Social Skills Lessons for Adults With Autism

social skills lessons

Set Your Social Skills Goals Today

Imagine trying to play soccer when you don’t even know the rules of the game.

If I wandered on the field, picked up the ball, and started passing it to other players, they would both insult me and yell at me.

Yet often, adults with autism have tried to “play the game” of social relationships without ever understanding the rules.

And unlike soccer and other sports, the nuances of communication and relationships are often unwritten.  So there aren’t a lot of obvious rules to refer to!

I’ve compiled a list of social skills lessons sites and suggestions based on my research and from feedback from friends on a couple of autism LinkedIn groups on the internet.

I hope you’ll find these helpful.

Social Skills Lessons Sites

Improve Your Social Skills

Dan Wendler’s site is well-organized and will guide you through his 10 year journey of improving his social skills.  He was diagnosed with Asperger’s in high school

Succeed Socially

Chris MacLeod is a self-described socially awkward person.  He studied to get his master’s degree in counseling, and along the way he’s compiled a diamond mine of information to help you succeed socially.

Apply Some of the Principles of Social Skills Training

Cognitive behavior therapists often use a subset of strategies to teach social skills.  One challenge, after learning social skills by reading about them, is to be able to apply them in other settings and situations.

To overcome this, ask a friend or your therapist or coach to role-play, teach, model, and help you practice your social skills.

Learn Communication Theory

Social Thinking

Barbara Bissonnette, an Asperger’s Sydnrome career coach, and founder of Forward Motion Coaching, recommends all adults with autism to familiarize themselves with Michelle Garcia Winner’s and Pamela Crooke’s [they are both speech therapists] social thinking concepts.

Here are just a few recommended books I’ve read:

Thinking About You, Thinking About Me, lays the groundwork of communication theory in a step by step fashion.

Social Fortune or Social Fate.  This book is written in cartoon/anime. While written for a young adult/teenager audience, you may find that this comic book explains communication simply yet powerfully.

Check out to get to know Michelle and Pamela better.

John Slegers’ Tips About Social Skills Lessons

John is a very bright gentleman on the autism spectrum who works as an IT professional.  Thank you, John, for your helpful insights about learning social skills on the autism spectrum.  Here are his tips, which I have quoted

To help Autistic individuals the most, you should try to explain to them how social identity impacts individual and collective behavior in various ways. Linking an abstract notion of social identity and superego to their daily life experiences will help them improve their contextualisation abilities with regards to human behavior, or simply put : their capacity for empathy.

Consider college level psychological or sociological courses on the following material :

* social identity
* implicit learning
* the superego
* memetics

Consider the works of early sociologists to explore the human mind along with them. I’m thinking first and foremost of authors like these :

* Gustave Le Bon
* Wilfred Trotter
* Walter Lippmann

I have Asperger’s Syndrome myself. My girlfriend is a highly empathic but also extremely rational woman. Today, as an adult, I mostly improve my social skills by these two ways :

* My girlfriend and I constantly compare our perception of ourselves, each other and the world around us. We constantly compare how we feel and what we think in the most diverse circumstances. Whenever her emotions make no sense to me, she tries to use metaphors or other references to provide a context I can relate to. Whenever my emotions make no sense to her, I try to do the same. I more or less do the same with friends, thought rarely as much in depth as I do with my girlfriend.

* I’ve been reading a lot of literature on neuropsychology and sociology, which I map to the perception, emotions and thoughts of myself, my girlfriend and other people I know. Where my interaction with my girlfriend (and others as well) helps me to find the dots, the theory helps me to connect the dots. This allows me to develop an abstract model of both non-Autistic and Autistic behavior, which in turn allows me to more easily assess myself and other people with but very limited data. Especially concepts of “social identity”, “implicit learning”, the “superego” and “memetics” have helped me significantly in comprehending social behavior among humans, which is why I recommended these topics in my original post.

Regardless of how you exemplify the theory, the theory is far more important than the actual examples. It is important to learn the HOW and the WHY at such an abstract level that differences in context can be easily recognized and understood at an intellectual level.

If you like using video, why not just use Hollywood movies or Hollywood style movies to illustrate emotions? I’m very much a fan of the better movies out there, precisely because they allow me to look into other people’s emotions and thoughts in ways no other medium can.

Here’s some movies I would recommend :

* Adam’s Apples ( )
* Amélie ( )
* American Beauty ( )
* American History X ( )
* Big Fish ( )
* Black Snake Moan ( )
* Black Swan ( )
* Cashback ( )
* Code 46 ( )
* Dogville ( )
* Donnie Darko ( )
* Eden Log ( )
* Equilibrium ( )
* Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ( )
* Ghost World ( )
* Goodbye Lenin ( )
* Happiness ( )
* How to Get Rid of the Others ( )
* Human Nature ( )
* Into The Wild ( )
* Magnolia ( )
* Melancholia ( )
* Memento ( )
* Me and You and Everyone We Know ( )
* Moon ( )
* Mr. Nobody ( )
* Requiem For A Dream ( )
* Revolver ( )
* Taxi Driver ( )
* The Fall ( )
* Where the Wild Things Are ( )

In the quote below, John was advising me on how I, as a therapist/coach, can use the above movies to help people on the autism spectrum use these movies:

The easier it is to understand the full range of emotions in each of the movies I suggested, the more you’re capable of relating to the full depth of the emotional life of non-Autistic people. The better an Autistic person understands the full depth of the emotional life of non-Autistic people, the easier it is to understand social context.You could start with watching all of these movies yourself and analyzing the emotions, motivations and thoughts of the different characters in the movies. When someone comes over for therapy and asks for advice on a specific topic, let him watch one or more movies that are emotionally or contextually related to that topic. You also ask him/her to write a short essay on the emotions, motivations and thoughts of the different characters after watching. You also ask him/her to add his/her opinion and emotional connection with the different characters.Next session, you discuss the essay and compare notes. You look for differences between your perception and his/her perception and put those differences in the context of a sociological and/or neuropsychological model.

Just In Time Learning To Build Your Social Skills

So how can we put all of this information together?

Don’t become overwhelmed.  Read each section of this article one heading at a time.

When you absorb one concept, ask yourself how you can apply that learning just in time, meaning today!

For example, Dan Wendler encourages his readers to set specific goals .  That’s something you can do right now!

What are some specific ways you have learned social skills lessons?  Please share them with us!

Image credit: mybaitshop / 123RF Stock Photo


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 I'm Steve Borgman.  I'm a licensed clinical professional counselor and blogger committed to bringing you hope, understanding, and solutions that you can apply to your life immediately.

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