One of the hallmarks of Autism Spectrum Disorder is difficulty related to social interactions. These difficulties can be mild, like difficulty keeping a conversation going, or more intense, like self-isolation. It can be difficult as a parent to feel like your child will have to work harder to have close friendships. Through ABA, we can work to improve social interactions and make it easier for your child to engage with his or her peers.
For younger children, social play is often built into the school day. There’s time for parallel play during Play-Doh time at the table; teachers and paraprofessionals facilitate interactions during free play. You can carry these methods into the home too. Encourage your child to play with toys next to their siblings or other kids in the neighborhood. Once they’re comfortable playing in the same space, you can begin to work on cooperative play. Choose a favorite game or activity like painting, and prompt you child to ask peers for the color paint they want or encourage them to paint a picture together. Prompting interactions and having the peer or yourself reward them can make socializing more fun and increase the likelihood that your child will continue to socialize.
It can be difficult to find social skills opportunities for kids in middle school and older. At that time, a lot of peer groups have already been formed. The kids at school may only hang out with their friends from the baseball team or whoever they take the bus with from their neighborhood. One way to improve social interactions is by practicing greetings and conversations. When you go on community outings, encourage your child to greet the cashier at the grocery store. You can also make phone calls to grandparents or other family members, so your child can work on a different kind of greeting. The extra practice can carry over to activities they do with peers in school or in the community. When you have a conversation with your child, prompt them to keep it going by asking questions. This can help them stay engaged even if it’s a topic they’re not particularly interested in.
If you’re interested in learning more about facilitating social interactions, you can read this Autism Speaks guide for teachers: https://www.autismspeaks.org/sites/default/files/documents/family-services/improve_social.pdf