Plain Language Summary
The struggles that are encountered for those with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in learning appropriate social skills can be easily observed by parents and supporting professionals. Sean Barron, an adult with ASD, describes the social skills learning process this way: “Feeling at ease in social situations and having confidence in handling whatever comes my way were not things I learned in a single “A-ha!” moment of ultimate social transformation. It was, and continues to be, a process that unfolds in its own time, layer by layer.” (Grandin & Barron, 2005, p. 81). We know the importance of social skills in our world. We know that learning social skills is a life long journey for all of us, but especially for those living with ASD. We also know that people with ASD can develop the social skills they need with the appropriate supports, education and practice.
As a provincial organization with chapters in busy city-centres, rural communities and many places in between, we at Autism Ontario felt well positioned to draw upon the knowledge of parents and community partners to begin to understand what social skills programming looks like across our province. We began our search by developing and posting surveys on-line to first understand what is happening in our communities. Some of our most interesting survey findings include:
Social skills interventions vary widely in Ontario: We found from our Community Partner Survey that social skills program providers are offering different models and interventions. There does not appear to be one consistent curriculum or model being used as a foundation for developing social skills programs. (Appendix A will describe some of the most frequent experts/models being referenced).
Many social skills programs in Ontario lack parent involvement and feedback: From our Parent Survey, we learned that less than half of the programs evaluated encouraged parents to monitor the effectiveness of their child’s progress. Despite the lack of parent involvement in evaluation, parent satisfaction was still high in that 81% of parents identified that they were satisfied with their child’s involvement in the social skills groups and would recommend their child’s group to other parents
Research on social skills interventions helps inform best practices: Within this document, we reviewed relevant research on best practices in social skills programming. In this paper, we provide information about some of the most frequently referenced social skills experts and models. We describe how to critically evaluate and select appropriate social skills groups. We also share information about social skills program components that may be used by community partners when developing social skills programs.
Ongoing program evaluation is needed on teaching social skills: Although research on teaching social skills to people with ASD can provide some guidance for program development, at this time there are no definitive answers as to the best models or strategies to ensure program effectiveness. Therefore, it is important that those setting up groups and teaching social skills work in collaboration with parents and participants to systematically evaluate each program’s impact on individuals in the group during and after the intervention. At intake, it is important to measure a participant’s social knowledge, skills and abilities for later comparison.
Using this document as a guide in developing social skills programs: To promote the thoughtful selection of social skills models and teaching strategies that reflect what we do know about best practices, it is our hope that parents and professionals will use this document as a source of information and to promote discussion and new action to enhance social skills programming to better support individuals on the autism spectrum.
(Please note, this document describes Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) in Appendix B. In the autism and/or intellectual disability community there is ongoing debate regarding the effects of ABA therapy. AIDE Canada does not endorse any particular intervention practice).