Master ABA

Autism and Social Skills: Complete Guide

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM 5) lists 2 criteria for diagnosing autism: restricted and repetitive interests and/or movements, and social deficits. This means social skills challenges in autistic learners aren’t just common, they’re a defining characteristic. As a professional working with autistic learners, it’s critical you fully understand the challenges your learners face.

Individuals on the autism spectrum exhibit a wide range of abilities and desires when it comes to social interaction. Some may show minimal awareness or interest in engaging with others, while there are those who are eager to connect but lack the essential skills required. Learning to navigate social scenarios is a vital skill for everyone, not only for the development of relationships but also for essential self-care and safety.

Educators and caregivers strive to support individuals in becoming more at ease in social situations, which can yield long-term benefits.

Social skills contain many component skills that may be difficult for autistic learners. Teaching these skills independently allows you to break down this complex concept into much easier to teach tasks. The following components can be taught independently to drastically improve the learner’s social interactions.

  • Joint attention
  • Play skills
  • Practice social situations


Autism and Social Skills Obtaining Assent Joint Attention Play Skills Practice Social Situations Conclusion Ethical Considerations Related to Teaching Social Skills Research Related to Teaching Social Skills References and Related Reading

Autism and Social Skills

Each learner is unique in his understanding of and desire to interact with others. Some autistic learners may be virtually unaware of those around them, while other learners want to engage with those around them but lack the skills necessary to do this.

We live in a community, and learning how to relate to other people is a necessary skill, even if we don’t want to. Basic interaction is also an important step to teaching critical self-care and safety skills. Even if the learner never decides to pursue friendships with peers, some level of interaction with others can’t be avoided. Helping learners become comfortable in these situations can benefit them throughout their lives.

Assessments and Treatment

For social skills assessments, professionals pull from a limited body of research demonstrating effective social skills interventions. Traditionally, professionals rely on a standardized assessment tool to help them identify appropriate treatment goals. This leads to prescribing the appropriate treatment to help that learner reach those goals.

A comprehensive social skills assessment would identify these common deficits impacting social skills:

  • A learner with limited vocal communication skills. An individual with communication deficits experiences more significant challenges interacting with their peers than a learner with an intact vocal repertoire.
  • A learner with restricted interests. He may struggle with engaging in conversations about their peers’ interests.
  • A learner who resists sharing toys or taking turns. Some prefer to predict and control the behavior of others.

Identifying and treating these complex skills can appear daunting to even the most seasoned professional.

While many assessment tools include components of social behavior (AFLS, VB-MAPP, ABLLS, etc.), there are a limited number of research-based social skills assessments available to professionals. Of those tools available, many are expensive or complex to utilize.

Social Skills Solutions: A Hands-On Manual for Teaching Social Skills to Children with Autism

Depending on the needs of the learners you serve, Social Skills Solutions: A Hands-On Manual for Teaching Social Skills to Children with Autism by Kelly McKinnon, MA, BCBA and Janis Kempa, Med, BCBA may help provide solutions for your learners. This comprehensive program offers both assessment and programmatic support. Because it was written by BCBAs, their model falls easily into ABA programming.

An experienced professional can pick up this manual and quickly understand and implement the assessment. The assessment builds to targeted goals that easily lend themselves to hands-on activities for the learners. For those less experienced, the authors offer sufficient foundational information to use the manual and implement interventions successfully.

McKinnon and Kempa provide an initial overview of autism and ABA. This overview allows you to share this book with parents and staff to help them understand your rationality as well as many basic ABA techniques. There’s a brief overview of prompts. The authors explain many other ABA terminology, all in this simple introduction.

Using Modules to Create Scaffolds for Learning

McKinnon and Kempa use a module approach to create a system for scaffolding learning. This means that they have broken down complex social skills (i.e. joint attention, self-awareness and perspective taking) into component parts. These parts can then be taught and strung together to create those more complex behavior chains.

It’s likely impossible to create a fully comprehensive assessment and treatment protocol to teach such complex behavior as social skills. The authors of Social Skills Solutions: A Hands-On Manual for Teaching Social Skills to Children with Autism use 10 Modules. Each module is then broken down into 3 levels. This allows the assessor to identify the learner’s relative needs.

Assessors then determine if the learner displays each skill within the module in a 1:1 setting, in a group, or in a natural setting. The assessment tracks the learner’s progress through all the facets of the identified social skills.

Skills within each module are organized so that prerequisite or foundational skills are firsts. This allows a sequential order to the assessment. Each skill builds on the one before it.

