Teaching Good Behavior and Social Skills to Children with Autism

Article excerpt

QUESTION: My son with autism has recently began going to a SPED school, and according to his teacher he has been performing really well. He is generally well-behaved inside the classroom, and at home. The problem is when he is with other children who are not his classmates. With them, he is a little more impatient, and has sometimes made some of them cry. While other parents have been very understanding once I have explained that my son has autism, I would still like to take a proactive approach and help him socialize better with other children. What can I do to help my kid? -Will

One of the core deficits present in children with autism is the inability to demonstrate socially-appropriate behaviors because of their difficulty understanding social cues, complicated by atypical language development. As much as they would want to make friends and to be accepted by peers, the skills needed for them to successfully initiate and sustain meaningful conversations with others, as well as engage in developmentally-appropriate play, are lacking.

These skills are spontaneously inherent in most children, but need to be deliberately taught to children with autism. The good thing is that given repeated opportunities to demonstrate these social skills, both in structured and natural contexts, children with autism eventually learn how to adapt appropriately to different social situations.


Taking the proactive stance is always the best way for parents to address their children's behavioral concerns. Anticipating how your son will behave in certain situations and what triggers his misbehavior can prevent such behaviors from even occurring. For instance, in your son's case, he misbehaves in social situations when he is around children whom he does not know. It would help if you prepare him for such situations by anticipating his possible reaction to unfamiliar children in other natural contexts outside of school.

You have mentioned that he is a little more impatient, and has sometimes even made other children cry. I would presume that there is some physical aggression involved or grabbing of toys that are mal-adaptive behaviors. Knowing that these are his potential reactions to being with other children who are not his classmates, talk to him clearly and directly about how he should approach other children. In not so many words, tell him and physically prompt him to greet other children appropriately either by shaking hands or waving "hello." If he is interested in the toys that they are playing with, prompt him to ask properly. He can ask if he could borrow the toy or if he is non-verbal or has limited verbal capacity, to do the palms-up gesture and utter "give." Don't forget to praise him if he readily complies.

These may seem like very simple interventions yet understanding the "antecedent" to every behavior is one of the most effective ways to address challenging behavior. Why wait until your child has misbehaved when you can set-up the conditions for proper behavior? You have to always be several steps ahead of your child. The probable reason why your child has achieved good behavior in the SPED classroom is because of its predictability and the establishment of routines which leave very little room for unacceptable behavior. Children with autism thrive on repetition and routine, both of which we can maximize to teach him appropriate social skills.


The consequence of a misbehavior is also a significant factor if we aim to eliminate such behavior in the future. Effective consequences vary from one child to another. They may be positive or negative, depending on what the child responds to. …