Social Skills


All contents of this resource were created for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, therapist, or other qualified health providers with any questions or concerns you may have.

Social skills are a person’s ability to effectively interact and communicate with others through our words, actions, and body language. Thus, how we adapt to social situations and interactions rely on social skills. Social skills are learned over time but are not always automatic. Consequently, people with autism often need explicit instruction to learn appropriate social skills and how to adapt to interactions.

The goal of teaching social skills is making friends and improving social relationships.

Benefits of Strong Social Skills

Undoubtedly, social skill development improves quality of life. Here are a few benefits of strong social skills.

  • Improved relationships
  • Increased social acceptance
  • Desire to participate in social interactions
  • Decreased anxiety, stress, and depression

Determining What Skills to Teach

Before starting to teach your child social skills, conduct an assessment to identify specific skills that need to be worked on.

  • Standardized Assessments
    • Vineland 3
    • Social Responsiveness Scale -2 (SRS-2)
    • Social Skills Improvement System Rating Scale (SSiS-RS)
    • Social-Emotional Assets and Resilience Scales
    • Behavior Assessment Scale for Children 3rd Edition (BASC-3)
  • Informal Assessments
    • Parent/teacher observation and data
    • Child interview
  • Things to Consider
    • How will the skill benefit the person?
    • Is this skill useful in a natural environment?
    • Does the skill increase independence?
    • Does the skill improve relationships?
    • Is it a pre-requisite to other skills needed?
    • What skills are valued by the peer group?
    • How can you individualize instruction and make it usable to the person?

Teaching Social Skills

Social skills programs explicitly teach targeted skills. This chart lays out the steps and ways to teach a variety of social skills.

Example: You are a working with your child on not interrupting other people.

  • First, introduce the skill.
    • Use a social story to explain interrupting.
    • Then, define the skill.
      • Make a visual prompt of questions to ask yourself before speaking.
        • Is this an emergency?
        • Is the person already speaking to someone else?
        • How can I get the person’s attention?
          • Say “Excuse me”
          • Smile at the person and wait
    • Next, practice using the skill.
      • Role playing not interrupting.
      • Practice different role playing situations with peer models.
      • Watch a video demonstrating a conversation where a person waits their turn to speak.
    • Finally, generalize the skill in multiple settings.
      • Seek out conversations with a variety of people.

Who Teaches Social Skills?

While other therapies have specifically trained professionals, there is no one type of provider that is trained to teach social skills. Subsequently, there are multiple providers who can be eligible to receive professional social skills training.

  • Behavior therapist
  • Psychologist
  • School Counselor
  • Social worker
  • Teacher
  • Occupational therapist
  • Speech language pathologist
  • Art therapist
  • Music therapist
  • Parents

Social Skills by Developmental Age

There are many social skills lists by age available. Please note, when referencing these lists go by your child’s developmental age not chronological age.

Example Social Skills:

  • Listen and attend to another person
  • Greetings
  • Sharing
  • Parallel play
  • Requesting help
  • Initiating and maintaining play
  • Read social cues
  • Appropriately express emotions
  • Follow a multi-step direction
  • Join a group
  • Manners
  • Interact with both peers and adults
  • Self-regulation
  • Reciprocal joint play
  • Joint conversation
  • Body language
  • Gives compliments
  • Accepts compliments
  • Accept criticism
  • Accept consequences

Fostering Friendships

Now that your child has been working hard on social skills, it’s time to apply those skills! Ultimately, it is up to the parents to help their child develop friendships. For instance, you can actively start conversations with other parents in an effort to foster a friendship.

Neurotypical Peer Training

On the other hand, your child with autism is not solely responsible for developing friendships with peers. Neurotypical peers should to learn how to be a good friend to someone with autism.

  • Speak to your child’s class about their strengths, likes, and ways to be a good friend.
  • Develop a “buddy” program at school.
  • Talk with friends and neighbors about educating their children about autism and being a good friend.
  • Organize an integrated play group at a local therapy or childcare center.
  • Encourage school administrators and educators to seek professional development on inclusion.
  • Work with youth organizations on developing inclusive communities.
  • Encourage others to sign their children up to be peer mentors at therapy centers and schools.

In Summary

As shown above, social skills are a crucial part of interaction with others and personal relationships. For this reason, seek out an assessment and work with a professional on developing social skills. Likewise, you can begin working with your child at a young age. As a result of your hard work, your child’s potential for creating positive social relationships increases.

Recommended Resources

  • Kids Included Together: offers online trainings, webinars, on-site training, coaching and consulting on creating inclusive environments for children.
  • Autism Internet Modules: provides online training including professional development, certificate programs, and continuing education credits. A wide variety of topics are covered including multiple modules about social skills.
  • UCLA PEERS Clinic: Social skills training program based out of University of California Los Angeles. In addition to their on-site training, they offer off-site and web-based professional trainings.

Additional Reading


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