Using the Assessment to Guide Treatment

Once the professional identifies the learner’s current strengths and deficits, they begin to paint a picture of some of the missing pieces in the learner’s social skills puzzle. For example:

Within Module 4: Ability to Calm Self, Level 2, is the skill: Accepts when things are different than planned. The professional identifies that the learner fails to demonstrate this skill across settings (1:1, group, natural environment). The professional then builds programming to teach this skill first in a 1:1 environment as this makes it easier to contrive situations where the learner is expected to demonstrate the skill. Perhaps the learner responds well to social stories to teach self-management strategies and reinforcement for selecting one of those strategies appropriately. The professional then writes a goal that is both observable and measurable. As intervention begins, staff collect data and the professional continuously evaluates the data to ensure progress.

The professional repeats this process for each of the modules, beginning with the most foundational skills in that module. Through this process, a comprehensive and concrete social skills program emerges.

Determining Progress

The complex nature of social skills makes it difficult to determine if the learner makes progress. By breaking down the skills into modules, levels and setting, professionals have a tool for establishing meaningful gains for the learners they serve.

Professionals should reassess their client’s skills regularly (i.e. every 3 or 6 months) to determine treatment effectiveness and identify new goals. If a learner makes limited progress, the professional must objectively evaluate that learner’s programs and the variables that contribute to the lack of progress. Without this monitoring and constant adjusting of interventions, the learner and family suffer.

Who Should Use Social Skills Solutions?

Although this manual meets the needs of many autistic learners receiving ABA programming, it’s not for all learner. When working with learners with exceptionally complex needs, this manual captures only the smallest glimpse into the learner’s deficits. The same holds true for those learners with pockets of social skills who may have significant behavioral and emotional needs.

Professionals must carefully consider the full scope of the learner’s needs when choosing assessment and treatment programs. As these tools play a significant role in the course of ABA programming, this step can’t be emphasized enough. A program that routinely selects the same assessment tools for all of their learners fails to provide the most appropriate treatment for many of those learner.


Obtaining Assent

Assent is a learner’s agreement to participate in an intervention. It is important to obtain assent from learners during ABA interventions, even those with limited communicative ability. Assent can be obtained in a variety of ways, depending on the learner’s individual needs and preferences.

One way to obtain assent is to ask the learner directly if they want to participate in the intervention. The practitioner should use simple language and be clear about what the intervention will involve. If the learner is nonverbal, the practitioner can use gestures or other methods of communication to ask for and observe assent.

Another way to obtain assent is to offer the learner a choice. For example, the practitioner could say, “Would you like to do this activity with me or with your parent?” This gives the learner a sense of control and allows them to express their preferences.

It is also important to respect the learner’s decision, even if they choose not to participate in the intervention. The practitioner should evaluate the intervention or activity to determine why the learner might have withdrawn assent. By changing the intervention, activity or even the timing of the presentation, the practitioner may be able to obtain assent at another opportunity.

There are a number of benefits to obtaining assent from learners during ABA interventions. First, it shows respect for the learner’s autonomy and right to make their own decisions. Second, it can help to build trust and rapport between the learner and the practitioner. Third, it can increase the learner’s motivation to participate in the intervention.

Assent can be obtained from learners with all levels of communicative ability. For example, a learner who can speak can simply say “yes” or “no” to indicate their assent or assent withdrawal. A learner who is nonverbal may use gestures, facial expressions, or body positioning to indicate their assent. The learner can also use other methods of communication, such as AAC assent from learners who are nonverbal.

As with any treatment, the strategies discussed here should only be used with the assent of the learner. Read our post Understanding Assent and Assent Withdrawal in ABA for more information on how and why to obtain assent.


Joint Attention

Joint attention is a critical component of social skills that may not develop in autistic learners without intervention.  Joint attention is the action of two or more individuals paying attention to the same object at the same time.  Creating these shared experiences allows us to connect and communicate with others socially.  Through the use of joint attention, we establish shared experiences which builds bonds between individuals.  It begins very early in development, getting more complex as a learner grows and develops.

This interaction can be verbal or nonverbal.  For example, a learner saying “Mommy, look! There’s a dog!” communicates the same thing as a learner tapping your shoulder and pointing at the dog.  Although these two interactions look different, they serve the same social purpose.  Learners with no vocal communication skills still share experiences with those around them, just in a different way.

Watch Joint Attention – Why it’s important to teach your child to engage and enjoy the company of others by 1to1 Therapy Services:

This skill usually develops between 8-15 months of age.  For autistic learners, this skill may not develop independently and often requires specific teaching.

How to Teach Joint Attention to a Learner with Autism

Joint attention can be broken into two separate skills:

  • Requesting joint attention
  • Responding to requests from others

For learners with limited communication skills, this is especially difficult. Although these skills are related, you will probably need to teach them independently.  Through repeated practice, your learner will begin to interact more with those around her.

