Social skills interventions for the autism spectrum: essential ingredients and a model curriculum

Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2003 Jan;12(1):107-22. doi: 10.1016/s1056-4993(02)00051-2.


This article outlines the ingredients the authors feel are critical to making social skills interventions successful for children with autism spectrum disorders. The authors described basic principles for teaching social skills that capitalize on the strengths of such children, while specifically addressing their deficits. The authors applied these widely used principles to group social skills intervention. In particular, social skills groups for children with ASD need to break down complex social behaviors into concrete steps and rules that can be memorized and practiced in a variety of settings. Abstract concepts must be made concrete through a variety of visual, tangible, "hands-on" activities that make socialization fun. Visual structure and predictable routines are essential. Also critical to the success of social skills intervention are instruction and activities that provide necessary support for the language abilities of the participants. A variety of learning opportunities must be used to teach the goals and skills most relevant to children with ASD. These skills must be integrated as intervention progresses. Furthermore, interactions that require the children to focus on peers create a positive social group culture. Within this culture and environment, self-awareness and positive self-esteem can be fostered. A behavior plan that specifies individual goals for group members and a specific system for delivering rewards should be included. Other important ingredients include generalization, which is encouraged through community outings, skill practice in more naturalistic settings, and collaboration with parents and teachers to work on skills outside the group intervention. Weekly therapy does little to change basic deficits of ASD unless there is daily practice and reinforcement of the skills being learned in more natural situations. The authors hope that outlining these principles and specific techniques will encourage more clinicians to offer social skills groups and thus increase their availability around the nation and world. Continued research and treatment for social skills is necessary to provide much needed empiric evidence to determine effectiveness of such interventions.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Asperger Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Asperger Syndrome / psychology
  • Asperger Syndrome / therapy*
  • Autistic Disorder / diagnosis
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology
  • Autistic Disorder / therapy*
  • Behavior Therapy / methods*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Communication
  • Group Processes
  • Humans
  • Self Concept
  • Social Behavior*
  • Socialization