Social Communication Skills and Strategies

Basic classroom skills

  • Class routines e.g. registration, playtime, lunchtime, assembly
  • Transitions between lessons, staff, groups, classes, home/school
  • Circle Time rules
  • Good listening behaviours. Explicit teaching. Poster to prompt visually
  • Good listener rewards
  • Waiting for turns and attention
  • How to request attention e.g. hand up; stand alongside; wait for pause
  • Consistent staff response to interruptions
  • Sharing and exchanging resources
  • ‘Voice level’ rules for the class
  • Compliments board in the classroom

Awareness of self and others

  • Emotional Literacy work - self-awareness, self-control, self-esteem
  • Social Skills programmes
  • Music and drama - emotions conveyed through music and body language
  • DVDs/photo/symbols to work on understanding and expressing emotions
  • Emotions linked to consequences in practice and real-life scenarios
  • Strategies for coping with stress e.g. breathing and relaxation techniques
  • The language of emotion - definitions, synonyms, degrees of feeling
  • Visual supports/monitors e.g. Feelings thermometer
  • Mirroring activities e.g. in PE
  • Role-play and drama
  • Video feedback
  • Passports and portraits
  • Discussion and debate (different viewpoints, needs and preferences)

Awareness of social contexts

  • Greeting/parting
  • Accepting/refusing
  • Asking for help
  • Communicating a problem
  • Asking and answering questions
  • Taking a message
  • Giving/asking for directions
  • Giving/receiving compliments/criticism
  • Problem solving activities in practice scenarios and real-life social situations
  • Role-play and drama
  • Using a telephone
  • Making an appointment
  • Using sports and leisure facilities
  • Interview skills
  • Communicating at college or work

Conversation skills

  • Taking turns to choose topics
  • Introducing a topic
  • Changing a topic
  • Giving feedback to show that you are listening
  • Making comments on another’s topic
  • Asking questions on another’s topic
  • Taking turns to speak - knowing the rules for when and how to join in/take a speaking turn/interrupt
  • Using proximity, body language and facial expression
  • Reducing length of speaking turns (use visual means e.g. sand timer)
  • Using voice appropriately - volume, speed, intonation
  • Ending a conversation

Social play and social relationships

  • How to relate to peers
  • Play: how to enter, maintain and exit peer play
  • How to avoid or resolve conflicts
  • How to participate in team games
  • How to develop friendship skills
  • Relationships in the workplace
  • Relationships with partners

Any of these areas could be included in a pupil’s Individual Education Plan in order to target and monitor specific social communication skills

** Tips for working on speaking and listening tasks with pupils on the autism spectrum:

  • Work with and through (not against) the autism (think about the pupil’s joint attention level, sensory preferences, stress triggers, special interests).
  • Build up the pupil’s tolerance of shared activities (e.g. sharing a toy or book) and taking turns before introducing the speaking and listening work. A useful resource is The Social Play Record.
  • Introduce the game or activity in a one-to-one situation before introducing other pupils.
  • Use materials based on the pupil’s special interests or motivators, for example Thomas the Tank Engine to teach numeracy concepts (number, colour, size, shape, position, space, speed, direction).
  • Use visual structure (Ref. TEACCH approach www.teacch.com).
  • Remember that imitation is a social skill. Check that the pupil knows how and when to copy before introducing this into the speaking and listening work. If not, work on non-verbal imitation first. Be aware that the pupil may learn to copy gestures (e.g. waving bye) but not use them to communicate unless specifically taught.
  • Make the activities and target words as meaningful as possible for that individual pupil. This will support generalisation of skills from practice to real-life contexts. Remember that the pupil may need to relearn the activity if the environment changes. Generalisation is a learnt skill not an automatic one for pupils on the autism spectrum.
  • Teach skills that have maximum mileage. Try to avoid teaching anything that may have to be un-learnt or re-learnt at a later stage.
  • Use repetition sparingly! Pupils with autism are often reluctant to repeat tasks unless you specify this requirement before the task begins. Use visual means to make the number of repetitions clear.
  • Use a visual checklist to signal the pupil’s progress through tasks.
  • Clearly signal the end of tasks e.g. by using a ‘finished’ symbol.
  • Keep social praise until the end of the task. It interrupts the pupil’s attention if used part way through an activity. Make social praise specific and meaningful e.g. Good listening! rather than Well done!
  • Use visual supports to help the pupil recognise their efforts and achievements e.g. stickers or certificates based on their special interests. This is often more meaningful than verbal praise.
  • Watch for signs of sensory overload and heightened arousal. Know the pupil’s stress signals.
  • At all times, keep your own verbal communication to a minimum, especially at stressful times e.g. transition from one activity or place to another.
  • Make sure the pupil has a way of communicating that:
    a) they need the toilet
    b) they need a break
    c) they want to stop
  • Focus on what the pupil needs to do (positive direction). Avoid talking about what they are not doing. If the pupil’s behaviour becomes challenging, the following strategies may help:
    • Check whether the pupil needs the toilet, a break or to stop
    • Say ‘Stop’ instead of ‘No’ (which may be a trigger) and focus on what you want the pupil to do
    • Position yourself alongside rather than face-to-face
    • Try to keep an arm’s distance between you and the pupil
    • Avoid direct eye-gaze
    • Keep quiet! Use visual communication instead of talking
    • Simplify the situation to reduce the demands on the pupil
    • Move to a calmer, quieter area
    • Follow training procedures e.g. Team Teach. See Glossary.

** This is used throughout the document and refers to puplis with autism

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Last updated: 28 October 2015

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