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Learning Social Skills for Children With Autism

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Table of Contents

Understanding and developing social skills can be challenging for children with autism. Autism affects a child’s ability to navigate social norms and understand social cues, which often impacts relationships.

Over the last few years, there has been a significant shift towards neurodiversity. With adult autistics speaking up about their experiences with different types of therapy, including the teaching of social skills training, we are encouraged to be accepting of different social behaviors.

There is also another perspective whereby many parents would like their child to develop social skills so their behaviors are more ‘normal’ and may be more easily accepted by peers. In this article, we explore different ways to teach social skills to your autistic child.

Key Takeaways

  • Children with autism face challenges in developing social skills and understanding social norms and cues .
  • There are various strategies such as social skills groups, role-playing, and visual supports that can help children with autism improve their social interactions and build stronger relationships.
  • Professionals like speechlanguage pathologists, occupational therapists, special education teachers, and psychologists can provide valuable instruction and interventions to support the development of social skills in children with autism.

Impact of Autism on Social Skills

A diverse group of children playing with one child feeling excluded.

Autism can significantly affect social skills, resulting in differences in social interactions and challenges with understanding social norms and cues. Communication difficulties also hinder the development of effective social skills, leading to struggles in forming and maintaining relationships.

Differences in social interactions

Every child is different in how that interaction in social situations. An autistic child may act differently. Depending on the child, they may not start talking or respond when others talk to them. Some may not engage in eye contact. Others may talk about their interest area.

They have their special way to connect and share feelings. Yet, it does not mean they lack social skills at all. Their style is just unique! This makes it a bit tough for them to make friends fast or fit into groups easily though.

Challenges with social norms and cues

Kids with autism may have a tough time understanding social norms and cues. They might not get when it’s their turn to talk or how to read people’s expressions. It can be hard for them to know if someone is happy, sad, or mad just by looking at them.

These kids may also find it difficult to tell what gestures like a wave or thumbs-up mean. Because of this, they can feel confused during social interactions. This challenge can lead to feelings of being left out or even being bullied by others who don’t understand their different way of interacting with the world.

Communication difficulties

Challenges with communication can also make learning social skills difficult.

Autistic children may not understand jokes or sarcasm. They may take words literally and not get hint or body language cues. This can make it challenging to know if someone is being nice or mean to them.

Additionally, they may not know when to talk in a conversation. Some may have trouble initiating conversations. Others might talk a lot about one topic but have trouble switching to a different one.

Impacts on relationships

Autism can have significant impacts on relationships for children with autism. Due to their challenges with social interactions and communication difficulties, building and maintaining relationships can be more difficult.

For example, an autistic child may struggle to understand social norms and cues, making it hard for them to engage in conversations or respond appropriately in different social situations.

This can make it harder for them to connect with others and establish friendships. Autism’s impact on relationships is important for parents to recognize, as supporting their child’s social skills development plays a crucial role in helping them form meaningful connections with others.

Strategies for Teaching and Developing Social Skills

A diverse group of children playing with one child feeling excluded.

There are many social skills interventions and strategies that can be used to teach social skills.

Some strategies outlined below promotes “normal” social skills and getting autistic children to learn and modify their behaviors to meet these social norms. However, some other social skills interventions support the strength and uniqueness of each person.

Below we have listed a number of ways but these may not all be suitable for everyone. It is important for you to see what works best for you and your family.

To help children with autism develop social skills, there are several strategies that we talk about below. These include social skills groups, where they can practice interacting with peers in a structured setting. Social Stories, role-playing, and pretend play are also beneficial for teaching social norms and cues. Visual supports such as visual schedules or cue cards can provide additional support.

Structured social skills groups

Social skills groups can be helpful for children with autism. These groups provide a structured environment where children can learn and practice important social skills. Here are some key points about social skills groups:

  • Social skills groups are led by trained professionals who teach and facilitate social interactions among the children.
  • In these groups, children learn basic social skills such as greetings, sharing, taking turns, and following instructions.
  • The groups also focus on more advanced skills like starting and maintaining conversations, reading body language, and understanding social cues.
  • Social skills groups use various strategies such as role-playing, games, and activities to make learning fun and engaging for the children.
  • Children in these groups have the opportunity to practice their new skills in a supportive and non-judgmental environment.
  • Social skills groups often incorporate visual supports to help children understand abstract social concepts.
  • Peer interactions play a crucial role in social skills groups. Children learn from each other and practice their new skills through guided play and structured activities.
  • Participating in social skills groups can improve a child’s selfesteem and confidence in social situations.

Social Skills Group

This is different to the Structured social skills group mentioned. This social skills group can be led and run by neurodiverse adults to develop social skills in autistic children.

