Social Skills: What are you thankful for?

Halloween has passed and that means holiday season is in full swing! Days are getting shorter, nights are getting longer, temperatures are getting colder, and lives are getting busier! Between cooking, shopping, and preparing for the holidays, it makes it seem as though there is no time left for anything else. This time of year is often associated with high stress and at times, high tempers, thus making it hard for us to always exhibit appropriate social skills. For example, think about Black Friday shopping, the store is packed and you are shoulder to shoulder with strangers and the line is winding out of the store. Then, a stranger completely cuts you off in line, so you immediately react by saying something rude.It quickly escalates and before you know it, both of you have been asked to leave the store. Though this example may be a bit more extreme, it illustrates how difficult engaging in appropriate social skills can be during the Thanksgiving holiday for a typically developing individual. Now I want you to imagine how much more difficult engaging in appropriate social skills would be for an individual with autism spectrum disorder during the holiday season.

The purpose of this blog will be to address some Thanksgiving specific social skills to help children with autism spectrum disorder during the holiday season.  These skills range from responding to specific questions (i.e. what are you most thankful for, to offering compliments related to taste of food) and various things that you (as a parent or teacher) can do prior to the event to help prepare the child with autism for Thanksgiving.

In regards to teaching responding to questions, the nice thing about Thanksgiving is that there is already a pre-determined question (i.e. what are you most thankful for?). This makes training various exemplars a bit easier, in that you can train the exemplars directly to the question. But before we get to the exemplars, we need to back up and go over the discrete steps within the task analysis for responding to questions, which are as follows:

  1. Face the person

  2. Make eye contact (within 3 seconds)

  3. Listen to the question (by maintaining eye contact and orientation)

  4. Respond appropriately; answer the question with a relevant statement

Remember, that as I have previously stated in an earlier blog, to provide a rational as to why we need to answer this question, model an appropriate way to respond to a question, and role play and provide corrective feedback or praise to the child during the role play portion.  A problem I often run into when training this skill is that the student has difficulty generating his or her own responses to the question. I often see a child with autism spectrum disorderwho does not respond or responds with ‘I don’t know’. This is where training multiple exemplars is very useful.  By providing some examples of various statements that can be said to answer the question, the child is equipped with appropriate answers.  I typically teach three different exemplars and let the child practice this during the role play portion of the lesson.  This may take a little longer than a typical training lesson because the child is required to remember three different responses, so naturally there will be a longer practice session. After your lesson has occurred, I would practice once a day with your child or student so they can continue to use those responses.

Kate Helbig

Third year doctoral student in the School Psychology Program at The University of Southern Mississippi

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