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How ABA Therapy Can Improve Social Skills 

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Perhaps one of the most significant challenges for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lack of social skills. 

That lack or deficit varies significantly from one autistic child to the next. 

Severely autistic kids may be nonverbal and unable to communicate with anyone other than a trained therapist. 

Other children who have high-functioning autism may excel in verbal communication but be unable to read body language or social cues. 

Whatever an autistic child’s social skill level, their difficulties will lead to problems in making friends, relating to their family, and succeeding in school.

Yet there is help with ABA Therapy

Considered one of the building blocks for treating autism, Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, can be tailored to any child’s specific needs.

Consequently, social skills therapy can be integrated into regular ABA sessions if a child has limited social abilities. 

At Heartlinks, we regularly incorporate social skills therapy into our clients’  regular ABA sessions. The result is a child having fun while learning to communicate and conduct themselves in various settings.

What are Social Skills?

To be able to interact and communicate with others requires social skills. There are two types, either nonverbal or verbal. Our nonverbal skills include gestures, our appearance, and our body language. Verbal social skills consist of speech, and more specifically, tone of voice, volume, and the words we use.

A person with strong social skills knows how to conduct themselves around others, and understands different social cues and the unspoken rules when communicating with other people.

Why Social Skills Are Important

Social skills are a set of expertise that a person will use their entire life. They’re crucial to a person’s well-being and personal and professional success. There is a litany of benefits to having strong social skills, including the following.

Communicate Effectively

Knowing how to start and end a conversation with another person is one of the most significant benefits of strong social skills. Additionally, picking up on social cues in a social setting allows you to understand the person better.

Kids socializing in the hallway at school

Good Manners

What’s appropriate to mention in a conversation, and what isn’t? A child with solid social skills knows the answer to that. 

Social skills therapy can help children learn how to conduct themselves in a culturally acceptable manner with their peers and elders.

Improved Relationships

Effective communication results in better relationships with everyone with whom you interact. From friends and family, the stronger a child’s social skills are, the stronger their relationships will be.

How Does Autism Affect a Child’s Social Skills?

Often the customs and rules that guide our interactions with others aren’t easy to understand for children with autism. Interpreting a social situation and appropriately responding can be very difficult for kids on the spectrum. 

As a spectrum disorder, children with autism can present various deficits in their social skills. 

Some kids may lack fundamental social skills meaning they’re can’t make eye contact or unable to answer and ask questions. 

Other children may possess the most basic social skills but still have areas of weakness, including being unable to interpret another person’s body language or a person’s tone of voice.

Even high-functioning autistic children have moments where they hurt others’ feelings unintentionally, act bizarrely, or ask inappropriate questions.

How ABA Therapy Improves Social Skills

One of the most effective ways to improve an autistic child’s social skills is through ABA therapy.  

During ABA, therapists can incorporate social skills training to help the child strengthen and improve in the areas of difficulty. These kids learn about societal norms and expectations and where their deficiencies lie.

Two kids playing together

A few of the most common social skills taught to children during autism therapy include:

  • Taking turns
  • Interactive play with other children
  • Starting a conversation
  • Identifying emotions
  • Empathy
  • Following directions
  • Recognizing social cues
  • Making eye contact

These social skills can be taught using the following examples of types of social skills therapy.

 Parallel Play

When an autistic child plays near or alongside other kids, they engage in parallel play. This is first introduced through a therapist who plays alongside their young client. Once they are comfortable playing close to someone, the therapist begins to work on the child interacting with peers. Eventually, the child can approach a peer and ask them to share toys or play together.

Social Stories

Social stories are brief written stories with accompanying pictures that explain how to act in certain situations to a child on the spectrum.

For example, a child who cannot read social cues regarding their aggressive behavior may be given a social story that reads, “When I hit or scream at my friends, they don’t want to play with me. But they want to play when I keep my hands to myself and speak softly.”

A social story used in ABA therapy will detail a child’s social deficit (i.e., in the above example, it was unable to read social cues) and explain that choosing other behaviors results in a favorable social situation.

Pretend Playing

Pretend playing usually involves the child’s therapist and the child. Together they might engage in various games providing an opportunity for the child to learn about taking turns, losing gracefully (as opposed to throwing a temper tantrum), or being a good sportsperson and encouraging others.  

Heartlinks Is Here To Help

The variety of social skills therapies available today for autistic children are plentiful. 

Before deciding on the type of social skills therapy your autistic child might need, take the time to understand their social deficiencies and then choose the kind of social skills treatment that would be most effective in helping them.

For more information on social skills therapy for autistic children, contact Heartlinks today.

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