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5 ways to help students with autism build social skills

Wednesday, June 10, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Even special education teachers can face challenges in teaching children on the autism spectrum. One of the greatest challenges for educators is to help these students develop their social skills. A common mistake among untrained educators is to presume individuals with autism do not want social interaction. In many cases, autistic students have a strong drive for social interaction. Underdeveloped ability or understanding of how to navigate social situations may simply be blocking the student from acting on those wishes. The following strategies are ideal starting points for any educator to help support students to progress at their own speeds.

1. Generate an atmosphere of acceptance

The intensive study behind a master’s degree in special education ensures that graduates can draw on numerous tools and engage with students of all abilities. However, it’s important not to overlook the essential practices of solid teaching. Assess your own classroom’s overall atmosphere by looking for concrete evidence. For example, take note of how new students are treated. Do they feel accepted, or do students initially remain cool towards them? With this global goal in mind, check over each of the regular practices of a day in your classroom. Ask yourself: What changes can I make so that more students feel accepted for who they are?

2. Teach reciprocity through example

As any teacher holding a master’s degree in special education can tell you, one cornerstone of solid social skills is reciprocity. In other words, students need to learn about the natural patterns of give and take involved in social interaction. Teachers can encourage this through modeling. Any time you ask the student to meet your expectations, also demonstrate a willingness to meet the student’s personal interests: a perfect example of reciprocity.

3. Provide structured playtime

While many students can learn through unstructured play, students on the autism spectrum may benefit from more structured activities. Mine the options for structured play you have studied during your master’s degree in special education program and adapt them to suit your students with autism as an alternative to free recess.

4. Respect boundaries

When building up social skills for a student with autism, all of your actions should be guided by one principle: respecting boundaries. While you may wish to help the student master a new social skill, it’s vital to implement change in accord with the student’s abilities. For long-lasting progress, choose a pace that respects the student’s boundaries.

5. Tell social stories

Stories are an excellent way to build social skills for a student with autism. Tell stories to the class and use films or other narrative materials that focus on social interaction. That way, students with autism can infer the lessons in a less confrontational, less threatening manner.

A master’s degree in special education is just the first step in a long learning process. As a special education teacher, you’ll need to be creative and flexible in devising the most appropriate methods for your students, especially when helping autistic students to develop their social skills.

Learn about University of Texas Rio Grande Valley online M.Ed. in Special Education program.


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