By: Elyse Schultz M.S., CCC-SLP, Lindsay Barret M.S., CCC-SLP, Kyle Mutch M.S., CCC-SLP
Developing social communication is often at the heart of therapy for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Maintaining social attention is a crucial step to developing social communication.
This form of attention allows us to behave in socially appropriate ways and interact with others. It is based on Michelle Garcia Winner and Dr. Pamela Crooke’s Social Thinking/Social Attention framework. It helps us become more aware of people around us and more importantly, the thoughts they are having.
Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) facilitate social communication by addressing socially appropriate behaviors, perspective taking, joint attention, and inferencing skills, to name a few. These skills are all components of social attention.
We target these skills in therapy during play and structured language tasks. They can also be addressed in both individual and group settings. Activities to improve social attention include understanding how to maintain a calm body and how to maintain membership within a group. Physically leaving the group during circle time, looking around the room during a group activity, or ignoring others are examples of behaviors that do not promote group membership.
We address topic maintenance to facilitate social communication. We also help children learn to follow the same “plan” as those in the group and work towards the same goal. We work on understanding how our actions make others feel and interpreting emotions.
Speech-language pathologists also help facilitate children’s abilities to adapt their actions based on how they make others feel. This relates to perspective taking and inferencing. There are many components to social communication, so this only begins to highlight the complexity of this skill.
Below are additional skills SLPs work on with children with ASD.
SLPs work closely with children to help them see things from someone else’s point of view. Perspective taking is the basis for helping children determine the impact their words or actions have on others, and whether they are expected vs. unexpected (These are Social Thinking terms for socially appropriate vs. inappropriate behavior.).
Humor and jokes help children interact with each other and build friendships. Children with ASD have difficulty using and understanding humor. SLPs work to improve this area because research found that teaching humor can improve peer relationships.
Inferencing is an important skill to obtain in various areas. The first area is reading comprehension; often in text we use context clues to understand what is happening. Inferencing in social situations is important as well to anticipate what will happen next and follow along in a conversation.
Initiating, maintaining, repairing conversations
By modeling, role-playing, and teaching the different parts of conversations, SLPs help children with ASD learn greetings, how to initiate conversation, chit-chat, asking/answering questions, commenting, ways to change the topic, and how to end a conversation appropriately.
The first step towards conflict resolution is identifying the problem. After the child can identify the problem, we can work together to find possible solutions. Getting the brain thinking about various solutions (the funniest solution, the most likely situation to get you in trouble, the kindest solution) lets the child start thinking about how their reaction will be received by others. Finally, implementing these skills into a group or classroom setting ensures generalization of a skill.
Non-verbal language is very important to interpret as sometimes it tells more than words. Body positioning (head in hands, slouching), facial expression, tone of voice, etc., can be the key to figuring out what the other person is feeling/thinking. This will then influence your actions/ reactions.
Children with ASD prefer things to stay the same. Unexpected events and change can be extremely trying for these children. SLPs can teach parents strategies and techniques to help children be more flexible and adapt across environments.
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For more information about how we can help your child with autism spectrum disorder through speech-language therapy, contact us today. We’re here to help!