Whether teaching requesting or responding, this will involve 3 steps:

  1. Observe your learner
  2. Gradually encourage increased joint attention
  3. Continue to observe how your learner initiates and responds to joint attention

Observe Your Learner

Determine what your learner is currently able to do.  Does she respond to verbal requests for attention by turning and looking?  Does she show you something she is interested in, requesting joint attention?  Or does she ignore you when you try to request joint attention?

Spend a session or two just observing whether she initiates or responds to joint attention. Write down your observations throughout each session so that you can identify how the learner currently initiates and responds to requests for joint attention.

Increase Use of Joint Attention

Beginning where she is already successful. Identify what she is currently able to do, then start to gradually push her to do just a little more than she does on her own. You can use prompting and reinforcement to increase her use of joint attention. 

For example, if she ignores all requests for joint attention from others and appears only interested in her favorite things, start to look at some of her favorite things with her.  Help her point to the item then provide her with reinforcement.

If your learner can show you things that she enjoys but does not look at other things with you, gently help her look at something with you and then immediately provide reinforcement.

Responding to Joint Attention

There are several ways to teach your learner to respond to requests for joint attention.

  • If your learner doesn’t respond at all when you request joint attention you can begin by putting a favorite toy in front of them, then moving it so that their eyes follow the toy.
  • If your learner sometimes responds to requests for joint attention trying putting a favorite toy a short distance away and saying “Look!” in a really excited voice. If that doesn’t work try having the toy make a noise that might draw the learner’s attention.

Be prepared with a reinforcer when your learner responds to a request for joint attention. The video Autism and Joint Attention | Fun Minute Tip 3 by Into the Spectrum discusses how you can do this:

Initiating Joint Attention

To teach your learner how to initiate requests for joint attention start by prompting her to gain your attention and gradually reduce the amount of prompting. Encourage her to show you a favorite toy by pointing. In the beginning you may need to teach her to shape her fingers and then use one finger to touch the toy.

Work in requests for joint attention throughout the session. Encourage her to request attention by keeping some favorite toys out of reach so that she has to initiation joint attention to ask for the toy. When offering choices have her point to the one she wants.

As above, be sure to use reinforcement with your learner. If her favorite toy has an on/off button try turning the toy on when your learner points to it.

Observe How the Learner Responds

Continue to observe your learner and determine what she is doing independently.  Use this as a guide to help you determine what you can teach her next.

Gradually support your learner in using her new-found skills with other people.  It’s best to begin with other adults before moving on to peers.  Peers are less patient than adults and don’t always understand how the learner communicates.  Once your learner develops more effective joint attention, begin to encourage him to approach peers.  His peers might also need some help to understand the social interaction at first.



Play is an important way children learn and practice socials skills, but play can also be important to adolescents and adults. Leisure skills are a way for us all to unwind, fill time, and learn new skills. Autistic learners often don’t develop these skills without intervention. Depending on where your learner starts you may need to begin by teaching basic play skills before moving on to teach more complex skills that will improve their social skills.

Why is it so important to teach play skills?

Restricted interests is a core trait of autistic learners.  Autistic learners often prefer to engage in a very small range of activities. Most of the time, this is fine; however, many learners benefit from finding new ways to explore their interests or finding ways to incorporate those interests into other activities. These literal thinkers also struggle with symbolic play. Restricted symbolic play can lead to difficulties with abstract language and difficulties engaging socially with their peers. Failure to learn basic play and social skills may also lead to a cycle of decisions that can further inhibit your learner’s ability to learn and grow.

Play is an important component of social interactions between young children. Joining in activities with their peers often requires specific teaching. This form of instruction is often not available within the general education classroom.

Learners needing instruction on initiating and sustaining interactions with peers often struggle in classrooms or other social environments. Exclusion from the general education classroom compounds effects of limited interactions with peers. Without the availability of peers to interact with, their social deficits perpetuate. They lose the opportunity to practice social and communication skills during school hours. This cycle can continue through a learner’s entire education and into the work environment.

Learners develop valuable skills from watching their peers. Peer modeling reduces the burden of explicit teaching of every skill. These skills include a variety of social, academic, leisure, and vocational skills. Placement in a restricted educational setting negates this opportunity.

Learning Through Play

Learners practice important skills through play: emotional regulation, problem solving, and creative thinking. They develop and rehearse communication skills. Even when playing alone, children practice dialog or babble.

Young learners encounter challenges during play that promote frustration tolerance. They learn creative thinking skills when practicing imaginative play, and can learn to use toys or everyday objects in new and creative ways. Yes, using the banana as a telephone is actually an important play skill.

