Our friends actually help us get through a whole lot. As humans, we’re built to be social.
Yet, it can be challenging for teens and adults on the autism spectrum to connect with others in order to form and maintain friendships.
The PEERS treatment manual, also known as Social Skills for Teenagers with Developmental and Autism Spectrum Disorders, is an evidenced based group training manual involving parents and teenagers.
Unfortunately, too often parents have a hard time finding structured groups like these for their kids.
My goal in this article and future articles on this topic is to show you how you can apply these strategies with one or more parents on your own. So if you are having a hard time finding a social skills training group for your teenager, you can now become the teacher. You and your teen will work together to learn to make and keep friends.
Before Getting Started: Test Your Assumptions
I know that it’s not easy to decode the social world as an individual on the autism spectrum. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It just means it will take more work. I encourage you, as a parent or as a teenager on the autism spectrum, to challenge your own beliefs about what is possible. Stretch yourself and apply yourself to learning these social skills, and you’ll find that you have more ability than you think in the social domain.
The Parent-Teenager Team
You and your teenager will need to work together to improve your teen’s social skills.
In order to do this, both of you will have to be convinced of the importance of learning these skills. Review together the benefits of learning these skills: higher probabilities of a) friendships; b) increased ability to deal with some of the social challenges of employment in the future; c) enhanced self esteem and self-concept in the social skills areas of life.
It’s not always going to be easy to follow these lessons, but if you are sold on the value, you’ll be willing to pay the price.
Find Another Parent-Child Team
You’ll need to have at least one parent and one other teen to make this work.
This parent and child don’t have to commit to becoming future friends with you. You’ll have to agree that the main point of meeting together is to increase each other’s social skills.
Where can you find another parent or child?
I can think of a couple possibilities.
First, you may want to consult with your school social services department.
Perhaps they would be willing to put you in touch with another parent and teen who may be open to practicing friendship skills.
Second, you’ll want to look up a local aspergers support group.
Read my article about Asperger Support groups to find one near you.
Get in touch with the leader of that group and find out whether there may be other parents and teens interested in going through the PEERS curriculum together.
If you’re proactive and courageous enough you could actually organize your own friendship skill building group within the Aspergers support group!
Aspergers Social Skills Lesson 1
This is the very first social skills lesson you’ll put together for your group.
I’m going to write up more of these lessons over time for this blog. But you can buy the PEERS curriculum yourself to have ready access if you’re forming a group.
All parents involved should meet together before the initial meeting with the teens.
As parents coaching your teens, you’ll want to understand first social skills lesson before sharing it with your teen.
Conversational Skills I : Trading Information
You’ll be reviewing The Rules For Trading Information when you get together with your teens.
Here are the rules, from this chapter in the PEERS program:
*Ask the other person about himself or herself (e.g., their interests, their hobbies)
*After the other person finishes, answer your own questions
-Share something related about yourself (e.g., your interests, likes, hobbies)
*Find common interests:
-Identify things you can talk about
-Identify activities you can do together
-Find out what he or she does not like to do — so you can avoid doing those things
*Share the conversation
-Give the person a chance to ask you a qustion or make a comment
-Pause occasionally to let the other person direct the conversation
>If the person does not say anything – follow up with another question or comment
-You may need to assess to make sure the person is interested in the conversation:
~are they participating in the conversation (e.g., talking to you, asking questions)?
~are they making eye contact?
~are they trying to walk away?
~what is their body langauge saying? (e.g., facing you, or facing away?)
*Do not get too personal at first
-this may make the other person uncomfortable
-they may be less willing to talk to you in the future
Parent Teen Meeting
During this gathering, you’ll want to discuss with your teens the reason that you’re working on these lessons. The lessons can be fun, but you’ll need to have rules for respect, attention, and staying on topic.
When you purchase the PEERS curriculum, you can review the section for each lesson for the Teen Group Leader. These sections include games, activities, and role plays to help the Aspergers teen have fun while learning these friendship building skills.
Meet With Your Teens During The Week
1) Practice trading information with your teen during the week
a) Review the rules for trading information with your teen during the week
b) Find a common interest to share with the other parent/teen unit (what is something your teen is interested in, likes to do, etc., that s/he may have in common with the other teen you’ll be talking to)
2) Explain your teen’s homework assignment: calling the other teen to “trade information”
a) Before the Call
i Before leaving the group, explain that to your teen that he will be calling his peer to practice conversational skills
1. Set up a day and time with the other parent for your teen to make the call to his/her teen
2.Discuss where the parent will be during the call
3. Go over the rules for trading information with teen before call
b) During the call
1. Teens should trade information on the phone
2. Find a common interest to report back to the group
c) After the Call
1. Parent and teen to disucss the phone call and identiy common interests and troubleshoot any problems
Tips For Coaching and Troubleshooting
- Consider videotaping your daughter or son talking on the phone. This can help your teens observe themselves and learn what works and what needs work.
- Offer suggestions if your teen is struggling with a new skill (e.g., How about if.. statements: like, How about if, next time you are trading information, you ask your friend about what she likes to do, too?)
- Watch movies or television shows for examples of people trading information. Refer to the rules of trading information and note what the people in these shows are doing correctly.
- A general guidebook that I would recommend to anyone is the timeless classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. Read through it together and discuss some of the social skills principles you can apply from that book.
Let me know if you find this post helpful. Let me know what parts are not helpful. Or let me know what you’d like to add to it!
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Group Exercises for Enhancing Social Skills and Self-Esteem