Typically, these groups:

  • May not work on a structured curriculum to teach children social skills
  • The focus is to build relationships between the children and to understand that everyone has different ways of communicating and socializing.
  • It provides many social interaction opportunities for these children to interact with
  • It may be more beneficial to these kids’ mental health as it accepts their child’s strength and doesn’t make the child do what is the ‘normal’
  • The group may engage in a natural environment doing an enjoyable activity that they can all engage in.

Social Stories

Social Stories have been used as a tool for teaching social skills to children with autism. These stories can be tailored specifically for each child, addressing their unique needs and challenges.

Social stories explain social situations in a simple and clear way, helping autistic children understand social skills. Social Stories should not teach the child to act in a certain way.

By using Social Stories, parents and professionals can support the exchange of information and help children with autism develop important social skills.


Role-playing is a helpful strategy for teaching and developing social skills in children with autism. Here are some ways it can be effective:

  1. Children can practice different social situations through role-playing, which helps them learn appropriate behaviors and responses.
  2. Role-playing allows children to understand and interpret non-verbal cues, such as body language and facial expressions.
  3. It provides an opportunity for children to practice conversation skills, such as taking turns, listening, and staying on topic.
  4. Through role – playing, children can learn how to respond appropriately in different social settings, such as making friends or participating in group activities.
  5. Role-playing also helps children develop self-awareness and empathy by taking on the perspective of another person.
  6. When children engage in pretend play, they can practice using social rules and norms in a safe and structured environment.

Pretend play

Pretend play is an effective strategy for teaching and developing social skills in children with autism. It can help them learn important social concepts and improve their communication skills. Here are some benefits of pretend play for autistic children:

  1. Improves social interactions: Pretend play provides opportunities for children to practice social skills such as taking turns, sharing, and cooperating with others. This helps them develop positive peer interactions.
  2. Enhances communication skills: During pretend play, children can practice conversation skills like initiating and maintaining a conversation, using appropriate language, and understanding non-verbal cues. This improves their overall communication abilities.
  3. Develops problem-solving skills: Pretend play allows children to engage in imaginative scenarios where they can problem-solve and find creative solutions. This helps them develop critical thinking skills and enhances their ability to navigate social situations.
  4. Builds relationships: Through pretend play, children can explore different roles, perspectives, and emotions. This helps them understand others better and fosters empathy, which is essential for building meaningful relationships.
  5. Encourages flexibility: Pretend play encourages autistic children to think flexibly and adapt their behaviors based on the context of the pretend scenario. This skill can then be transferred to real-life situations, helping them navigate unexpected changes or challenges.

Visual supports

Visual supports are a helpful tool to teach social skills to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Some important facts about visual supports include:

  1. Visual supports can improve communication and social skills in autistic children.
  2. They can reduce anxiety and increase engagement in social interactions.
  3. They can be used across various curriculum areas, including play skills and social interaction.
  4. Visual supports are adaptable and portable, making them a versatile tool.

How Does Occupational Therapy Help Children with Autism Learn Social Skills?

Occupational therapy benefits for children with autism are immense when it comes to developing social skills. Through tailored interventions, therapists help kids with autism enhance their communication, sensory processing, and social interaction abilities. Through engaging activities, such as role-playing and group play, occupational therapists provide a safe and structured environment for children to practice and learn essential social skills. Whether through teaching turn-taking, emotional regulation, or body language interpretation, occupational therapy plays a crucial role in empowering children with autism to effectively navigate social interactions and build meaningful connections.

Who can teach social skills?

Professionals such as speech-language pathologists, occupational therapist, special education teachers, and psychologists can teach social skills effectively. They have the knowledge and expertise to provide instruction and interventions that target specific social challenges faced by children with autism. Each professional may take a slightly different approach to teach social skills.

Parents and caregivers also play a crucial role in teaching social skills to their child with autism. By working together with professionals, parents can reinforce the strategies learned during therapy sessions and incorporate them into daily routines.

It is important to remember that effective social skills instruction should be individualized to meet the unique needs of each child with autism.


Teaching social skills is essential for children with autism to improve their interactions and behaviors in different social situations. By using strategies like role-play, social skills group, and other techniques, we can help them develop these important skills.

With the right support and guidance, children with autism can learn how to effectively interact with others and navigate social settings more successfully. Together, we can create a world where all individuals have the tools they need to thrive socially.


1. What are autism social skills?

Autism social skills or just mere social skills are basic skills needed for personal relationships such as back and forth conversations and understanding non-verbal cues.

2. How can a child with autism learn these skills?

A child with spectrum disorders can learn through social skills group through therapist-led to peer-mediated instruction, role play, or by using a visual representation like a social story.

3. Do group settings help children with autism to learn social skills?

Yes, placing the child in more natural environments like effective social skill groups or play games with peer mentors often boosts learning of targeted skills and other skills.

4. Can emotional skills be improved in children with Autism spectrum disorders?

Yes, interventions that support social emotional assets give them chances to build self-awareness and understanding of social relationships.

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