May 2021 - Hidden Talents ABA

Possessing Unique Challenges

“Everyone has a mountain to climb, and autism has not been my mountain, it has been my opportunity for victory.”

~ Rachel Barcellona

image of a girl and a mountain | Possessing Unique Challenges

Social Skills for Autism

The sooner someone with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) starts to work on their social skills, the better. It’s important that ASD gets diagnosed as early as possible so ABA therapists can help build strong, practical social skills with their autistic patients.

Read on to learn more about:

  • What social skills are and why autistic children struggle with them 
  • Important social skills for autistic children 
  • How ABA therapy helps autistic children develop social skills
  • Other common strategies used for teaching and developing social skills

What are social skills?

Social skills are essential tools. Everyone needs to have them and use them in their everyday lives. They are what make it possible to have successful communication. Without them, there would be misinterpretations during each social interaction with another person.

Social skills can be characterized one of the following:

Verbal social skills: Let the other person know about certain information through talking and voice how you’re feeling to the people around you. 

Written social skills: Exchanging information, feelings, thoughts, and opinions through writing. Newsletters, lists, emails, and notes are all used for written social skills.

Non-verbal social skills: Using appropriate gestures to communicate during social interactions and knowing how to use facial expressions and body language in practical ways.

Empathetic social skills: Empathy as a social skill consists of three key components. how to recognize the emotions of others. Understanding what they are feeling and thinking—knowing and feeling the same way that they do to give a sincere response. 

Some of the common characteristics of social skills include:

  • They are often goal-oriented.
  • The social skills used depend on the situation, who it involves, and where it occurs. For example, a scenario taking place at home may produce a very different reaction than the same scenario taking place at work. Personal and professional social skills tend to be quite different from person to person. 
  • Social skills are certain types of behavior that get judged by other people. These behaviors get evaluated to determine our level of social skill. 
  • They can be taught, practiced, and learned by almost anyone.
  • However, suppose they only get taught what the definition of those social skills is. In that case, they still get considered underdeveloped. 
  • To learn and develop social skills of their own, they need to have a complete understanding of what they are. They also need to know how to recognize them in day-to-day life. They need to have complete cognitive control over them without being told when and how to do so. 

Why do autistic children struggle with social skills?

Autistic individuals who are older or have a late diagnosis may struggle to relearn healthy social skills. It could also take them longer to develop those skills as well. Learning a new skill set can take quite a bit of time. 

More time is often needed because they also have to forget their old habits. Letting go of negative behaviors that hold them back is one step closer to having good social skills. 

Having good social skills can help autistic children:

  • Determine how to act appropriately in any social situation. 
  • Make new friends, and be able to keep them as well.
  • Discover personal interests and develop new hobbies.
  • Learn from their peers. 

Another reason why children with autism struggle with social skills because it is much harder for them to pick up on social cues. They may not recognize how another person feels right away, which can sometimes lead to them seeming like they don’t care.

A robust set of social skills is essential for autistic children. It will have a significant positive impact on their mental health. Communicating their needs and expressing emotions to others will give a massive boost to their self-esteem. 

Building solid social skills is good for the mental and emotional wellbeing of people with ASD. It can increase their overall quality of life.

The most important social skills to teach an autistic child?

The most essential and needed social skills that can be taught to children with autism belong to these four groups:

Play skills: Sharing toys and taking turns to be fair with one another.

Conversation skills: Choosing appropriate conversation topics or what body language to use.

Emotional skills: Recognizing, understanding, expressing, and managing their emotions, also doing the same for the feelings of other people.

Problem-solving skills: Making proper decisions in social situations, dealing with and resolving conflict. 

Here are seven social skills that every child should have and why they’re so necessary to have:

Sharing

  • It helps make and keep friendships.
  • Feeling good makes you share, and in return, sharing makes you feel good.
  • It raises self-esteem.

Cooperating

  • It Teaches teamwork.
  • It Helps set goals.
  • It Shows respectfulness.
  • Positive contribution to society.
  • Can teach leadership roles.

Listening

  • Teaches good communication.
  • Improves ability to learn and absorb information.
  • Shows respect to the other person speaking.
  • It teaches patience.

Following directions

  • It helps avoid having to correct mistakes.
  • It shows independence.
  • Following directions shows that they understand when they get asked to do something.
  • Good work skill to have.

Respecting personal space

  • It teaches respect.
  • It helps set boundaries for themselves and other people.
  • Allows privacy.
  • Shows ability to follow the rules and directions.

Making eye contact

  • Needed for proper communication.
  • Good eye contact shows that they are listening. 
  • Engagement. 
  • It shows respectfulness. 
  • It shows politeness.

Using manners

  • Shows respect.
  • Good communication.
  • It teaches politeness.
  • It can help keep some behaviors more under control.
  • It makes them more approachable.

ABA therapy for autistic children to improve their social skills?

Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) is an effective type of therapy. It is a common form of therapy for children with developmental conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

ABA therapy involves reinforcing new and healthy behaviors. It pinpoints what specific strengths and weaknesses need attention.

It is also one of the most popular therapies. It’s primarily known for helping autistic children build positive skills such as:

  • Interactive play
  • How to follow directions
  • Social communication
  • How to initiate conversations 
  • How to take turns with others
  • How to follow set rules
  • Coping skills
  • Appropriate eye contact
  • Identifying and understanding social cues
  • Reducing problem behaviors

ABA therapy’s effective design was created for meeting the needs of everyone in a different way. Each treatment plan is unique. 

The main goal of ABA therapy is first to understand how certain behaviors develop. Once the behaviors that have adverse effects get identified, intervention and a treatment plan get put into place. 

ABA therapy can help your autistic child build healthy social skills. It can also improve learning abilities and modify behaviors into more positive ones. Check out Hidden Talents ABA to learn more about how you can easily access quality and effective treatments. 

Additional Strategies for teaching and developing social skills

Role-playing

To role-play as a social skill-building strategy, set the role-play:

  1.  Make its theme in context for a specific social skill you want the autistic child to learn. 
  2. Let the child choose their role and act out the scenario. 
  3. When role-playing, you want to show the best possible behaviors for specific situations. When they do happen in real life, they will have prepared to deal with it accordingly. 

Video-Modelling

One of the most effective intervention strategies for teaching social skills to autistic children is video modeling.

 It is a visual teaching technique and involves watching a video of the desired behavior. After the video is over you, then work with the child to try to mimic the same behaviors as seen in the video. 

Play games 

Use games as your tools when teaching autistic children new social skills. Games are hands-on and fun. They are good at making it easy for any child to take part in skill-building activities

Playing different types of games is a great interactive way to develop meaningful social skills. Behaviors that get learned through playing games also often will stick. 

Visual supports 

Visual supports enhance the communication process by adding another interpretable level to it. 

Photographs, artwork and various objects can all get used as visual supports. Using written words as visual supports, such as checklists and schedules, can also be used.

 An excellent example of a visual support is a stop sign.

Giving proper praise

Giving out proper praise when deserved is essential. It’s a necessary part of effectively teaching autistic children social skills. 

Children are more likely to remember how to use good social skills when rewarded. You can give them praise for displaying certain positive, ideal behaviors. 

Giving credit when needed also shows them that they are on the right track. It reassures them that they are offering the appropriate social behaviors. 

Social skills training 

Social skills training (SST) is a type of behavioral therapy. It helps people with developmental disorders, like ASD, to quickly learn and build a solid set of social skills. 

It shows how to use positive behaviors in complex social situations. SST also teaches valuable social problem-solving skills needed in everyday life. 

Read social stories 

Social stories are personalized short stories. They are a way for autistic children to easily exchange information.

Doing so can make it easier to develop positive social skills. They typically get written in an active first-person point-of-view. They can answer questions based on: Who, what, when, where, why, and how. 

You can find several examples of social stories for different specific issues here

Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Month, a whole month dedicated to making mental health is something everyone should care about. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the mental health of people of all ages. Now, more than ever, it is critical to reduce the stigma around mental health struggles, because that stigma often prevents individuals from seeking help.

Similarly, April is Autism Awareness Month, dedicated to increasing understanding and acceptance of autism spectrum disorders. By recognizing both Mental Health Month and Autism Awareness Month, we emphasize the importance of prioritizing mental health and supporting individuals with autism in our communities.

Mental Health Awareness Month in May

Autism and Empathy 

Many believe that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) makes those on the spectrum lack empathy. The reality is that many people with ASD have trouble identifying what they are feeling. When unable to express their emotions, it seems like they don’t have any.

The purpose of this article is to inform people about the effects that autism has on empathy. By the end, you will have learned:

  • The elements needed to show empathy to others
  • If autism causes a lack of empathy or not
  • How you can explain autism to other children
  • How ABA therapy may help teach empathy to autistic children
Three children of different genders with autism is smiling , Their expressions conveying empathy.

Understanding Empathy and Sympathy 

Empathy means being able to feel the emotions of another person. You experience certain feelings together. 

Sympathy means understanding why that person feels those emotions. Yet, they remain distanced enough not to inherit their feelings. 

Psychologists Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman discovered three forms of empathy. Cognitive, emotional, and compassionate. 

Cognitive Empathy 

Cognitive empathy is awareness of how and why a person might feel a certain way. It is the ability to look at things from all perspectives. Doing so helps you understand their emotions and thought processes. 

Emotional Empathy 

Emotional empathy is when you feel the same emotions as another person. You can achieve it by putting yourself in the same emotional place as someone. You then can feel and understand what they are going through. 

Compassionate Empathy 

Compassionate empathy is a balance between cognitive and emotional empathy. You are aware of the other persons thinking and emotions and can feel them as well. Those two elements put together motivates you to take action to help them.

