Recently, I was reviewing a workshop I developed a few years ago on teaching social skills to children, particularly the social skill of resolving conflicts peacefully. In looking over this material I began to wonder how I should adjust the information to teaching autistic children. I quickly found myself questioning if I had to alter it at all. Does the information really need to be revised and do these skills need to be taught differently?
In order for children to develop effective conflict resolution skills they have to learn turn taking and develop the ability to take the perspective of another. None of us came into this world knowing how to do this automatically; it is a skill that even neurotypical children need to be taught although it may be easier and quicker for them to acquire. It has been documented that children on the autism spectrum are challenged by a brain processing function called Theory of Mind – the ability to figure out what another person may be thinking. This makes perspective taking more challenging to teach yet not impossible.
A neurotypical child may be born with an innate sense of social awareness but conflict resolution skills do not become fully operational until stimulated by instruction and guidance. For various reasons some of these children may need more teaching than others before they “get it” and some never do. The same thing applies to children with autism depending on where they sit on the spectrum. Teaching them the skills of turn taking, sharing and perspective taking will definitely require more repetition, almost incessant instruction, but many will eventually be able to retain and utilize the information effectively. In her book, Thinking in Pictures, Temple Grandin states that turn taking and sharing needed to be “drilled” into her when she was young and now realizes how important it was that her parents did just that.
So drill we must but the information stays the same. Modifications may need to be made but all kids, even neurotypical ones need them depending on their abilities. Pay attention to the way your child learns best by keeping the following in mind: their language development and ability to communicate, their threshold for sensory stimulation, their fondness for routine and capacity to generalize. Use all of this information and more to modify your approach and remember it is never too early to begin giving your children the gift of social functioning that will help them make connections in a social world.
Connie Hammer, MSW, parent educator and PCI certified parent coach, supports parents of young children recently diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder by uncovering abilities and changing possibilities. If you are looking for simple ways to fine-tune your parent-child connection, get your FREE ecourse and weekly parenting tips on how to create the family life you desire and deserve, visit http://www.parentcoachingforautism.com