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Autism and Social Skill Development

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a heterogeneous condition characterized by altered reciprocal social interaction and unique patterns of behavior. Despite significant development in diagnostic tools in the last decades, clinical diagnosis has limited reliability in the causes of autism.

People with autism often desire to interact with others and express their needs and share ideas. However, they fail to engage and interact due to a lack of skills and get overwhelmed. They avoid social interactions because of the awareness of impairments in communication skills. Some people with ASD involve in attention-seeking behavior until they develop communication skills.

Social development features a wide range of skills, like communication, timing, attention, and sensory integration, that people with ASD can build to improve social competence. 

Many people on the autism spectrum face challenges in different social situations. They do not know how to engage with friends and get overwhelmed by the idea of new experiences.

Practice can develop social skills and help enhance participation in the social circle. It will eventually result in outcomes like happiness and friendships. 

We will see various social skill development tools and strategies to enhance opportunities for people with autism spectrum and be a part of the community.

What Are Social Skills?

Humans are sociable creatures. We have developed abilities and skills to communicate and express our thoughts, emotions, and feelings with others. These abilities to interact with others are social skills. These skills are the rules, abilities, and customs we use to communicate and interact with people. They guide our interactions, both verbally and non-verbally, through gestures, body language, and our appearance with the world around us.

People tend to acquire social skills naturally as they learn language skills. People with autism spectrum disorder often find it hard to learn and develop these skills. As a result, they have challenges in their daily social interactions and form meaningful relationships.

The process of developing social skills in people with autism involves:

  • Building cognitive and language skills
  • Enhance sensory integration and communication
  • Practice in real settings with direct teaching instructions
  • Develop behaviors for social outcomes like friendship 

Impact of Autism on Social Skills

You perform social skills through regular interactions with people. Autism impacts the way a person communicates and interacts with people. Children with autism have difficulties understanding and reading others, so social skills often need to be taught differently.

The impact of autism on social skills and interactions is reflected through the following symptoms:

  • The inability of an autistic person to “read” others.
  • They often fail with back-and-forth conversations
  • Impaired nonverbal communication skills and behaviors, and trouble understanding non-verbal cues in other people.
  • Failure to adjust behaviors to situations, to exhibit inappropriate behaviors
  • No or very little involvement in peers.
  • Inability to initiate, respond, or maintain social interactions 

Autism can have varying levels of severity and deficits. Some autistics are high-functioning and can mask their symptoms until social pressures become difficult for them to handle in social environments. Children with autism may have developmental delays and can deteriorate in language and motor skills.

Social skills can vary in children with autism, irrespective of the severity. The higher the degree of disability more significant is the impact on behavior, communication skills, and social interactions.

Strategies to support social skill development in Autism

Autism is a developmental disorder that impacts the ability of a person to exhibit appropriate behaviors and interact socially. It affects the development of social skills and interferes with positive peer relationships. But lack of deficits in social skills doesn’t mean they should live with those symptoms throughout their lives.

Science and Technology have made tremendous progress in developing therapies, tools, and devices to help autistics perform their daily functions better. Some interventions reduce symptoms in the autism spectrum and benefit people with ASD.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy is an evidence-based therapy that is an ideal treatment for autism-related challenges. Speech therapies help in social skill development.

You can help people with ASD improve social skills in the following ways:

1. Reinforce Positive Behavior 

Positive reinforcement is a method of rewarding good behaviors. It has long been a method to encourage people with autism spectrum.

Often, people with ASD fail to anticipate and understand what you expect from them and why. By appreciating and through reinforcement for prosocial behaviors, you cultivate desired social skills.

To reinforce positive behaviors and social skills in people with ASD:

  • Identify reinforcers that work. 
  • Appreciate and provide reinforcement immediately after the achievement of desired behavior
  • Keep a variety of reinforcers to keep things interesting and the person engaged for longer
  • Switch reinforcers if one reinforcement technique or reinforcer is not working
  • Slowly fade reinforcers after the success with a particular behavior is achieved
  • Be patient, as changes do not occur overnight. Changing behaviors takes time, effort, and practice.

2. Celebrate Strengths

Capitalize on the strengths of the people with autism to enhance their social skills. They often have a unique area of interest or expertise. Focus on this strength to help them build meaningful social connections. 

Since they feel encouraged and comfortable talking about their area of interest, it can help remove the awkwardness of social interaction.

3. Practice Desired Behaviors

Children with autism spectrum are good visual learners. They learn behaviors by watching and mimicking. You can teach the autistic child how to behave in social situations by practicing the behavior with them.

Autistic children need help interpreting the behavior as they often fail to understand what they witness.You can break down the social interaction and explain it to them. Like this, the autistic child can learn social skills.

Role-playing is another way to help autistic children practice social skills and interactions. You can role-play a particular peer-to-peer interaction. Playing the role of their peer can be beneficial for the autistic child. The autistic child can gain a better understanding of others and their interaction. 

Autistic children can learn social skills, like, how to take turns, follow the rules, and be good team players by playing games together at home. When playing, explain what to expect and what is expected of them.

You can play the following simple games that can help with social skills:

  • Passing a ball
  • Simon Says
  • Simple card and board games
  • Hide and seek

4. Provide Structured Social Interactions

Children with autism are comfortable with structure and stability. The routines are critical for them, and they appreciate fixed schedules. Change in the environment, the setting, and timings can be disturbing. So, teaching new skills or enhancing social skills can be easier within an expected structure and setting. You can prepare a structured social interaction to improve social skills before shifting the child to a new and larger environment.

You can lay out the expectations in advance to appraise what behaviors are anticipated and expected of them. These structures in early interactions can encourage the child with ASD to be more flexible. They become aware and learn how to interact and evolve within a particular environment. They will eventually feel more comfortable in their action. 

5. Use Visual Aids and social scenarios

It is critical to prepare a child with autism for social situations. It can help the child to learn tools to interact well in social situations and learn about the world around them.

Introduce and talk to the child with ASD about potential social situations and events. Explain to them how to respond appropriately through videos, pictures, and drawings. Visual representation helps.

A visual representation of peer interactions and social coaching make autistic children more aware of their actions and overcome the social challenges of autism.

6. Set the Environment for Success

Autistic children often have sensory issues. Loud noises and bright lights make them uncomfortable. When you work with an autistic child, consider these two prime sensory issues. Minimize the outside distractions and practice social interaction when the child is most relaxed. 

Low noises and dim lights promote learning in autistics. The child should not be tired or hungry when you teach something new. The autistic child learns the most in a comfortable setting.

7. Teach empathy and reciprocity

The person with autism should be able to take the perspective of others to engage in social interaction meaningfully.

The challenges often distort their expressions of empathy. You can teach the child appropriate vocabulary and awareness of feelings, emotional status, and how to recognize facial expressions and cues of other people.


Social skills are crucial to the development of people with the autism spectrum. The best way to develop social and communication skills is to interact with a peer with strong social skills and provide a conducive environment for the child to practice skills. Peer interaction can also boost academic skills. 

Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder can acquire skills of getting along with others, inviting friends to play, and watching and observing peers with strong social skills. Spending time with peers has tremendous implications. Social skills are a ladder to success in overcoming challenges of the autism spectrum.

Read More: Autism Spectrum Disorder