Social Skills Back to School Edition

Back to school time, once again! Every retailer under the sun has their school supplies out, those big yellow buses are driving by early in the morning, and there are more coupons and deals for back to school promotions than anyone could possibly know what to do with. Though we are all sad to see summer slip away, we can look forward to the first day of school excitement (and maybe jitters) that come with the start of a brand new school year!

A new year means our children will be developing new relationships and maintaining old ones. For this reason, social skills are the hot topic, and that’s exactly what we’re talking about today!

If you’ve read my previous article on social skills, you’ll know DIDACTIC, MODELING, REHEARSAL, and FEEDBACK are the steps to develop improved social skills. If you haven’t read that, go ahead and do that now and come back to finish this, as it expands on those ideas.

We’ll be looking at three social skills:

Conversation Skills

First off are conversation skills; however this is a fairly broad topic so I will break it down into a few smaller skills. Conversations are a complex interaction, incorporating a variety of different skills.  Conversation skills include everything from initiating a conversation, ending a conversation, asking questions, responding to questions, or giving directions.

Each of these types of conversation skills will have some unique steps, but you’ll notice that many conversation skills have a base foundation of skills that apply to all of them. This may be something like eye contact. Eye contact is crucial to our conversational skills in that it allows the person we are talking with to know that we are listening to them.

Many children with lower level conversational skills may have difficulty talking to others, but this isn’t the only difficulty a child may have in communicating. Equally important is to teach children to avoid dominating a conversation. In the classroom, we use techniques like having children take turns speaking to promote equality in conversations.

Using Similar Interests

As adults, we’re all familiar with knowing that when we find common ground in new relationships our ability to socialize is increased. This of course holds true for children as well.

Common interests can be pretty much anything imaginable. The idea is that if both children are interested in the topic, it is likely reinforcing for both of them. We leverage these common interests to open the door for lots of other natural conversations.


We typically think of participation in a classroom since, but it can easily be applied to other settings such as recess or lunch. Playing games together and sitting talking at the lunch table are perfect low risk opportunities for kids to build social skills.

One area where children with autism struggle in participation and an area that we work hard to train is proximity. We teach children that in order for others to know that they want to participate they have to be near the other kids.

Once they’ve gotten in proximity and have used their conversational skills to join the activity, they then also have to engage. Many students may exhibit all of the prerequisites to participation, like walking in to a group and asking to be included but then fail to engage, which unfortunately falls short of participation. I specifically state to the children that they do actually have to engage in the occurring activity in order to participate. So keep an eye on engagement!

To wrap up this post, an important thing you can do as a parent or teacher or person that works with or encounters children with autism is so encourage them to interact with others. To make this more concrete, you can set a goal of having a certain number of interactions per day. Sometimes, the child may not be able to generate their own responses. This can be remediated by providing the child with some general conversation starters or questions that they can utilize, as well as some answers to frequently asked questions (i.e. how are you, what did you do over the weekend). Back to school can be a stressful time for children but we know that social skills can reduce some of this.

Also, remember to keep social skills fun and relaxed, we want our kids to like social skills training!

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