Play encourages social development and interaction. Many autistic learners prefer to spend time by themselves.This preference for isolation can make their experiences later in life more difficult. Once in school or in the workforce, every individual faces a variety of social interactions. They need to have some repertoire of skills to handle these situations, even if it’s the ability to communicate their desire to be alone.

Play supports exploration and flexible thinking. Autistic learners tend to be rigid in their routines and their view of the world. Learning to play in new and different ways can expand their ability to be creative and open to new experiences.

Understanding How Autistic Learners Play

Autistic learners play in unique ways. They might line up their toys or play in routine, ritualistic ways. Many autistic learners enjoy sensory play.  This includes activities like bubbles, cause and effect toys or things that light up.  The cause and effect relationship is concrete and predictable. This makes it comfortable and familiar for your learner.  However, it may take specific intervention to help your learner move beyond this type of play.

Why do autistic learners line up toys or other objects?

Autistic learners often play in routine, ritualistic ways, including playing with toys without the use of imagination. Because of this, they may line up toys or focus intently on one part of a toy. While other children may build a fort out of a pile of blocks, an autistic child may choose to line them up in neat rows or in seemingly random order around the floor. Some children may take a toy truck and use it to knock over their fort, while an autistic child might sit spinning one of the wheels or watch the wheel closely as it turns against the rug.

Why? Autistic children think concretely, have restricted or repetitive interests, and often have difficulty with imaginative play. As a result, autistic children may not use items or objects in unique ways as other children do.

Is ritualistic play a problem?

Typically, playing in routine ways is not a problem. However, it becomes a problem when a learner does this to the exclusion of all other forms of activity.

A learner’s tendency to play alone can inhibit social interaction. At school or in social situations an autistic learner may feel more comfortable playing by himself. Other children may not understand how he likes to play and he may be confused by their games. But with patience and understanding they can benefit by learning to play together. Often one of the best interventions is to teach the learner’s peers how to engage in play along with the learner.

Additionally, ritualistic play can limit a learner’s ability to develop other play and leisure skills. Many children, and even adults, tend to stick to things they are comfortable doing. An autistic learner may need some extra help in learning to do things outside his comfort zone.

When attempting to get a learner to engage in other types of play, be sure to look for signs of assent, as discussed in our post Understanding Assent and Assent Withdrawal in ABA.

Types of Play

Children play in a variety of ways. Young babies and toddlers engage in functional play as they begin to explore their world. This might include touching or squeezing objects, or even climbing on furniture and play structures. Exploratory play allows children to use their senses as they take in their environment, closely studying objects to experience their color, size, shape, feel and smell. With constructive play children develop a sense of accomplishment by building, creating and drawing.

While all these types of play are important, we’re going to focus here on two other types of play:

  1. Symbolic Play
  2. Social Play

These types of play have the closest correlation with social skills.

Symbolic Play

When children engage in symbolic play, they use objects to represent some other object or action through play.  This might look like using a banana as a telephone, using a box as a car, or using a towel as a cape.  When children use cushions and blankets to build a fort in the living room they’re engaging in symbolic play. Using sheets of paper to build a road for toy cars is another example.

Children usually begin to engage in this type of play around the age of 3; however, autistic children often struggle with engaging in symbolic play. 

On the continuum of play skills, pretend or imaginative play is the most advanced of all play skills.  This play requires the ability to separate an object from its true meaning and assign it an arbitrary meaning.  Pretend play offers vital opportunities for children to practice roles outside of the every day, but also builds a long list of additional skills including:

  • Problem solving
  • Creative thinking
  • Perspective taking
  • Social relationships
  • Abstract thinking

Social Play

Social play is a series of skills that children use to engage with other children.  Social play looks different at different ages and stages, but autistic children may not develop these skills on their own.  It involves children interacting with each other during play.  This play is typically structured and follows rules that have been established by the children.  Many times these rules are established through communication, but even if your learner doesn’t communicate vocally, he can still develop meaningful play skills.

Social play often includes symbolic or imaginary play, so teaching symbolic play first can help build social play skills.

Teaching Play Skills

Play skills can be taught the same way other skills are taught – by breaking down big ideas into smaller, easy-to-understand steps. But play generally develops in set stages. Consider the stages of play as you design your task analysis to teach these skills.

Step 1: Understand the Stages of Play

There are 6 essential stages of play. This short video shows what each stage looks like:

Unoccupied play usually develops from the ages of 0-2. This includes sensory play and manipulating objects.

Solitary play usually emerges between 2-3. At this stage simple functional play such as building a block tower emerges.

Onlooker play is common among children 2 ½-3 ½. A child may begin watching what her peers are doing and taking in the information even if she’s not ready to join in on the fun.

Parallel play is also seen between the ages of 2 ½-3 ½. This involves the child going beyond observing to include engaging in the same activity next to a peer with minimal interaction,

Associative play happens as children begin to interact during play. They may both work on creating a building but there is no discussion about how it should be done or who should construct which parts.

