One of the biggest challenges kids on the spectrum face is understanding what to do in social situations. Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder often experience difficulty in reading others' facial expressions and tone of voice, as well as finding appropriate responses to everyday social situations. Providing our students with an opportunity to practice these potentially uncomfortable social experiences can help give students a "social toolbox" which will help them interact and make friends with other students and school staff.

One very effective tool is a social story. Social stories were pioneered by Carol Gray, an autism researcher at Indiana University. Gray recommends creating short scripts for various social situations; personalized for each student and created with language and sentence structure the student can easily process and understand. For example, if you have a student who needs to learn how to introduce himself to new people, you may craft a social story like the following:

"It can be fun to meet new people. When I meet someone new, I say 'My name is Jim, it's nice to meet you.' I hold out my right hand so I can shake hands. I listen when the person tells me his name so I can remember it.I make eye contact and I smile. I can ask polite questions, like 'where are you from?' or 'how are you today?'"

Social stories can help students with a variety of social situations, from how to interact on the playground for younger students to how to respond to customers at a job for older students. The key to using them successfully is to give students many opportunities to practice in controlled situations with the script. When students are comfortable in controlled situations, move on to practicing in other areas and with other participants.

As with many areas of teaching kids with autism spectrum disorders, sometimes a rough day or negative experience can set skills back a few steps. If you notice your student beginning to struggle with social situations, it's perfectly fine to revisit an old social story and return to practicing in controlled situations again.

What strategies do you use for encouraging social skills? We love your tips! Share your ideas with us or at our social media pages!