Social Skills

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Social Skills

What are Social Skills?

Social skills are the abilities we use to communicate and interact with others, both verbally and non-verbally! Social skills are developed through understanding our communication methods and identifying how we can improve these methods to make communication more efficient and effective.

Why are Social Skills necessary?

Social skills are not intended to change the child but to help them become the best version of themselves – to bring out their true potential and support their individual development.

We live in a society that relies heavily on social interaction. We interact with coworkers, clinicians, friends, neighbors, school personnel, grocery clerks, and more! For people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, appropriate social tools could be the difference between independent or facilitated/supported living. It should come as no surprise then that many individuals with autism can more easily integrate themselves into their schools and communities when provided with the proper social skills training.

Social Skills and Autism

To meet diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a child must have persistent deficits in each of three areas of social communication and interaction. Therefore, comprehensive treatment programs for individuals with ASD must include social skills training.

It is advisable to begin social skills training by looking at how the child with ASD functions in their current environment. What can be done to improve the child’s quality of life through social skills development?

Social Communication and Interaction

The three areas of social communication and interaction deficitsĀ are outlined below:

  • Social-emotional reciprocity
  • Nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction
  • Developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships

social, emotional reciprocity

Examples of deficits in social, emotional reciprocity include:

  • Abnormal social approach towards others
  • Failure of normal back-and-forth conversation
  • Reduced sharing of interests, emotions, or affect with others
  • Inability to initiate social interactions
  • Failure to respond at all or respond appropriately to social initiations by others

Strategies for teaching social-emotional reciprocity:

Alternate Turns – Use enjoyable back and forth interactions to increase the length of attention and engagement; find common interests to talk about.

Maintain Motivation – Keep up the momentum by embedding easy activities or responses within more complex tasks.

Contextual Support – Enhance engagement by following their lead; identify toys and activities they enjoy.

Prompting and Fading – Gradually reduce the level of support to allow for independence in routines and social interactions.

Time Delay – Following a question or instruction, wait for a response.

Nonverbal Communicative Behaviors

Examples of deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors include:

  • Poorly integrated verbal and nonverbal communication
  • Abnormalities in eye contact and body language
  • Deficits in understanding and use of gestures
  • Lack of facial expressions
  • Non-verbal communication

Strategies for teaching nonverbal communicative behaviors:

Play and Social Interaction – Engage in activities that promote social interaction, such as passing a ball or playing Hide and Seek.

Imitation – Mimic sounds and behaviors to encourage vocalizing and interaction.

Non-verbal Communication – Exaggerate your gestures; use both your body and your voice when communicating.

Simplified Speech – Follow the “one-up” rule; use phrases that contain no more than one more word than your child.

Assistive Technology and Visuals – Assistive devices and visual supports can foster language development.

Developing, Maintaining, and Understanding Relationships

Examples of deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships include:

  • Difficulties adjusting behavior to suit various social contexts
  • Challenges in sharing imaginative play
  • Difficulty in making or maintaining friendships
  • Absence of interest in peers

Strategies for teaching developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships:

Positive Reinforcement – Praise prosocial behavior to foster desired social skills.

Modeling – Model appropriate social behaviors followed by a verbal explanation.

Visual Aids – Present scenarios on paper or through other optical means; discuss social scenarios presented in comic strips, cartoons, movies, or other media.

Role-Play – Practice resolutions skills in a low-risk environment before facing the problems head-on; rotated roles.

Practice with Peers – Organize play dates with other children with ASD.

Boost Success – Incorporate structure and routines into your instruction to maximize learning effectiveness.

Notes For Parents

Build a support system. Join a support group for parents of children with ASD; remember, you are not alone! Suggestions? Email

Believe in your child. Have confidence in your child’s ability to learn new skills.

Be patient. Much of your child’s outcomes will depend on your patience and ability to address their social skill deficits.



CDC – Diagnostic Criteria

TRIAD Social Skills Assessment (TSSA)

Social Skills Checklist

Behavior Support & Social Skills


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