Posted in Autism, Down syndrome

Blog #76~Social Skills and Autism

Blog #76~ Social Skills and Autism

A few weeks ago I did a guest lecture at Northern Illinois University. The graduate level class topic was “Functional Communication Skills and Social Skills” from a parent perspective.

NIU at  WCC Sugar Grove Campus

Bodie Hall Waubonsee Community College
Blog #73 covered the topic of communication skills as it relates to autism. This week I will cover how to incorporate social skills for individuals with autism. Nick has Down syndrome and autism. It makes for an interesting mix because his verbal speech is lacking, yet he is very outgoing.

Here some of the ways in which his teachers have incorporated opportunities to practice social skills:

*Lunch bunch groups in school-play board games, practice turn taking, boundaries.

*Community outings to grocery store, library, mall, and eating out.

*School and community jobs

*Practice self-regulation through his behavior plan. Work in a controlled setting on  what triggers his outbursts.

*Social Groups tailored for kids/teens with autism

*Best Buddies Program- monthly meetings, parties, bowling, movies, dances, etc…

Nick trying a hat at Jewel Osco Grocery Store 🙂 ………..

016 (2)

All of these opportunities have helped Nick to behave more appropriately when out in the public. When Nick was in middle school he went to each classroom and emptied the recycling bins. He was able to practice greeting students. At the end of the semester, the students made thank you card for Nick: IMG01

Having peer role models is very valuable in this process. At his recent school conference his teacher commented that Nick was quite “restaurant savvy.”

Nick’s all aboard for lunch with his classmates 🙂

All Aboard Diner 4-23-10 006

Children and teens with autism can benefit in participating in social skills groups. These groups have not been a fit for Nick because he lacks the verbal skills. They tend to be suited for higher functioning persons with autism who have speech. Check with community autism support groups, speech therapy clinics and schools to find a one in your area.

Here is a sampling of topics that might be covered in a social group for individuals with autism:

*Interventions for hitting/biting and conflict resolution

*Handling transitions

*Asking friends to play and what to do if they don’t want to play with you.

*Turn taking in general conversation.

*Facilitating cooperative play- taking turns, practicing patience coping with losing a game

*Dealing with large crowds, busy settings and stimulus overload.

*Initiating a variety of conversational topics – Sometimes intense, restricted interests result in sticking with only their preferred topics (like dinosaurs, academy award winning movies, etc..)

*Working on conversations that reciprocate the interests of others in the group.

*Providing needed information based on a partner’s knowledge of the topic – Gauging length of conversational turn and working on noticing the cues others send us so we can adjust the length of our conversational turn.

Currently, Nick participates in the post-secondary transition program. His schedule  includes community trips to the store, library, mall walking, cooking, vocational jobs and move and groove (dance party) along with the regular curriculum. The STEPS program also has dances and recreational trips after school from time to time. As you can see, there are  many occasions built in his schedule to practice social skills. It is essential to keep Nick’s world open and provide opportunities to socialize.

This past weekend his brother came home from college. I found it touching that Nick wanted to hang out upstairs in Hank’s room a lot of the time he was here.

Nick with his brother a few years back…..


Having a child with autism doesn’t mean you have to close yourself off to the world. Look for ways to get out there and mingle. That’s what is in my noggin this week! 🙂


Teresa is the Author of "A New Course: A Mother's Journey Navigating Down Syndrome and Autism" and the mother of two boys. Her youngest son, Nick is 29 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD). Teresa's passion is helping others understand and navigate co-occurring Down syndrome and autism. She is a DS-ASD consultant, advocate, speaker, and author. Follow Nick's world on Facebook, Instagram & Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice of Autism and on Twitter @tjunnerstall. For more information and media links, visit

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