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Transitioning Back to School: Increasing Social Skills

TIPS By: ABA Works

This week, local schools are welcoming back students while some students are starting a new school for the first time. Expat families have additional adjustments related to starting a new school, in a new country, with new cultural considerations. For children who have difficulties with social skills, this transition can be overwhelming. It is important to remember that children with social deficits, like many children with Autism, do not necessarily lack the desire of social interaction, but instead may lack the skills to successfully navigate the complexity of social situations.

At ABA Works we focus on three factors of teaching social skills: determining which skills need to be developed, creating a plan on how to teach these specific skills, and reinforcing child’s progress.

How to Teach Specific Skills:

Practice social situations: Model proper ways to start a conversation, get someone’s attention, or join a group of kids who are already playing together. Then transition modeling into role playing different social situations. Involve other family members in the role playing to create a “classroom” situation. Some children may also benefit from role playing a teacher-student relationship (e.g. practicing raising hand, answering questions, asking for help).

Teach empathy: Role play different scenarios by asking your child how other people might feel when certain things happen and substitute different situations each time. For younger children, have your child take a toy from you without asking, then discuss how you may feel. For older children, role play being ignored or walking away during a conversation, then discuss.

Teaching turn taking: While playing a game with your child, focus on making clear rules about turn taking, appropriately waiting, and sharing. Relate these skills to the classroom- explain that like a game, students will take turns responding to teacher’s questions. These abstract concepts will become more solidified with practice and clear explanations of social etiquette.

Explain personal space: Explain to your child that it is important for people to have personal space to feel comfortable. Do an activity with your child by slowly getting closer and closer to them to see when they start to feel uncomfortable. This can be labeled as their personal space bubble; by visualizing a bubble around people, this may help your child understand the space needed between people.
Also, try using a social narrative like this:

Understanding facial expressions:  Help your child recognize facial expressions while watching a TV show or reading a book together. Pause to ask your child what certain facial or body movements might mean. Have your child imitate the facial expressions to build associations.

Staying on topic during conversation: Help your child learn to stay on task by trying this activity: Tell your child a topic, then say two sentences related to the topic and one random sentence (intermix sentence order). Have your child identify the random sentence. Switch and have your child create the sentences. Use this activity to explain that topics should have a few relating sentences before it is appropriate to switch topics.

Creating conversation starters: Together with your child, create a list of questions or statements that can be used to either start a new conversation or to fill awkward silences in a conversation. By remembering a few starter questions, your child will feel more confident in a new conversation.

If you are interested in receiving professional, customized ABA services for your family to help with behavior challenges, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Sensory Disorders, ADHD or related disorders, contact ABA Works at

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