Cooperative/social play is the final stage. At this level, children will negotiate and create rules in their play-

If your learner primarily engages in sensory play, it would be unrealistic to expect him to be able to engage in cooperative imaginative play.  You will need to think about your learner’s current abilities and identify how best to inch him further toward more creative play

Step 2: Observe Your Learner

What does your learner do when she is left on her own? Does she play with toys the way they are intended to be used (functionally)? Or does she use items creatively?  Does she use toys primarily for a sensory experience?

Step 3: Determine the Next Stage

Play often progresses in stages. Use your observations from watching her play to determine which stage her skills fall into, then focus on teaching her skills that will bring her to the next level of play. Remember that autistic children develop at their own pace. The ages above are guidelines indicating when you might see these skills in neurotypical children. Regardless of your learner’s age, begin at whatever stage they are in, and move from there.

Step 4: Identify one activity that your learner enjoys

This could include blocks, cars, characters, Play Doh, trains, animals, flags, fans, gears, plumbing, or anything that will hold your learner’s interest. If the learner is new to your program, consider asking care givers about their special interests.

Step 5: Break down the play goal

For example, if your learner loves ice cream, maybe the ultimate goal will be a play scenario where he works at an ice cream shop and a peer or sibling is his customer. Then create a task analysis to break the goal into small, concrete steps. This might look like:

  1. Pretend that an empty bowl has ice cream
  2. Use a cardboard box as the shop counter
  3. A peer is a customer

Depending on your learner’s skills, these steps may need to be broken down even further. For example, you might need to teach the idea that a box can be something else before introducing the idea that it can also be a shop counter. For example, you could have your learner pretend a large box is a car, then have him use it as a dog house and then a bookcase.

Step 6: Reinforce desired behavior

As you teach your learner the play scenario make sure you are focusing on just one step at a time. Then use a high rate of reinforcement when your learner attempts the new skill. Don’t expect the play to be the reinforcer.

Ideas to Teach Symbolic Play

Sometimes the best teaching methods take a little creativity. As adults we often move away from symbolic play and imagining different uses for everyday objects. These ideas will help get you started.

Model the use of objects in flexible ways

  • Pretend a bowl is a hat
  • Use a block as a car
  • Imagine that a towel is a superhero cape
  • Use a blanket to build a tent

Teach a variety of scripts for different objects

  • Drive the fire truck to the block tower to put out a fire
  • Order ice cream at the window, paying for it and give the imaginary ice cream
  • Feed the baby doll and putting her to bed
  • Make dinner in the pretend kitchen
  • Create a “store” with some of her favorite items
  • Make a restaurant where his friends can “order” from the “menu”

Develop and expand play routines using your learner’s interests

  • If your learner likes the Cars movie, build a garage for Mater to take Lightning McQueen to when he breaks down.
  • Are dinosaurs her special interest?  Have other dinosaurs hiding behind table legs as the T-Rex goes on the hunt for dinner.
  • Gears and gadgets are your learner’s thing?  Maybe he is the mechanic fixing an important machine!


Practice Social Situations

Like all of us, autistic learners get better at things they practice. It helps them learn what to expect from social interactions and allows them to prepare in advance.

Social Stories may be an effective tool for teaching social skills. Although a study by Sani Bozkurt and Vuran (2014) found inconclusive results, the National Standards Project-Phase 1 (2009) found sufficient research to classify Social Stories as an established intervention.

Carol Gray developed the Social Stories tool that provides the framework that combines personalized text and illustrations or photos that help autistic learners understand social situations. Social Stories must meet 10 defining criteria that you can find in her document The Social Story Philosophy.

You can find 150 premade social stories in her book The New Social Story Book or you can create your own.

Autism Speaks has partnered with the University of Washington READI Lab to create Personalized Teaching Stories. These free templates follow Carol Gray’s social story model. They allow you to use your own photos and text to develop stories that teach what to expect in various social situations such as:

  • Going to a restaurant or store
  • Handling a bully
  • Participating in a play date
  • Taking turns

Here is an example of a Social Story to help a learner develop skills for playing with peers at the park. The story is simple and includes specific steps the learner can take to enjoy time with peers.

Playing with friends at the park social story



Understanding and supporting autistic learners in their social skills development is crucial for fostering inclusivity and empathy within our communities. Autism is a unique neurodevelopmental condition that can present challenges in social interactions, but with the right approach and support, autistic learners can thrive and build meaningful connections with others.

Embracing neurodiversity means recognizing that every individual possesses a valuable perspective, and by creating environments that accommodate various social needs, we create a more compassionate and accepting society. Educating ourselves and raising awareness about autism is a powerful step towards breaking down stigmas and misconceptions, allowing us to build bridges of understanding and acceptance.

