Why have friends…

Friendship is developmentally important! Friendship can help protect an individual against loneliness and depression. Cognition and social and emotional competence are positively impacted by friendship. Children learn from their peers through social and shared experiences.

While many individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) tend to have difficulty interacting with others given communication difficulties and/or limited areas of interest which other children do not share, they still have a desire for social interactions with others. Their communication and behavior needs can negatively affect the individual’s ability to interact with others in a developmentally appropriate manner across social settings. Specific skills that are impacted include:

  • joint attention (behaviors in which two people focus on an object or event, for the purpose of interacting with each other)
  • ability to “read” and understand the feelings and thoughts of others
  • “identifying and reading” social cues in the environment and others
  • recognizing facial expressions in others
  • self-regulation skills to accommodate to changes in his/her world (cognitive rigidity)

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) refers to a set of interventions and principles that focus on how behaviors change, or are affected by the environment, as well as how learning takes place. Behavior refers to skills and actions needed to talk, play, and live. There are numerous Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) interventions that can be used to teach the composite skills needed for an individual with ASD to develop social connections and friendships. These interventions/treatments may include peer modeling, video modeling, social skills group participation, and recreational and education inclusion.

I have chosen two of my favorites to provide a little more detail about the ways ABA can support social and communication skills development:

  • Activities involved in a consistent social skills group:
    • Check in, review skills learned in previous group session, introduce a new skill, practice the new skill through modeling/role playing, snack/social time, activity that allows for practice of the new skill, closing/ review of new skill, goodbyes (all with therapist facilitation).
  • Benefits of video modeling:
    • Video modeling provides the child the opportunity to see him/herself, faces of familiar individuals, and/or children similar in age engaging in socially appropriate behaviors. Video modeling can be edited to show only the desired, appropriate behavior and/or the video can be slowed down to allow the child to see what is taking place including environmental variables that may be contributing factors to the situation. Video modeling is also cost effective.