How to Run a Social Skills Group for Children on the Autism Spectrum
The majority of my clients live within the realm of the Autism spectrum. Autism captured my interest in graduate school while at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. In the early 90s, UNC was one of the major centers of the Autism universe. I was exposed to many professors who specialized in early childhood development and who were also involved in mainstreaming autistic kids into regular classrooms.
I found these children’s obsessive interests such as Legos, Dungeons & Dragons, history, and trains endearing and familiar.
Upon building a private practice, I consistently ran into individuals who were bullied or excluded due to being perceived as “different.” Many of these people had similar characteristics including having a very specialized and specific interest, poorly developed social skills, and above average intelligence.
In bringing individuals together with similar interests who had been excluded from the social mainstream, I found positive outcomes. When these “spectrum” folks were in groups of the like-minded, they no longer felt different or excluded, and their anxiety was reduced while self-worth improved.
In group therapy, kids find their peers and social support. In experiencing a social connection and losing a sense of loneliness even temporarily, my clients improved across a number of domains including anxiety, depression, and defiance.
My greatest training in serving the spectrum is actually understanding geek culture.
I believe that working with the Spectrum population is more about understanding and embracing their culture, so they feel validated and know someone genuinely understands and values them. I have found that providing an environment in which they are celebrated and included is more than 70% of the battle in improving the quality of their lives and building success.
Many families contact me asking for support for their kids because they have not found someone in their town who serves these kids effectively. Given that social skills groups are the primary, successful intervention, I felt it important to share one way of doing a social skills group.
The purpose of my social skills groups is to help all of my Spectrum individuals find friendship. Underlying all of our sessions is the theme of becoming connected beyond special interests and to find lifelong friends.
The following is one example of a social skills curriculum you may be able to implement in your own community, especially in areas where such services are not found.
A Sample Social Skills Group Curriculum Each Week
1. High and low of the week (15-20 minutes) – Problem solve one “low”.
2. Group Lesson (20 minutes)
3. A fun activity or deeper conversation time.
Session 1: Psychoeducation
Parents get to know each other and exchange contact information