Does autism cause a lack of empathy?

Someone with autism spectrum disorder may have trouble expressing sympathy and empathy. Or they may fail to express them at all. Being unable to express those emotions makes it appear as if they lack those emotions. 

It’s common for someone with autism to fail to express those emotions. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have them, though. Most of the time, they have underdeveloped skills. Those skills can be in one or more of the many elements needed to show empathy to other people. 

Here are the empathetic elements that you need to connect with someone:

  • Be able to recognize the other person’s thoughts and feelings
  • Understand what the other person is hoping for and what their expectations could be
  • The personal relation to the other person’s emotions through shared emotional experiences
  • Know how to express feelings of empathy both verbally and physically 
  • Culturally understand that displaying empathy is an expectation or a desire

Empathy is an emotion with two dimensions. It has a cognitive level and an affective/emotional level. 

The cognitive level is where you recognize and understand someone’s emotional state. 

The emotional/affective level is where you feel someone’s emotions.

Emotions are displayed on the face using the mouth and the eyes. People with ASD tend not to pay attention to those places and look at the sides of a face instead. As a result, they cannot use cognitive empathy. They are unable to recognize emotions by looking at the expressions on people’s faces. 

Affective empathy gets felt more powerfully. It even can be overwhelming for some people with ASD. The emotions of other people may even be more intense for some autistic people.

Another factor that makes it seem like autism causes a lack of empathy is the missed social cues. Children with autism tend to have different responses to things than typical children. They end up having different reactions because of those missing cues.  

Here are some reasons why someone with ASD may miss these cues:

  • It’s complicated for those with autism to interpret non-verbal forms of communication. They can’t pick up visual cues like facial expressions and body language. 
  • Children use repetition and mimicry to learn and develop social skills. Children with autism tend not to imitate others instinctively. Expressing empathy as others do may be more challenging to them because of this. 
Empathetic hand hold

Can empathy be taught to autistic children?

The Journal of Applied Behavioural Analysis published research involving autistic children learning empathy. The study indicated that autistic children could indeed get taught cognitive empathy. 

Many techniques for teaching empathy include reinforcing responses to other people’s emotions. Modeling and prompting are two popular ones. They teach how to use the correct facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, and phrases. 

However, those techniques only teach behavioral empathy, not empathy at an emotional level. 

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other therapies have proved to improve emotional empathy. 

Explaining to children that autistic children may lack empathy

Reports show that 1 in every 54 children in the U.S. gets diagnosed with some form of ASD. Over half of autistic students ages, 6 to 21 are in a regular classroom for 80 percent or more of their day at school. 

Proper and clear explanations of autism to other children are essential. Doing so helps make classrooms more comfortable for autistic students. It creates a safer environment for them when the people around them are aware of their needs.

When explaining autism to another child, keep these tips and ideas in mind:

There are no wrong questions

Honesty should never be considered rude, especially when it comes to the curiosity of a child. You can take it as an opportunity to explain to them that everyone’s different and that that’s okay. 

Different ways to communicate

Show them the different ways that they can communicate with non-verbal autistic children. Let them know that even though they can’t talk, it doesn’t mean they don’t understand anything. 

Be open and honest

If you hold back on not talking about certain things, it shows them that it’s too bad to talk about it. A negative mindset can develop if a child feels like they shouldn’t discuss a specific topic. 

Use storybooks

Books and stories can have a powerful impact on the way a child views things. Try reading them books about autism spectrum disorder with autistic characters in them. Those types of books can put certain things into an easier-to-understand perspective. 

Remind them to be polite

You may hear them say, “that kid is weird” or that they “act crazy.” Please take this opportunity to correct them. Explain that some people have more significant reactions to things than others do. Also, let them know that it’s never okay to call someone weird or crazy because they’re different. It can be hurtful to the other person’s feelings. 

ABA therapy and teaching empathy

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) therapy helps children with autism spectrum disorder build social skills. It also teaches them appropriate behaviors. Each therapy plan is different and gets catered to the autistic child’s unique needs. 

Here’s what a trained therapist may do to teach a child with ASD empathy:

  1. First, they will begin to teach the child what emotions need an empathetic response. They then get taught how to recognize them. The therapist may do this with pictures or silent videos of facial expressions.
  2. Next, they teach the child how to identify those emotions during everyday interactions. 
  3. Learning how to understand what the other person is feeling is the lesson that follows. The therapist, by then, will have shown them when a particular situation needs empathy. 
  4. Finally, the autistic child will get taught appropriate responses. They will learn what response they need for different emotions. Teaching proper responses usually gets done through role-playing. 

The main goal of ABA therapy is to teach a child with ASD how to understand their emotions. They also will develop an emotional understanding of the feelings of others. The therapist will work with the child to improve the child’s behaviors and responses. 

Happy Cinco De Mayo

Wishing you and your family a Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Cinco De Mayo, May 5