Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Resources
Best Practices for Supporting Social Communication
Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) experience comfort from familiar routines, including routine ways of interacting with others (Quill, 2011). This preference for routine is regularly challenged by natural interactions that are constantly changing and are not predictable. For example, do you know what I will say next? Most conversations require us to be "flexible" from moment to moment; however, the ability to communicate in a flexible manner is impaired for many individuals with ASD. They need explicit instruction to predict and react to what you will say next, and they derive comfort from the familiar routine. Moreover, if we want students with ASD to join in academic or social activities with peers, we need to explicitly instruct them on the skills to do so (because of a skills acquisition deficit), or address factors which impede the performance of this skill (performance deficit) due to factors such as anxiety or sensory sensitivities.
Supporting and explicitly instructing social communication involves creating a manageable social context for the student to practice and explore appropriate use of language. It also involves direct instruction in the components of a communicative event and steps of "initiate-sustain-inhibit-shift," and ways to manage each of these steps. Encouraging and creating an environment that is safe (with routines), fun, student-centered and relevant is critical for participation.
Some strategies are specifically designed to help individuals with ASD predict what others will say, while others are aimed at teaching a new skill or enhancing the performance of existing skills. A Social Story™ is a frequently used strategy to teach and enhance the social skills of individuals with ASD (Gray, 2000). A Social Story™ presents social concepts and rules explicitly in the form of a brief story and may be used to teach a number of social and behavioral concepts, such as initiating interactions, making transitions and following etiquette for going on a field trip.
Gray emphasizes that the story should be written in response to the individual’s personal needs. For example, prior to heading for a college interview, an individual with ASD should be given a story which explicitly explains the type of interactions he or she may encounter at the interview. This story could include steps on how to introduce oneself, when to shake hands with the interviewer, how to respond to specific nonverbal cues, and how to respond appropriately to practiced interview questions. Social Stories are an effective intervention strategy for addressing the social, communication and behavioral functioning of children and adolescents with ASD (Sansosti, Powell-Smith, & Kincaid, 2004). Retrieved from http://www.thegraycenter.org
Provide Opportunities for Self-Selection
Provide opportunities for students to self-select participation in Pragmatic Language Groups. Pragmatic Language Groups are small groups of two to four individuals designed to create a safe environment for the students to practice, with the goal of moving students to become independent with the target skill. Within these Pragmatic Language Groups, students have the opportunity to practice and develop self-awareness, self-monitoring, self-control, mastering the sequence of conversation and receive training in interpreting nonverbal cues.
Offer Peer Mentoring or Implement a Student Mentoring Program
Match neurotypical students with students with ASD to create supportive peer mentoring relationships within campus organizations, teams and college courses. Mentoring creates a win-win situation for student mentors who could receive course credit, meaningful training or community service credit. The students with ASD are able to approach unfamiliar situations and campus organizations with a mentor and practice social pragmatics in context, reducing isolating behavior and controlling the anxiety caused by new situations.
Provide Outside Classroom Support
In particular, provide residence-hall support through self-selected residence halls arrangements. Support resident directors, assistants and faculty in receiving training to promote social cuing of students in the context of classroom behavior and residence hall living. While special arrangements of this type may appear to be restrictive, for some students it is a good alternative because it provides a safer environment from bullying and protection from social miscues.
Promising Strategies for Social Skills Training in Postsecondary Settings
Adapted from White, Keonig & Scahill, (2007)
Goal: Increase social motivation
- Foster self-awareness and self-esteem.
- Develop nurturing, fun environment.
- Intersperse new skills with previously mastered skills.
- Breakdown the social environment into navigable, approachable situations and embed them within structured daily routines.
- Make connections between students and faculty/staff to maintain support throughout their college experience.
- Match a student with a member of a campus organization.
- Offer peer mentoring in a subject that the student with ASD excels in, so that he or she maintains confidence.
- Invite ASD students to serve on a student panel to answer students’ or faculty’s questions.
Goal: Increase appropriate social initiations
- Make social rules clear and concrete.
- Teach simple social "scripts" for common college situations.
- Model age-appropriate initiation strategies.
- Use natural reinforcers for social initiations.
- Provide explicit directions and reinforcers for positive interactions (e.g., stay one arm’s length from other person; follow the speaker’s conversation lead/interest).
- Create a Social Story™ specific to an upcoming residence hall event.
- Role-play how to initiate a conversation at the dining hall..
Goal: Improve appropriate social responding
- Teach social response scripts.
- Reinforce response attempts.
- Use Social Story,™ modeling and role-play to teach how to respond appropriately to confusing situations (e.g., bullying; less supportive faculty members).
- Provide rubrics such as a numeric score for positive and negative social interactive behavior (e.g., perspective taking) for each Social Story™ situation.
Goal: Reduce interfering behaviors
- Make teaching structured and predictable.
- Keep behavior charts (e.g., checkmarks) for positive behavior.
- Prepare for social misunderstandings.
- Integrate sensory supports and routines in the daily lesson plan such as visuals for instruction.
- Create opportunities for students to discuss their interests through research papers, small group exercises and projects.
- Ask the student to keep a tally of specified behaviors (e.g., the number of times a student raises his/her hand to ask a question in class).
- Review socially appropriate and inappropriate behaviors via video or audiotape segments.
- Show video clips from movies demonstrating interfering behaviors.
Goal: Promote skill generalization
- Orchestrate peer involvement (e.g., prompting and initiating social interactions, physical proximity).
- Use multiple trainers & individuals with which to practice skills.
- Provide opportunities to practice skills in safe, natural settings.
- Use time between sessions to practice skills (e.g., via "homework").
- Organize periodic social events (hosted by the college's office of disability services) to help students safely practice the skills they have learned, meet friends and build confidence.
- Practice behavior applicable to student organizations or sporting events, such as appropriate cheering and managed sharing of sports statistics so as to not be off-putting to others.
- Discuss ways to find friends for dining hall, movie or game night, or downtown shopping.
Quill, K. (2011). Language and Communication (Columbus, OH: OCALI). In Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence (OCALI), Autism Internet Modules, www.autisminternetmodules.org. Columbus, OH: OCALI.
Sansosti, F. J., Powell-Smith, K. A., & Kincaid, D. (2004). A research synthesis of social story interventions for children with autism spectrum disorders. Focus on Autism & Other Developmental Disabilities, 19(4), 194-204.
Williams White, S., Koenig, K., & Scahill, L. (2007). Social skills development in children with autism spectrum disorders: A review of the intervention research. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37(10), 1858-1868. doi 10.1007/s10803-006-0320-x