Carolyne Jones (behavioural psychologist): One of the techniques we’ve used is social skills training. So this is something that we use to help a child practice a particular social skill they’re having difficulty with.
For example, you could do this with making eye contact. So you might explain what eye contact is and why it is important to look at people when you’re talking to them. And then you could model to the child what that looks like so it might be two adults, or an adult and another child. Giving an example of how to give appropriate eye contact and then the child would have a turn and be part of a role-play where they would practice using that skill with the adult or with a child. And then giving feedback to the child on the things that they did well with that particular skill. And being very specific with the praise. So identifying exactly what they did that worked well but also getting them to think about what things they could do differently. And then having lots of practice on that way and giving lots of positive reinforcement.
So one of the techniques that psychologists can use to help children with autism develop their social skills is called social scripts. So this involves thinking about a particular sentence or two that you’d like the child to use in a situation where normally they get a bit stuck. This might be, for example, greeting their teacher in the morning. So you’re sitting down with the child, thinking about how they would like to greet the teacher. Writing it down and then having a practice role-play with an adult or another child. Using that script in a pretend scenario. And also giving feedback of what worked well. What didn’t work so well. What they could do different next time.
So the script might be ‘Good Morning Suzie, how was your breakfast today?’. And then working towards using that script in the morning when they come to school and making sure that the teacher gives lots of positive reinforcement for the child using that script.
I think it’s really important that when we’re looking at things like social scripts that we can also encourage children with autism who obviously find it difficult at times to be flexible and not become rigid to also think about ways that they could expand on that initial script. So the script can be like a starting point and then once they hear other people in that situation using their own scripts of sort that they can change that initial starting point and add to it. Take things away. Introducing things on a different day for something unusual happening that they can incorporate that into the script so the script can be like a starting point of entering into the particular situation.
Another technique that psychologists can use to help children with autism develop their social skills is called role-plays. So this involves defining a particular skill that you would like the child to develop and explaining what the skill is and why it’s important. So for example it might be how to start a conversation with someone. So explaining how you can do that and why it’s important to start that particular way rather then perhaps the way that they’re starting at the moment. And then having a role-play.
So practicing the situation with the child and making sure that you speak with the child afterwards, thinking about feedback and getting input from them about what they feel worked well or what they’d like to do differently next time. And practicing different role- plays in different situations as well. Using that same skill of initiating conversation but you might do a role-play where you are pretending to be their friend at school. Or you might do another role-play where you’re pretending to be their auntie. So applying that skill of initiating conversation with different people in that role-play scenario.