Using Strengths to Help Develop Social Competence in Teens with ASD

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • A few weeks ago I wrote a post, Treating Adolescents with Autism Not Always Effective, explaining that a recent study showed that traditional treatments for children with autism, such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech and language therapy and communication and social skills training isn’t as effective in adolescents as in younger children. For many parents, this may be distressing news. But a different study completed at the Koegel Autism Center at UC Santa Barbara gives hope that teens with autism can develop friendships and socially interact with their peers.


    By using the strengths of teens with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) strong friendships can form. Researchers focused on high intelligence and special interests to help teens with ASD to connect with peers. According to Robert Koegel, director of the Koegel Autism Center, “The problem is that their restricted interests can dominate their lives and further push away people they’d like to get to know. They’re so highly focused on that interest, people think they’re weird. But by involving themselves in an activity around the interest, they not only make friends but also become valued members of the group. Their specialized skill becomes a strength.” [1]

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    Rather than asking students with ASD to fit into already designed groups or discourage their interests, researchers worked to form groups around the interests. For example, one student with ASD was highly interested in computer graphics and so a graphic design club that designed logos for local businesses was formed. Other students, without ASD also joined the group, even if they didn’t have much expertise in the subject. The students in the group looked to the student with ASD for help and guidance. Researchers noticed that “when he was able to interact on a topic in which he was interested, he was able to demonstrate more normal social behavior. He not only made friends with his fellow members, he was elected club president.” [2]


    According to Koegel, this study was interesting and important because it is assumed that teens with ASD lack the ability to make friends and connect with their peers. The results, however, show that “the brain isn’t as damaged as people thought. And it shows that otherwise unhappy individuals can lead more fulfilling lives.” [3]


    As parents, we want our children to lead satisfying lives. We want them to develop those close ties with others that bring satisfaction to our lives. But for parents of children with ASD this sometimes seems like asking for the impossible. But, according to the study, it is possible – if you use your child’s strengths to help build friendships rather than having those same qualities be obstacles to relationships.


    For more information on teens with ASD:


    Job Interview Skills for Teens with Asperger’s Syndrome

    Six Books on Parenting Teens with Autism and Asperger's Syndrome

    Tips for Anger Management in Teens with Asperger’s Syndrome

  • Asperger's in Teens: Dating

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    Asperger Teens: Focus on Personal Appearance

    Teens with Asperger's: Trouble Accepting Compliments

    Asperger Teens: Handling a Crisis

    Sensory Sensitivities in Teens

    Special Interests and Teens with Autism or Asperger's Syndrome

    Teens with Autism: Making Friends




    [1] [2] [3] “Focusing on Strengths Improves Social Skills of Adolescents with Autism,” 2012, Aug 4, Staff Writer, Medical News Today

Published On: September 19, 2012