From encouraging peer interaction to helping kids negotiate the intricacies of classroom behavior, teaching social skills is an important part of any type of autism intervention or therapy. In fact, social skills are one of the core challenge areas for kids with autism spectrum disorders. Targeting these skills using teaching aids can dramatically improve relationships and life skills for these children.
Since the intricacies of social interactions usually do not come naturally to children on the spectrum, it's important to explain these interactions explicitly. That's where social stories come in. A social story focuses on a specific interaction and the child's role in that setting. You can use these as a teaching aid for almost any social situation, from riding the school bus to asking a friend to come over and play. There are several resources for social stories online.
The Gray Center Bookstore
Director of The Gray Center, Carol Gray, developed the concept of using social stories to connect to children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and help them navigate the challenges of the social world. You can purchase many of her books, which apply to children of all ages, online. Consider these titles:
- My Social Stories Book - This collection of 150 social stories covers a huge range of topics, including playdates, trips to the store, eating in a restaurant, and much more. It retails for about $20.
- Writing Social Stories Booklet - This helpful guide for teachers and parents will guide you through the process of writing social stories specific to your child's needs. It retails for about seven dollars.
Autism Spectrum Directory
The blog Autism Spectrum Directory has a full list of free social stories from all over the Internet. These stories, which are perfect for a wide range of ages and developmental levels, focus on everything from personal care to when it's appropriate to kiss people. There are dozens of unique stories, most of which are in PDF format. These are a couple of the titles you'll find:
- Going to a Birthday Party - This story covers going to a birthday party, sharing toys, playing games, sitting quietly at the table to eat, and opening presents.
- Going to the Movie Theater - This story focuses on a trip to the movies, including what to expect from the sensory experience, how to behave while the movies is playing, and other important concepts. It's also a free PDF.
Social Skills DVDs
According to the Autism Research Institute, many, but not all, children with ASD tend to rely very heavily on visual learning strategies. This makes DVDs important teaching tools for these kids. There are companies that specialize in videos for the autism spectrum.
Model Me Kids
Model Me Kids has a full line of DVDs and interactive software that you can use as a teaching aid for topics like bullying, friendship, casual interaction, and non-verbal social cues. These tools are perfect for kids at the preschool through high school level and work with a variety of developmental abilities. Consider these titles:
- Model Me Confidence and Bullying Prevention DVD - This title focuses on identifying bullying, using positive self-talk, handling peer pressure, and more. It's targeted at kids ages nine through 17 and retails for about $30.
- Model Me Time for a Playdate DVD - This video is ideal for kids preparing for to have friends over or visit friends' houses for playdates. It covers making eye contact, taking turns, sharing clean-up, and more. It's designed for kids between five and 12 years of age and retails for about $30.
Got Special Kids
Got Special Kids has a wide range of DVDs, covering everything from social aspects of life skills to classroom behavior and peer interaction. These are designed to help kids, parents, and teachers navigate the social world together. Consider these products:
- Know the Code - This DVD-based social skills curriculum for elementary-aged kids covers 53 different social issues that apply to daily life in the classroom, including taking breaks and handling transitions with grace. It comes with a teacher guide, workbook, and activity cards and retails for $119.
Games and Toys for Social Skills
Games and toys are also great for targeting social skills in children on the autism spectrum. There are a variety of social games for children with PDD, classic autism, Asperger's, and other forms of autism spectrum disorder. Many companies specialize in these products.
National Autism Resources
National Autism Resources is a great place to find a wide range of social skills games for all age levels. These games are hand-picked for children with ASD, so they make perfect teaching tools when working with kids on the spectrum. Try one of these:
- Social Skills Box Set of Six Board Games - This set includes six games for kids age three and up that focus on concepts like empathy, joining in play groups, manners, behavioral choices, and more. The set retails for about $31.
- Blunders - This fun board game for kids age five and up focuses on manners and other important social skills. Kids play as a group, which further strengthens important skills like taking turns and interacting with peers. It retails for about $25.
Autism Toys and More
With a wide range of toys and games targeting social skills and other challenge areas, Autism Toys and More has lots of products that can help teach these important concepts to children with ASD. Consider one of these products:
- Doorbell House - This interactive wooden house features four doors with unique doorbells and keys and four different dolls. It's ideal for working with children on pretend play skills, as well as handling scenarios like a stranger at the door. This toy is best for kids from age three to eight and retails for about $30.
- The Berenstein Bears Learn to Share Game - This board game features four bear characters and helps children navigate common sharing issues that can crop up during peer play. It's for ages four and up and retails for about $24.
Social Skills Software
Computer software can be a huge help for kids learning the ins and outs of social interactions. These programs allow kids to practice skills on their own terms before transferring what they've learned to the less-predictable real world. There are companies that specialize in social skills software for autism.
Non-verbal communication is an essential part of social interactions, but it can be an area of special challenge for children with Autism. FaceSay is a detailed program that helps kids focus on the specific areas of the face that relay social information, such as the eyes, eyebrows, and mouth. Then it teaches kids how to interpret the signals they see. It's a good teaching tool for kids of all ages. The home version retails for about $80, and the school version (for five computers) retails for $250.
Using a fantasy world inhabited by dragons, Ryuu is an exciting computer game that aims to teach social skills to older kids and teens on the autism spectrum. It teaches communication strategies, empathy, and basic interaction. This game retails for about $55.
Lesson Plans and Activities
Lesson plans are another teaching aid that can be indispensable when focusing on the social skills challenges of children with ASD. Fortunately, there are many great resources on the Internet for buying lesson plans for children with autism.
Social skills activities for kids with autism can also work well in the classroom or home setting. Use printable games and scripts to help kids learn to negotiate a range of social situations.
Combine Several Teaching Aids
Like all kids, children with ASD learn in a variety of ways. No one teaching aid is ideal for all children. Instead, it's a good idea to mix several strategies, from board games to social stories, to help these children learn how to interact in the social world.