The older they get, the more important social skill instruction can be

Contrary to popular belief, teenagers diagnosed with high-functioning ASD are socially cognizant and aware of their social differences, desiring those close friendships observed amongst their peers (Locke, Ishijima, Kasari, London, 2010). It may be the most imperative to provide social instruction at this time, when the learner is motivated to learn how to make friends and the instruction will meet natural contingencies (friendships are developed, the more intimate connections are appreciated by the participants, the skills learned will be applied with frequent practice for life-long learning).

​Teens reporting higher social functioning were more likely to be able to cope with the stresses associated with the transition to college, reporting less feelings of isolation, social anxiety, loneliness, and depression (Segrin & Flora, 2000). As students enter high school, social instruction should be considered to increase their repertoire of social skills and improve their quality life in high school and beyond.

Just having one quality friendship (someone the teen felt comfortable sharing their feelings with, there was a feeling of mutual participation in the relationship, someone the teen could resolve conflict with effectively) has been paired with better life-long outcomes (Settipani &Kendall, 2013; Sterling, Dawson, Estes, & Greenson, 2008; Segrin & Flora, 2000). So, how can we help? There are some areas of social functioning and instruction that have been consistently paired with success.

Teach conversation skills. Teens that lacked conversation skills have reported poor quality friendships. Poor conversation skills have been associated with fewer invitations to get-togethers, decreases the rate of friends calling on the phone, and negatively impacted opportunities to make new social connections (Orsmond et al, 2013). Sounds easy enough, right? But, where to start…

o   Teach the goal of conversation- to identify common interests.
o  Teach that conversations are for trading information. Trading information requires both asking questions and offering information about yourself- don’t be an interviewer.
o  Don’t get too personal. Teach that conversations should revolve around questions about interests and should not be about personal information (Laugeson, Frankel, Mogil, & Dillon, 2009).

Don’t focus on past failed attempts to teach new skills. Using real-life examples of how social rules/norms were not followed or were poorly applied does not result in remediation in the future. On the contrary, using errors decreases the teen’s desire to make future attempts. Teach skills as rules, show the rules being applied in role-played, hypothetical scenarios, and do not use the teen’s past experiences during teaching times (Settipani & Kendall, 2013).

Teach skills the teen is motivated to use. Successful application of learned skills and generalization of these skills has been linked most positively with motivation to learn and use the skill. Motivation to use the skill has also been associated with teens feeling they are learning skills being taught which increases feelings of confidence in social situations (Tse et al, 2007). Survey your teen, what does he want to know how to do to make and keep friends? Find his social inspiration and work with that to increase feelings of social adequacy.

​So, the moral of the story is…it’s never too late to start learning how to make friends! The impact of having just one friend is life changing! 

Locke, J., Ishijima, E. H., Kasari, C., London, N. (2010). Loneliness, friendship quality and the social networks of adolescents with high-functioning autism in an inclusive school setting. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs. 10, 74-81.

Orsmond, G. I., Shattuck, P.T., Cooper, B. P., Sterzing, P.R., Andereson, K.A. (2013). Social participation among young adults with an autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 43, 2710-2719.

Segrin, C., Flora, J. (2000). Poor social skills are a vulnerability factor in the development of psychosocial problems. Human Communication Research. 26, 489-514.

Settipani, C.A., Kendall, P.C. (2013). Social functioning in youth with anxiety disorders: Association with anxiety severity and outcomes from cognitive-behavioral therapy. Child Psychiatry and Human Development. 44, 1-18.

Sterling, L., Dawson, G., Estes, A., Greenson, J. (2008). Characteristics associated with presence of depressive symptoms in adults with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 38, 1011-1018.

Tse, J., J., Tagalakis, V., Meng, L., Fombonne, E. (2007). Social skills training for adolescents with asperger’s syndrome and high functioning autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 37, 1960-1968.

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