Social Skills: Beyond being nice

We’ve all seen it.

The kid who walks up to you, stares you right in the eyes, gives you a big cheesy smile and says “Hello!” while awkwardly shaking your hand. We train our kids to do this. I’ve worked with people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in various capacities and hate to admit that I’m very guilty of this. I’ve put kids on behavior plans to increase eye contact or to increase the number of people they say hello to. I have explicitly taught them to shake someone’s hand when you approach them and to always smile so people know you are happy.

teen-412054_640Over the summer, I was at lunch with my 13-year-old brother who has ASD. He ordered his drink and stared our waitress right in the eyes. I could tell she was uncomfortable. After she walked away, I explained to my brother that staring like that could make people feel awkward. He looked at me, confused, and said “But you said I have to look people in the eyes when I talk to them.”

Yes, I failed.

Last week, some Aspiring Youth staff and I attended the Social Thinking conference. The founder of Social Thinking, Michelle Garcia Winner, said something so simple that really resonated: “Good social skills do not mean being nice all the time.” Absolutely true. As Michelle explained, good social skills are a person’s ability to adapt behavior based on the situation and what you know about the person. The goal is that people react in the way you hope. This doesn’t always mean looking at them right in the eye and smiling. It means that you can use social skills to navigate a situation – any situation. We need our children to differentiate between greeting a peer and greeting an adult; when to be pleasant and when to be a firm advocate for something they believe in.

The Social Thinking conference was a great opportunity to learn how to teach social cognitive skills. It is how to consider our own thoughts and others’ thoughts to interpret and respond to information. The idea of perspective taking is more complex than considering another person’s perspective. As Michelle explains, there are 4 steps:

  1. I think about you.

  2. I think about why you are near me.

  3. I think about what you think about me.

  4. I adjust my behavior to keep you thinking about me the way I want you to think about me.

At Aspiring Youth, from the curriculum we follow in social skills groups to our summer camp social learning goals, we focus on teaching and supporting those important social cognitive skills to our children. If you’re interested in some free articles related to Social Thinking, you can visit this website.

Breea M. Rosas, B.A., Ed. S. Candidate

Breea graduated from Central Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2013. Her undergraduate major was Psychology, with a minor in Family Studies. She completed the coursework for an Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology in Spring 2015, with an anticipated graduation date of Spring 2016 upon the completion of an internship with the Franklin Pierce School District. Professionally, Breea has worked with Aspiring Youth as a lead facilitator for summer camp and served on the curriculum development team. Additionally, Breea has experience working with adults of varying abilities, including autism spectrum disorder, as well youth in the school setting. She is interested in social emotional learning, educational implications of social/emotional and behavioral disorders, supporting youth with behavioral disorders, and the trajectory of students with disabilities post-high school. In her spare time, she likes to read, particularly historical fiction and non-fiction, bake, and spend time with her family.