What Happens During Social Skills Training?

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • For the neurotypical child, social skills come naturally. These children pick up cues on how to talk to others, non-verbal communication and maintaining conversations from watching and interacting with family and friends. But for those children on the autism spectrum (ASD), social skills don’t come naturally, they don’t understand what different tones of voice mean, how to interpret facial expressions or how to have a two-way conversation. For those with ASD, these skills need to be taught.


    Social skills training works to improve social skills and foster independence by introducing problem-solving techniques for use in social situations. There isn’t any standardized “social skills program” used for all children with autism. Each child has unique needs and difficulties, therefore different approaches are needed.  Some examples of social skills include:

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    • Making eye contact when talking with someone
    • Smiling, shaking hands and greeting other people
    • Using and understanding tone of voice during conversations
    • Verbally expressing opinions
    • Listening to others
    • Building conversation based on what is being said
    • Perceiving other people’s emotions and feelings
    • Showing empathy and using appropriate emotional responses
    • Understanding and respecting personal space

    Social skills may be different based on your culture and beliefs. What is expected of your child socially may not be the same as what is expected of another child in a different geographic area.


    Assessing Needs

    Before social skills training takes place, your child’s therapist should complete an evaluation to determine specific areas your child needs assistance. Together, you and the therapist should choose a few skills to work on improving. This way, you can work with your child at home to reinforce skills and provide practice in more settings than just the therapist’s office.  During the assessment, the therapist should look for areas that are causing the most difficulty in developing social relationships. For example, your child might routinely violate other’s personal space, monopolize conversations, interrupt others or become aggressive when someone has a different viewpoint. Your child’s therapist may want to work on one or two specific skills at first and, once those are mastered, add additional skills.


    Individual vs. Group Settings

    Social skills training can be taught on a one-on-one basis, your child will work directly with a therapist. It can also be taught in a group setting. Your child’s cognitive skills and use of language will be considered when deciding what format will be best.


    Within group settings, there are benefits to both small and large groups. Research has shown that large groups help improve generalization, or transferring skills from one setting to another (Bellini et al, 2007). However, small groups allow for more personal interaction and friendships. It is possible to provide a mixture of settings, allowing for some individual, one-on-one training but also spend some time working on skills within a group. Including neurotypical peers in the social skills training is also important. This helps with generalization as well as helps provide specific skills for interacting and developing friendships.

  • Components of Social Skills Training

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    While no two social skills training sessions are the same, there are some general components:


    Modeling – Whether individual or group settings, target skills are modeled. Therapists will act out the skill, such as greeting another person, to show what the skill looks like. While modeling, the therapist may also take time to explain why this skill is important, when it is used in real-life situations and may break it down, depending on the skill, into several steps.


    Roleplaying – Once your child has seen the skill acted out, he will be asked to practice it, for example, if the therapist has modeled greeting another person, your child will be asked to greet other children in the room, or the therapist, if it is one-on-one training.


    Feedback – The therapist provides your child, and you, feedback, usually at the end of each session. She will let you know how your child did, where he had difficulties and where he made progress. She will probably give you ideas on how you can continue to help your child practice at home.


    Homework – In between sessions, your child may be given homework, which is a way to practice the skill in different settings. Depending on your child’s age and cognitive skills, you may need to oversee the homework.


    Your child has unique needs and these should be considered for social skills training to be effective. According to Dr. Jed Baker, the best program is one that “Targets relevant skills, selects teaching strategies that match the child’s language abilities, increases motivation to use skills and ensures generalization of skills by involving peers, teachers and parents in prompting skills across natural settings.” [1]




    [1] “Social Skills Training for Children on the Autism Spectrum,” 2010, Dec 22, Jed Baker, Ph.D., Autism Advocate


    “Social Skills Training for Children with Autism: Not all Group Therapies are the Same,” 2010, Nov. 11, Nestor Lopez-Duran, Ph.D., Child-Psych.org



Published On: February 12, 2013