It is essential to remember that each person’s journey is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to social skills development. Patience, empathy, and a willingness to learn from one another are fundamental in providing the necessary support for those with autism to flourish socially.

As a community, let us strive to be more inclusive and considerate, providing opportunities for individuals with autism to participate in social settings comfortably. By fostering a culture of acceptance and understanding, we can empower those with autism to develop their social skills and embrace their individuality confidently.

Together, we can create a world where everyone feels valued and embraced for who they are, regardless of their social abilities or differences. Let us work hand in hand to build a more compassionate society that celebrates diversity, promotes inclusivity, and fosters meaningful connections among all individuals.


Ethical Considerations Related to Teaching Social Skills

The table below presents some important ethical considerations when teaching social skills. The table includes specific action steps to help you ensure you practice in an ethical way.

Ethical ConcernDescriptionAction Steps to Ensure Ethical Practice
Lack of IndividualizationTeaching social skills should consider individual differences and diverse needs. Failure to individualize instruction may lead to ineffective interventions and neglecting specific challenges.Conduct thorough assessments to identify individual strengths and areas for growth. Tailor social skill instruction to each person’s unique needs and preferences.
Informed ConsentTeaching social skills may involve gathering personal data and implementing interventions. Ethical concerns arise when participants or their guardians are not adequately informed about the process and potential risks.Obtain informed consent from individuals and/or their guardians before starting social skill instruction. Provide clear explanations of the purpose, procedures, potential outcomes, and any associated risks.
Stigmatization and LabelingTeaching social skills may require focusing on specific behavioral deficits. Ethical concerns arise when individuals are labeled or stigmatized based on their struggles, potentially leading to negative self-perception.Avoid labeling individuals based on their challenges and use language that aligns with how they identify themselves. Emphasize strengths and potential growth areas in a supportive manner.
Respect for AutonomyTeaching social skills should respect individuals’ autonomy and preferences. Ethical concerns arise when interventions are imposed without considering the participants’ input or choices.Involve individuals in goal setting and intervention planning. Seek input and feedback from participants to tailor instruction and promote active engagement.
Cultural SensitivityTeaching social skills should consider cultural differences and diverse backgrounds. Ethical concerns arise when interventions are culturally inappropriate or insensitive, potentially perpetuating stereotypes.Educate instructors about cultural diversity and sensitivity. Adapt social skill instruction to be inclusive and respectful of different cultural norms and practices.
Confidentiality and PrivacyTeaching social skills may involve discussing personal experiences and challenges. Ethical concerns arise when information shared during instruction is not kept confidential, potentially breaching privacy.Establish clear guidelines for maintaining confidentiality. Ensure that information shared during instruction is securely stored and only accessible to relevant team members.
Generalization of SkillsTeaching social skills should promote generalization across various settings. Ethical concerns arise when acquired skills are not practiced or do not transfer to real-life situations effectively.Incorporate opportunities for practicing social skills in various contexts and settings. Provide support to generalize skills to different environments, including naturalistic settings.
Potential for HarmTeaching social skills may involve role-playing and addressing sensitive topics. Ethical concerns arise when interventions inadvertently cause emotional distress or harm to participants.Monitor participants’ emotional well-being during instruction. Offer debriefing and support after role-playing or addressing sensitive issues. Adjust interventions if potential harm is identified.
Competence and TrainingTeaching social skills requires instructors with appropriate training and expertise. Ethical concerns arise when unqualified individuals attempt to teach complex social behaviors.Ensure instructors have adequate training and experience in teaching social skills. Pursue professional development opportunities to enhance instructional competence.
Collaborative ApproachTeaching social skills should involve collaboration among professionals, individuals, and caregivers. Ethical concerns arise when interventions are imposed without considering input from all stakeholders.Establish a collaborative team approach that includes individuals, caregivers, educators, and relevant professionals. Involve all stakeholders in decision-making and intervention planning processes.

Note: The table presents ten ethical concerns related to teaching social skills, along with descriptions of each concern and suggested action steps to ensure ethical practice. It is essential to approach social skills instruction with sensitivity, individualization, and a focus on promoting autonomy and well-being while respecting cultural diversity and privacy.


Research Related to Teaching Social Skills

Below is a table summarizing research articles related to teaching social skills. The table includes important action steps to help you put these ideas into practice.

