Strategies/Commentary on social/communication techniques for parents to support their children with ASD in the classroom

Strategies/Commentary on social/communication techniques for parents to support their children with ASD in the classroom (Guest Post):

How parents can help facilitate successful social interactions between children with ASD and their neuro-typical playmates.

Working with children with autism to create success in interpersonal relationships is a broad-based task. To be successful, the child needs to be proficient in a number of areas, including functional skills, communication skills, anxiety management skills, and executive functioning skills.

Regardless of their intellectual abilities, or even how “normal” (high functioning) they appear, most people with autism still need support in this arena. Although the stereotype is of a child with autism desiring to be alone in their room, the truth is there are introvert and extroverts in about the same proportion as in the neuro-typical population, about 50/50.

The extroverts want to be social and want to have friends and can even make friends easily, however, due to their lack of social understanding, most often these relationships don’t survive because the individual with autism becomes very high maintenance from the perspective of someone who is neuro-typical.

As a parent of a child with autism, there is a simple (not to be confused with easy) 3 step process you can use to help your child succeed in social interactions: 1) Teach pre-requisite social skills; 2) Practice the skills at home, including the exact words to say; 3) Put the child in structured social situations where there are potential friends to be made, e.g. Boy Scouts,Girl Scouts, school band, drama activities, sports, etc. The structure supports the child’s success.

The most important of these steps is to practice at home. Practice, practice,practice. The helps to reduce the anxiety for a child who otherwise can suffer with a lack of social understanding, communication difficulties, stress from the unpredictable nature of the interactions, and the inability to function effectively in a social situation.

Communication techniques for children with autism.

Autism affects communication success both in the child’s ability to express themselves effectively, but just as importantly in the child’s ability to comprehend what you are communicating.

It is commonly known that children with autism may have short term memory issues, severe anxiety, a lack of social motivation,and lack of understanding of colloquialisms and slang. What is less commonly known is that meaning often gets lost in their minds because of difficulty understanding abstract language and concepts (e.g. concepts such as “hurry up!”), the inability to draw upon world knowledge and previous experience, and the inability to read between the lines.  In short, the rest of us apply socially based understanding to much of what we are hearing to make the meaning complete and understandable.

To be successful at delivering our message to someone on the autism spectrum, we must communicate in ways that make it most likely that the individual will comprehend the full meaning of what we are saying. Here are 5 tips to help the individual with autism understand your meaning fully:

  1. Speak in concrete terms. Do not leave anything open to innuendo, implication, or suggestion. Do not use abstract concepts. If you cannot draw a stick figure doing it, it is too abstract!
  2. Detail consequences carefully, stating both negative and positive consequences for all options. Don’t assume the individual will understand implied information. For example, instead of the simple “If your homework is done, you can go to the church event tonight…” say “If your homework is done,you can go to the event at church tonight, but if your homework is not done, you cannot go.” This makes both outcomes explicit.
  3. Be prepared for “I don’t know”and “I don’t care” responses when asking questions. Our loved ones with autism need time to process. If you get “I don’t know” as the answer, check to see if you are asking an abstract question. “What do you want for dinner?” is much more difficult to answer than “Do you want chicken or spaghetti for dinner.” If that is still overwhelming, then ask yes/no questions such as “do you want chicken for dinner?” if that doesn’t elicit a response, decide for your self and say, “Ok, if you don’t know I am going to plan to make chicken.” Trust me, if that is a problem, you will know it now!
  4. Take one thing at a time and speak at a pace that is comfortable for the person with autism to process the information. Too many items or too much information delivered too quickly will cause the meaning to get lost.
  5. Be aware of“social shorthand,” which means don’t expect the individual to be familiar with or to accept common knowledge without a debate.

Social success is not just about having friendships. Every interaction with another human being qualifies as a social interaction and requires effective communication. Driving a car, ordering chicken nuggets at McDonald’s, asking the teacher to explain an assignment, answering the telephone, and asking to be excused from class to go to the bathroom are all social interactions, and all can be difficult, anxiety producing and feel uncomfortable to those on the autism spectrum. This makes the need for teaching social and communication skills not only about successful friendships for our children with autism, but also about creating functional skills that facilitate the child’s successful life.

ABOUT JEANNE BEARD:  Jeanne Beard, founder of the National Autism Academy and author of “Autism & The Rest Of Us”, has decades of experience in the trenches with Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorders, and the people diagnosed with them. In addition to her essential life experience creating functional, nurturing, and balanced relationships with those on the spectrum, Jeanne was mentored by clinical expert Timothy Wahlberg, PhD during the writing of his clinical guide “Finding the Gray: Understanding and Thriving in the Black and White World of Autism and Asperger’s.”  Through her incredible insight into the thoughts, experiences, and challenges of those on the spectrum AND of the rest of us, Jeanne builds a bridge to hope and a better future for us all.

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