pictures from magazines, using photographs, or making your own simple drawings. Visual cue cards can help a child with autism remember how to open and eat his snack, how to get ready for school in the morning, or how to pack up his backpack at the end of the school day. You can use cue cards to help him learn and remember the different steps for using the potty. To help a child identify emotions, prepare cue cards denoting facial expressions. Sit with your child and show him pictures of different facial expressions. Identify the emotions for him when he has trouble, and then ask him to point to the correct picture that corresponds to the emotion he is feeling.
Everyday events and common social situations can be terrifying for a child with autism. You can create a script to outline procedures and events, and to help a child feel less anxious. Scripts can help a child with autism understand why things are happening. For instance, for your child's first visit to a dentist, prepare a simple script that outlines the process. Go over the script with him ahead of time, and show him the script during the appointment so he will remember what to expect. You can use a script to help your child role play through a difficult social situation at school. If your child is having trouble with teasing, write a script for him and encourage him to role-play possible responses and actions. Scripts can even help your child through very basic scenarios, like asking for help in the classroom.
Games are a fun way to make learning come alive for your child with autism. Even a simple game like hide-and-seek can help a child learn about taking turns. Because children on the spectrum sometimes have difficulty staying engaged with games, you will have to work hard to keep his attention. You may want to begin with a short one-on-one game before you move to inviting other children to play. Give your child the chance to hide first and then, as he becomes interested in the game, give him the chance to find you. If your child is very young, play a short game of peek-a-boo with him. If he is older, try a card game with simple rules, like Go Fish or Memory, and then move on from there.
Combining Cue Cards and Scripts with Social Games
When you are ready to invite other children to play social games, you can use cue cards and scripts to help both the child with autism and his neurotypical peers interact together in a play setting. Before setting up a social game situation, be sure to select peers who are nurturing and socially mature. Pick a game that your child enjoys playing, since the goal is for your child to feel comfortable and to enjoy the social game. Prepare cue cards to help your child interact with his peers. For instance, if the game involves building blocks, prepare cue cards that will prompt your child to make appropriate remarks. A card could prompt your child to say, "Look how tall that tower is!" or "I like your building." You can also use cue cards during social games to help your child remember to share or to take his turn. Once your child initiates some of these comments and actions on his own, you can put away that cue card.
Video modeling can be a particularly effective social skills activity. The child with autism observes appropriate behaviors on a screen and, through repetition, learns to model those behaviors in real-life situations. You can make your own short videos using a webcam and even use family members to act out scenes. Because you can play a video repeatedly, your child can review scenes of social interaction many times over. If you are making a video for your child, think about the behavior you are trying to target. Write a short script ahead of time, and keep it simple and direct.
Benefits of Social Skills Activities
An autistic child may be low-functioning and virtually non-verbal, or a child can be high-functioning, such as kids with Asperger's Syndrome, or somewhere in between. Social skills activities give parents, caregivers and schools the opportunity to interact with the child in a fun and structured environment. Social skills training can help a child with autism feel more confident, and boost his sense of self-esteem. Children with autism may suffer from depression or severe anxiety, as they grow older. Social skills training may help these children feel less isolated and more confident in life.