Article TitleSummaryAction Steps
The effects of an educational program based on modeling and social stories on improvements in the social skills of students with autism.This study evaluates the impact of an educational program that incorporates modeling and social stories on enhancing the social skills of students with autism. The results indicate that the program led to significant improvements in the social abilities of the participants.Parents and educators can implement educational programs that involve modeling and social stories to promote social skill development in students with autism. Creating personalized social stories and using modeling techniques can enhance social interactions and communication skills.
Generalization and maintenance of preschool children’s social skills: A critical review and analysis.The article critically reviews studies on generalization and maintenance of social skills in preschool children. It highlights the need for more research in this area and emphasizes the importance of considering multiple factors influencing generalization to real-life situations.Teachers and caregivers should focus on promoting the generalization of social skills learned in controlled settings to real-life situations. Employ various techniques, reinforcement strategies, and contextual modifications to increase the likelihood of generalization and maintenance of social skills.
Social skills and behavior analysis: Historical connection and new issues.This article explores the historical connection between behavior analysis and social skills development. It addresses new issues and challenges in the field, emphasizing the role of behavior analysis in teaching social skills effectively.Behavior analysts and educators should leverage behavior analysis techniques to design effective interventions for teaching social skills. Incorporate evidence-based strategies, such as positive reinforcement and modeling, to facilitate social skill development in individuals.
Parent‐implemented behavioral skills training of social skills.The research examines the efficacy of a parent-implemented behavioral skills training program for enhancing social skills in children. The study shows that parents can effectively deliver the intervention and contribute to the development of their children’s social abilities.Parents can actively participate in teaching social skills to their children by using behavioral skills training techniques. Consistent practice, positive reinforcement, and patience are key components in effectively implementing social skill interventions at home.
Teaching social skills to students with autism: A video modeling social stories approach.This article introduces a social skills training approach that combines video modeling and social stories for students with autism. The study reveals that this method is effective in promoting social skill acquisition in individuals with autism.Educators and therapists can integrate video modeling and social stories to teach social skills to students with autism. Create personalized social stories that address specific social challenges, and use video models to demonstrate appropriate social behaviors.
Long-term social skills group training for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder: a randomized controlled trial.This randomized controlled trial examines the long-term effects of social skills group training on children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The results demonstrate that the training significantly enhances social skills and adaptive behaviors in individuals with ASD.Implement long-term social skills group training programs for children and adolescents with ASD to foster sustained improvements in social abilities. Utilize a variety of social activities and role-playing exercises to enhance social interactions and adaptive behaviors in individuals with ASD.
Using video self-modelled social stories to teach social skills to a young child with autism.The study investigates the effectiveness of video self-modeling and social stories in teaching social skills to a young child with autism. The results indicate that this intervention led to positive changes in the child’s social behavior.Employ video self-modeling and social stories to teach social skills to young children with autism. Create videos that showcase the child engaging in appropriate social interactions and incorporate personalized social stories to reinforce desired social behaviors.
Social-skills treatments for children with autism spectrum disorders: An overview.This article provides an overview of various social skills treatments for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). It discusses the effectiveness of different approaches, such as behavioral interventions and peer-mediated interventions, in enhancing social skills in individuals with ASD.Professionals working with children with ASD should consider implementing a range of social-skills treatments, including behavioral interventions and peer-mediated interventions. Select the most appropriate intervention based on the child’s needs and preferences to foster meaningful social skill development.
Loneliness as a mediator for college students’ social skills and experiences of depression and anxiety.The study examines the relationship between loneliness, social skills, depression, and anxiety in college students. It identifies loneliness as a mediator between social skills and experiences of depression and anxiety, highlighting the importance of addressing loneliness in promoting mental well-being.College counselors and mental health professionals should address loneliness as a potential mediator for depression and anxiety in college students. Offer social skills training programs and interventions that encourage social interactions and support networks to reduce feelings of loneliness and improve mental well-being.
Developing social skills and social competence in children with autism.This article focuses on developing social skills and social competence in children with autism. It emphasizes the significance of early interventions and the role of parents, teachers, and therapists in fostering social development in children with autism.Parents, teachers, and therapists should collaborate to implement early interventions that target social skills and social competence in children with autism. Utilize evidence-based techniques, such as behavioral skills training and social stories, to promote social interactions and communication abilities in children with autism.
Using video modeling to teach social skills for employment to youth with intellectual disability.The study investigates the use of video modeling to teach social skills for employment to youth with intellectual disabilities. The results indicate that video modeling is an effective method to enhance social skills in this population, providing valuable support for their transition to the workforce.For youth with intellectual disabilities, use video modeling to teach essential social skills needed for employment. Create videos that depict appropriate workplace behaviors and interactions, and provide consistent feedback and reinforcement to help individuals develop their social abilities for a successful transition to the workforce.
An analysis of the use of Social Stories in teaching social skills to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.This article analyzes the use of Social Stories in teaching social skills to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). It emphasizes the importance of individualized Social Stories tailored to the specific needs and preferences of each child with ASD.Educators and therapists should create individualized Social Stories to teach social skills to children with ASD. Tailor the stories to address specific social challenges and incorporate visual aids and personalized narratives to facilitate social skill development in children with ASD.
Using computer-presented social stories and video models to increase the social communication skills of children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders.The article explores the effectiveness of computer-presented social stories and video models in enhancing the social communication skills of children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders. The study shows that these interventions positively impact the social communication abilities of individuals with autism.Utilize computer-presented social stories and video models to improve the social communication skills of children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders. Develop interactive and engaging materials that depict appropriate social behaviors and interactions, and incorporate these resources into social skills training programs for individuals with autism.
Social stories, written text cues, and video feedback: Effects on social communication of children with autism.The article investigates the effects of social stories, written text cues, and video feedback on the social communication skills of children with autism. The study reveals that these interventions lead to improvements in social communication abilities in individuals with autism.Combine social stories, written text cues, and video feedback to enhance the social communication skills of children with autism. Create personalized social stories and use video feedback to promote appropriate social behaviors and communication techniques. Utilize written text cues to reinforce social skills and help individuals with autism navigate social interactions effectively.
Teaching social skills to people with autism.This article discusses various approaches for teaching social skills to individuals with autism. It highlights the importance of focusing on individual strengths and interests and utilizing evidence-based strategies such as video modeling, role-playing, and structured teaching to enhance social skills in people with autism.Tailor social skills training programs to meet the unique needs and interests of individuals with autism. Incorporate video modeling, role-playing, and structured teaching to teach appropriate social behaviors and enhance social interactions. Implement ongoing assessments to track progress and modify interventions as needed to support individuals with autism in developing meaningful social skills.


