One is the Loneliest Number: Autism and Social Skills
Social relationships can be difficult for any child. Cliques, "frenemies," and the "one-day-you’re-in-the-next-day-you're-out" revolving door of friendships is a common occurrence on the playground and in school halls. Yet while many students learn to navigate the tricky social waters at school relatively painlessly, others have a much harder time of it. For some kids, social skills are not intuitive, and their lack of social dexterity can result in misunderstandings, lost opportunities, and isolation. Students on the autism spectrum, for example, often lag behind their peers in social skills development, which can make their learning environment even more fraught with challenges.
As an educator, it is highly likely that you currently have, or have had in the past, a student with autism in your classroom. According to the latest report from the CDC, about 1 in every 88 kids have autism, and boys are four times more likely to be autistic than girls. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the U.S., and can range from the relatively mild Asperger Syndrome to severe behavioral and cognitive impairment. Most students with autism exhibit impaired communication skills and have difficulty with social interaction. While these impairments can vary greatly from student to student, kids with ASD generally need help with play skills, social interactions, and behavior management. Students with autism benefit most from the direct teaching of social skills: teachers can model examples of appropriate behavior, and engage in simulated scenarios to teach positive social interactions. In turn, these skills must be practiced repeatedly and refined so that the student with ASD feels comfortable, and is equipped to participate appropriately in social situations.
Autism awareness and education has made great strides in the past decade. There are many more educators and organizations producing quality educational materials, programs, tools, and technologies developed specifically for children with autism than ever before. This week I’m featuring three resources that focus on developing and aiding social skills for students with autism. Throughout the week, we’ll also be featuring many more resources for students with autism, including lots of lesson plans and activities on a variety of subjects on our Twitter and Facebook pages. Also, please be sure to read my colleague Peggy’s column (linked below) for more ideas on teaching students with autism.
Red Stoplight Personal Space Game
Subjects: Social Skills
The object of this activity is to reinforce the concept of appropriate personal space. While aimed at students with autism, the lesson can be used with any group, including nonverbal students. This activity was produced by the LoveToKnow, an online media company that provides information on a wide variety of topics.
The Social Navigator
Subjects: Social Skills
I normally don’t highlight fee-based resources, but this app for iPhone and iPad is really neat. The Social Navigator is a social skills app developed to assist children and teens with social and behavioral challenges in adapting their behavior and developing life-long social skills. It can be used both as a behavior management device and as a teaching tool – particularly useful when a child is becoming agitated, or when their behavior begins to conflict with others. The app can be used to prepare a child for an upcoming event, or to review a past problematic situation. It assists children in reducing explosive and oppositional behaviors, improving communication skills, making and maintaining friendships, increasing social responsiveness, and developing greater social awareness and independence. This product was developed by Seven Minds, LLC, a company that is deeply committed to educating the public about people with physical and mental disabilities, and to eradicating the stigma that can often surround them. The Social Navigator app is available for download through the Apple iTunes Store.
And Today’s Guest Star Is…
Subjects: Social Skills
Students take turns modeling correct social behaviors in various settings, such as holding the classroom door for others to enter, raising their hand to answer a question, standing quietly in the cafeteria line, showing correct ID to enter the school library, waiting for the bus to come to a complete stop before moving toward it on community outings. This lesson is specifically geared towards students with autism. This lesson was produced by Digital Wish, a nonprofit site that offers lesson plans, free and fee-based mobile apps, and grant information for teachers. Digital Wish also provides a platform for teachers to enter technology “wish lists,” which Digital Wish works to fulfill through deals with technology manufacturers, grants, and the like.