Hi, I’m Craig Kendall, the author of The Asperger’s Syndrome Survival Guide. In today’s issue we will discuss…
Asperger’s and Social Skills –
Observing Your World
It’s no secret that Asperger’s and social skills can be a difficult subject. Social skills are one of the prime deficits in Asperger’s, and it can be very hard for those with Asperger’s or high functioning autism to know what to do in social situations. This can be frustrating not only for them but for everyone around them.
Wouldn’t you like to teach your friend or loved one how to “blend in more” or act more appropriately in social situations?
Autism and Social Skills – Observation is the Key
So what can you do to help your loved one with Asperger’s or high functioning autism learn to interact more seamlessly with those around them?
Teach them the powers of observation.
Now, it’s not as simple as just bringing them to a busy social hangout spot and telling them to look around them. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, it’s not going to help. But do try to point out to them certain skills, certain things that other people are doing right that might not have even occurred to them. When you’re watching TV sitcoms or movies, if you’re able to pause them to discuss a scene and what the characters did right or wrong in terms of interacting during a scene, that can be invaluable.
Also, since sometimes it’s easier for people with Asperger’s or high functioning autism to relate to characters on TV who have exaggerated emotional responses (which are therefore easier to understand), it might be easier to drive home certain skills or concepts through TV shows.
Autism and Social Skills – Learning Through Modeling on TV
A person wrote to us and said that a scene in the TV show “Parenthood” touched her deeply.
One of the characters was trying to decide whether or not to take her boyfriend back, but she feared his self-destructive behavior would consume both of them. She said, “Ryan, when you love someone you have to take responsibility for that. You have to take responsibility for the fact that other people love and care about you and your well-being, and you have to take care of yourself. Promise me that.”
This person who wrote to us said it was the first time it really hit home for her how much her actions and how she took care of herself would have an impact on others.
People with Asperger’s can be very literal. They think, “This action is not directly impacting another person because this other person is not there when I am doing it.” But family members worry about each other, and they are emotionally impacted when something bad is happening to one of their own. The person with Asperger’s may not fully understand how their actions affect others, unless it is demonstrated and explicitly said many times. But this very emotional and very obvious scene on TV helped this person understand this concept.
Autism and Social Skills – Common Unwritten Social Rules
Start paying close attention to the rules others seem to follow in conversation, and then try to teach it to your loved one.
These are some rules you might teach and point out to your child, in order to help them learn how to effectively manage Asperger’s and social skills.
1. Monitor the length of your comments. When you are in a conversation with someone, say three or four sentences about something and then stop. Wait for the next person to add something before you continue. If they don’t, you might want to ask them a question about what you were talking about, or about how the topic relates to them. This helps draw them into the conversation.
2. Pay attention to personal space. Monitor how much space the people around you are giving each other, and try to follow it. Try not to touch the person next to you. Sit close enough so you can have a conversation, but not so close that you are not giving any space in between the two of you.
3. Monitor your body when walking through crowds. A lot of people with Asperger’s or high functioning autism have trouble telling where their body is in space. So they end up bumping into people a lot, and that can be seen as rude. So, try to keep close attention to where your body is where other people’s bodies are when you are walking through a crowded space.
4. Try to look at people when you’re talking to them. It doesn’t have to be all the time, but it should be enough of the time that the other person has a chance to feel a connection to you, and you to them. If you can’t look directly at them, try looking at their nose or their forehead, or even right past them, which is better than not looking at them at all.
Some people with Asperger’s find that looking someone in the eye truly is excruciating – from a sensory perspective, it can often feel like it’s burning – so if it’s too difficult, try to give a brief explanation such as “I have trouble thinking and looking at people at the same time” so the other person doesn’t think you are rude.
5. Role play with your child or loved one with Asperger’s or high functioning autism. Asperger’s and social skills deficits can be greatly helped by role-playing. Give the person with Asperger’s a situation, and role-play responses. Help him to come up with appropriate responses if he is struggling. Do it until the proper responses are ingrained.
6. Teach your child about the different styles of conversation. For example, there are two ways a conversation can go, a “shift” response and a “support” response. One keeps the conversation going; the other often halts it in its path.
A shift response is when a person makes a comment about something in their life, and you turn it to something in yours. A support response is when someone makes a comment and you ask further follow-up questions, effectively supporting them in the conversation.
An example would be this. Someone tells you they are thinking of buying a new car. The support response would be to ask them what models they had looked at, or some other detail about this endeavor.
The shift response would be to say something like “I’m thinking of buying a new car too!” and go on about the models you are thinking of buying.
It’s subtle, but one draws the attention back to you and one keeps it on the other person. A conversation will ebb and flow with focus hopefully alternating between the two people and their lives, but it’s always a good idea to default to focusing and supporting the other person if they make a statement that invites it.
Increase Asperger’s Social Skills
By pointing out these social skills and conversational techniques to your loved one, and by demonstrating and modeling them, your loved one with Asperger’s or high functioning autism will also pick them up. It is important to try to explain the relevance of each skill to them. “Why?” will always be an important question to someone with Asperger’s. Try to explain how doing these things makes the other person feel or not feel, as this might help make it seem more relevant. These techniques will help with increasing Asperger’s social skills.
And for many more tips and strategies for Asperger’s and autism read Craig Kendall’s book, New Hope for Autism.