References and Related Reading

Alkinj, I., Pereira, A., & Santos, P. C. (2022). The effects of an educational program based on modeling and social stories on improvements in the social skills of students with autism. Heliyon8(5).

Chandler, L. K., Lubeck, R. C., & Fowler, S. A. (1992). Generalization and maintenance of preschool children’s social skills: A critical review and analysis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis25(2), 415-428.

Del Prette, Z. A. P., & Del Prette, A. (2010). Social skills and behavior analysis: Historical connection and new issues. Perspectivas em Análise do Comportamento1(2), 104-115.

Dogan, R. K., King, M. L., Fischetti, A. T., Lake, C. M., Mathews, T. L., & Warzak, W. J. (2017). Parent‐implemented behavioral skills training of social skills. Journal of applied behavior analysis50(4), 805-818.

Gray, C. (2018). Social stories 10. Carol Gray Social Stories.

Halle, S., Ninness, C., Ninness, S. K., & Lawson, D. (2016). Teaching social skills to students with autism: A video modeling social stories approach. Behavior and Social Issues25, 42-54.

Jonsson, U., Olsson, N. C., Coco, C., Görling, A., Flygare, O., Råde, A., … & Bölte, S. (2019). Long-term social skills group training for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder: a randomized controlled trial. European child & adolescent psychiatry28, 189-201.

Litras, S., Moore, D. W., & Anderson, A. (2010). Using video self-modelled social stories to teach social skills to a young child with autism. Autism research and treatment2010.

Matson, J. L., Matson, M. L., & Rivet, T. T. (2007). Social-skills treatments for children with autism spectrum disorders: An overview. Behavior modification31(5), 682-707.

Moeller, R. W., & Seehuus, M. (2019). Loneliness as a mediator for college students’ social skills and experiences of depression and anxiety. Journal of adolescence73, 1-13.

National Standards-Phase 1 (2009). National Autism Center at May Institute. (2022, March 31).

Øzerk, K., Özerk, G., & Silveira-Zaldivar, T. (2021). Developing social skills and social competence in children with autism. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education13(3), 341-363.

Park, J., Bouck, E. C., & Duenas, A. (2020). Using video modeling to teach social skills for employment to youth with intellectual disability. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals43(1), 40-52.

Sani Bozkurt, S., & Vuran, S. (2014). An analysis of the use of Social Stories in teaching social skills to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Educational Sciences: Theory and Practice14(5), 1875-1892.

Sansosti, F. J., & Powell-Smith, K. A. (2008). Using computer-presented social stories and video models to increase the social communication skills of children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions10(3), 162-178.

Social Skills and autism. Autism Speaks. (n.d.).

Thiemann, K. S., & Goldstein, H. (2001). Social stories, written text cues, and video feedback: Effects on social communication of children with autism. Journal of applied behavior analysis34(4), 425-446.

Weiss, M. J., & Harris, S. L. (2001). Teaching social skills to people with autism. Behavior modification25(5), 785-802.

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