AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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Encouraging Social Skill Development and Peer Relationships

Students with autism have challenges in the areas of social skills and communication. It is reasonable to assume that the majority of students with autism will have goals and objectives in their educational program to address social skills. With effective intervention, students with autism can increase their success in these areas.

Direct instruction in social skill development should occur in the same way that other educational needs are addressed. Students with autism require specific instruction to improve their social skill development. Specific curriculums to teach social skills have been developed (e.g. skillstreaming). These curriculums can be a great starting point for social skill instruction. Students with autism also need opportunities to learn and practice social skills in a natural environment. Generalization of social skills from a structured learning setting must be practiced and performed in a natural setting.

Encouraging interaction with peers is one area of focus. Causton-Theoharis & Malmgren (2006) have provided 10 specific strategies to encourage peer-to-peer interaction:

  • Ensure that the student is in a rich social environment
  • Highlight similarities between the student with autism and peers
  • Redirect conversation to the student with autism
  • Directly teach and practice interaction strategies in natural settings
  • Use instructional strategies that promote interaction
  • Teach others how to interact with the student with autism
  • Make rewards for behavior social in nature (e.g., playing a preferred computer game with a peer)
  • Give the student responsibilities that encourage peer interaction
  • Systematically fade direct support
  • Make independence a goal

Students with autism do want to develop relationships with their peers. Educating both the student with autism and their non-disabled peers is necessary. When non-disabled students receive accurate and straight-forward information about autism and, more importantly, when they receive information about specific strategies to use, they can interact more frequently and more effectively resulting in positive social interactions.


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