Social Skills for Social Ills

Article excerpt

Supporting the Social Skills Development of Adolescents with Asperger's Syndrome

Imagine being an adolescent without social skills. Here are some reflections of a parent of such a young person-a young man with Asperger's syndrome: In junior high, well, I think that's an age when kids are so intolerant of differences.... There's always been one or two kids that he felt were really giving him a bad time ... and then there's all this going from one class to another, all the noise and confusion, I think really unsettles him. And then the whole puberty thing and the hormones.... Seventh and eighth grade have been difficult, he's really had a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression, a lot of ups and downs.... When he hit puberty and started noticing the opposite sex, he really realized that he has a hard time knowing how to socialize and he said that he felt bad that other kids seemed to know how to talk to kids and know how to talk to girls, and he just didn't know how to do it.

In this article, we share some educational principles and strategies that we have found to be effective with adolescents with Asperger's syndrome. We base these suggestions on five sources:

A review of the educational literature on Asperger's syndrome.

Our work as clinicians providing consultation and support to teachers and families.

Interviews with parents.

Focus groups with one-to-one paraeducators.

Interviews with students with Asperger's syndrome.

We believe that the sampling of strategies presented here can help educators develop social skills programs for students with Asperger's syndrome and other related disorders. We focus on secondary students because social skills can be so critical to the adolescent period, particularly the transition to middle school.



One of the biggest challenges for students with Asperger's syndrome is understanding the rules of social interaction-rules that many of us learn and take for granted. Students with Asperger's syndrome frequently violate these important rules, such as the following:

Maintaining an acceptable social distance.

Making appropriate and relevant comments.

Participating in conversational turntaking.

Judging the timing of conversational dialogue.

One of the most common results of this lack of reciprocity in social interactions is that the student may engage in one-sided conversations, giving more information than is desired by the listener, ignoring the "give and take" of conversations.

Here are some examples of the social skills difficulties of some students with Asperger's syndrome:

Students with Asperger's syndrome are usually unaware of the effect of their behavior on others. These social skill deficits are most noticeable during classroom cooperative work activities. Although such groupings are important for facilitating students' learning to work together, students with Asperger's syndrome find working in small groups particularly challenging. Difficulties in negotiating, compromising, and being able to accept others' ideas-especially if the student with Asperger's feels that he or she knows the one "right way"can often hinder the student's success in group efforts. As a result, the student with Asperger's syndrome either tries to take over the group or withdraws from it.

Some students have difficulties with the intensity and timing of their social initiations, presumably because they do not adequately read social cues. This lack of ability to read social cues results in what one mother described as "stepping inside people's comfort zones."

Some students have been observed to almost "fixate" on particular teachers or peers, making inappropriate and excessive attempts to gain their attention. One paraeducator shared how a student enjoyed recognition and attention from his teachers and how he would "hover around them. …