Social Skills


Social Skills 

What are social skills? 

Social skills are the skills we use every day to and communicate and interact with others. They include verbal and non-verbal communication, such as speech, gesture, facial expression and body language. Human beings are sociable creatures and have


developed many ways to communicate our messages, thoughts and feelings. A person has strong social skills if they have the knowledge and understanding of how to behave in social situations and understand both written and implied rules when communicating with others. 

Many children with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Pervasive Developmental Disorder (Not Otherwise Specified) and Asperger’s have difficulties with social skills. 

Why are social skills important? 

Social skills are vital in enabling an individual to have and maintain positive interactions with others. Many of these skills are crucial in making and sustaining



s. Social interactions do not always run smoothly and an individual needs to be able to implement appropriate strategies, such as conflict resolution when difficulties in interactions arise. It is also important for individuals to have ‘empathy’ (i.e. being able to put yourself into someone else’s shoes and recognise their feelings) as it allows someone to respond in an understanding and caring way to how others are feeling. 

Underlying skills required for social skills include: 

  • Attention and concentration: The child should be able to have sustained effort for participating in activities without distraction, to be able to engage in the task long enough to complete it.
  • Receptive (understanding) language: The child should have a basic comprehension of language. 
  • Expressive (using) language: The ability use of language through speech, sign or alternative forms of communication to communicate wants, needs, thoughts and ideas. 
  • Play skills: The child should want to and be self-motivated to engage in activities that are normally associated with pleasure and enjoyment, but are not necessarily, goal oriented. 
  • Pre-language skills: The child should have an ability to use pre language skills to communicate without using words and include things such as gestures, facial expressions, imitation, joint attention and eye-contact. 
  • Self-regulation: The ability to obtain, maintain and change one’s emotion, behaviour, attention and activity level appropriate for a task or situation in a socially acceptable manner. 
  • Executive functioning: Higher order reasoning and thinking skills. 
  • Planning and sequencing: The sequential multi-step task/activity performance to achieve a well-defined result. 

How would I notice if the child has problems with social skills?

  • The child may have difficulties with eye contact. It may be fleeting eye contact, inconsistently or the child may stares fixedly. 
  • The child may be unable to take turns when talking to their communication partner. 
  • The child may struggles with using appropriate body language, or personal space e.g. stands too close/far to another person. 
  • The child may not use polite forms of communication e.g. saying please and thank-you, saying hello and good-bye. 
  • The child is unable to start and end conversations appropriately or initiate play.
  • The child interrupts frequently. 
  • The child is unable to maintain a topic of conversation and provides irrelevant comments during a conversation. 
  • The child speaks ‘at you’ in a conversation versus engaging in a two way conversation. 
  • The child doesn’t ask appropriate questions. 
  • The child repeats information in conversation and tends to talk about topics of their own interest e.g. trains, a favourite TV show/person. 
  • The child shows little or no interest in what the other person has to say. 
  • The child is unable to understand jokes and language, such as sarcasm, idioms and non-literal information e.g. this place is a pig sty! 
  • The child interprets what you say in a very literal way (e.g. when you say “Can you open the door?” the child says “yes” without moving). 
  • The child talks with unusual speed, stress, rhythm, intonation, pitch and/or tone of voice. 
  • The child has difficulty understanding different tones of voice or read facial cues. 
  • The child doesn’t ask for clarification if they are confused or the situation is unclear. 
  • The child can struggle to respond appropriately when asked to change their actions. 
  • The child may disclose personal information to unfamiliar people or strangers. 
  • The child is not aware of others and fails to recognise other people’s feelings based on their verbal and non-verbal cues. 
  • The child is not able to respond to teasing, anger, failure and disappointment appropriately. 
  • The child is unable to adjust/modify their language appropriately according to the communication situation. 
  • The child has limited ability to empathise with others i.e. imagine what it is like to be somebody else 
  • The child may lacks imagination. 
  • The child often appears self-centred. 
  • The child does not understand consequences of their actions. 

When you see difficulties with social skills, you might also see difficulties with: 

  • Behaviour: The actions of an individual, usually in relation to their environment.  
  • Sensory processing: The child may have trouble attending or focusing and have difficulty interpreting information they receive from the environment. 
  • Completing academic work: The child may misinterpret verbal or written instructions for tasks and/or struggle with imaginative writing.
  • Receptive (understanding) language: Comprehension of language. 
  • Expressive (using) language: The use of language through speech, sign or alternative forms of communication to communicate wants, needs, thoughts and ideas. 
  • Articulation: Clarity of speech sounds and spoken language. 
  • Fluency: The smoothness or flow with which sounds, syllables, words and phrases are produced when talking. 
  • Voice: The sound that we hear when someone talks which is unique to each person. 
  • Self-regulation: The ability to obtainmaintain and change one’s emotion, behaviour, attention and activity level appropriate for a task or situation in a socially acceptable manner. 
  • Executive functioning: Higher order reasoning and thinking skills. 

What can be done to improve social skills? 

  • Play: help the child to help develop joint attention, turn-taking, shared interests, cooperation and appropriate play with toys. 
  • Emotions: Help the child to understand and display their own emotions and to recognise these emotions in other people. 
  • Empathy: Help a child to understand and recognise how other people are feeling in particular situations. 
  • Social stories: These are stories which are used to teach children specific social skills that they may find difficult to understand or are confusing. The goal of the story is to increase the child’s understanding by describing in detail a specific situation and suggesting an appropriate social response. 

Activities that can help improve social skills include: 

  • Visuals: Make up a poster of rules to remember when starting a conversation e.g. using a friendly voice, making eye contact, using appropriate greetings, such as ‘hello’. 
  • Role play: Practise playground/party scenarios where the child does not know anybody. Model and create a list of different things you can say: 
    • To join others who are playing (e.g. “Can I play too?”). 
    • To introduce yourself (e.g. “Hi my name is ….”). 
    • To politely negotiate with peers (e.g. “I don’t want that one. Can I have the blue car please?”). 
  • Sing songs: Such as ‘If you’re happy and you know it’ to help teach a child about different emotions. 
  • Masks: Make masks together to help improve eye contact. 
  • Turn taking: Play turn taking games (e.g. board games) to encourage the child to say whose turn it is in the game (e.g. “My turn”, “Your turn”). 
  • Games: Play board games with the child. Make sure the child is not always the ‘winner’ so that they learn about ‘losing’ in a game and are able to cope better when this happens with their peers. 
  • Bean bag conversation: Throw a bean bag around a circle and each child takes a turn to contribute to the conversation. Think of different ways to contribute to the conversation (e.g. ask a question, comment on what has been said, and add something related to the topic). 
  • Watch and comment: Role play different situations and comment about appropriate and inappropriate attempts of communication (e.g. standing too close or too far from another person, not using appropriate eye contact, interrupting a conversation).