Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD
Children and teens with Asperger's syndrome often struggle with the social skills necessary for success in school and social settings. Tony Attwood, a psychologist and acclaimed expert on Asperger's syndrome, has written books that can help parents and teachers better understand the nature of this complex condition. He also offers proven tips and advice to help kids and teens with Asperger's to bolster their social skills.
Steps that parents may take to help their kids with Asperger's include the following:
- Teach the child some practical skills to integrate into social settings. It may be helpful to practice introductory conversational tactics, like asking if he or she can join in. The child may benefit from practicing appropriate "openers" such as "Can you help me with this?" or "Can I play too?"
- Encourage the child to look at what other children are doing. Many successful adults with Asperger's syndrome report that they have learned social skills by watching and emulating what others do in certain situations. Many kids find that it is easy to copy what the other children are doing, whether it is making eye contact with their playmates, listening attentively, participating in a game, or taking turns. This can be helpful even if they do not possess the necessary social understanding to intuitively know what to do in these situations.
- The Social Stories technique is a method of creating short stories for everyday situations that help explain the social cues and appropriate responses for given situations. A social story could be constructed, for example, for entering the classroom in the morning and saying hi to the other students and teachers, putting one's supplies away, and hanging up coats. The Social Story is a detailed description of a routine event that includes basic social information, such as "I look at my teacher's face into his/her eyes and say good morning."
- Teach the importance of eye contact. Kids with Asperger's may resist making eye contact with others. Eye contact is a skill that can be modeled and practiced at home.
- Identify naturally-occurring situations when the child used appropriate social skills. For example, you can comment, "That was a very considerate thing to say" or "You were being very helpful to your siblings."
- Model discussions of personal feelings and thoughts. It can be helpful to talk about how a specific situation made you feel and what you thought or felt during your day.
- Teach metaphors and figures of speech. Kids with Asperger's can be very literal-minded and confused by common expressions. They often find that learning the meaning of confusing (to them) phrases such as "stepping up to the plate" is interesting.
- Teach a "safety phrase" for kids to use when they are confused or unsure. It can be a simple explanation such as "I'm not sure what to do now" or "I'm not sure what you mean." Practicing this at home can help reduce the anxiety that kids may feel when they don't know what is happening.
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Attwood, Tony. The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2007.