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With so many great resources available to help kids and adults on the autism spectrum with social skills, it is very difficult to decide which things to try.  It is also difficult not to get a little overwhelmed with the choices.

We have spent a lot of time working with people who have social challenges and have tried many different tools, books, and structured lessons.  We have yet to find The Perfect Tool for Everyone, and we are not sure if this exists (yet).  Some things to keep in mind when you’re looking for resources:

  1. Who will be using the book or resource.  A child or teen with social challenges?  A parent?  A teacher?  A clinical professional?  Search for materials that will be fitting for the person who will actually be looking through them the most.  Social skills picture books, cue cards, strongly visual tools will work well when given to a child or teen with challenges.  Teachers might look for resources they can use naturally throughout the day in the classroom, while social workers and other clinicians might look for curriculum-based resources.
  2. What is the context for the use of the book or resource.   A group?  Individual sessions?  Home-based teaching?  In-vivo learning with peers present? Some of the resources available are specifically designed for leading social skills groups.  Others provide information and guidance for individualized teaching fo social skills.
  3. What are the needs of the person who will be learning social skills. Addressing social anxiety?  Conversational skills?  Basic manners?  Community social skills?  While many of the books and resources available have comprehensive skills lists, some are more focused on specific skills.  If an individual really only needs to focus on conversation with peers, search for materials with an emphasis on conversation rather than larger books that cover multiple skill deficits.
  4. Where will the resource be used.  In clinical or school settings, some of the curriculum-based materials will be useful and will provide good guidance and structure.  For home and community-based learning, simple visual tools and cards may be a good choice to work on specific skills in the natural context.

Here are three great resources to consider:

1. Jed Baker has a number of books on the market to help with social skills and behavior.  We would like to highlight his book Social Skills Training: For Children and Adolescents with Asperger Syndrome and Social-Communication Problems  (2003).

What we like about this book:

  • Baker has created a curriculum for teaching social skills to groups of kids.  This book includes a basic assessment in the form of a social skills checklist. The list is broken down into groupings of social skills, such as conversation and empathy.  Prior to the first session, the parents complete the assessment, and then the group facilitator can choose which skills to spend the most time on based on the needs of the group.
  • The book provides suggestions and guidelines for how to structure the sessions, including setting up group rules and implementing a reward system for skills and behavior.
  • Each individual skill has a chapter with guidelines, allowing the group leader to use activities to teach that skill.
  • Each individual skill has a take-home handout for practicing the skill at home.

What we find challenging about this book:

  • This book is thorough and provides a great framework for teaching social skills to a group.  Some of the activities can be adapted to use in individual sessions with kids as well.  The only thing about this book that could possibly be improved would be to include handouts for parents.  Baker provides suggestions for parents to practice at home, but these are general guidelines for the whole course of study.  Parent handouts for particular skills would be a helpful addition to this book.

2.  Specifically designed for teens, we would like to highlight The Social Success Workbook for Teens by Barbara Cooper and Nancy Widdows (2008).  This book is  an easy-to-follow an manageable workbook to use individually with teens who are struggling with a number of social skills difficulties.

What we like about this book:

  • The user-friendly format.  Each chapter provides brief vignettes related to a specific skill, along with activities to work on practicing that skill.
  • Inclusion of multiple factors that lead to social difficulties, including activities to help teens understand themselves and their own responses in social situations so that they can learn to identify and overcome obstacles.
  • Easy activities to encourage skill development.
  • Nice, simple visuals with each chapter.
  • The book is designed for individual use, and is presented in a way that makes it easy to use for parents, teens, or therapists.

What we find challenging about this book:

  • Some of the activities have an emphasis on drawing, which does not work well with all teens.
  • Some teens with social difficulties will need assistance using this book effectively.  We would like to see some basic guidelines included at the beginning of the book to help guide families and professionals to ensure that the right amount of support is available to the teens using the book.

3.  There are many conversation-starter tools available, including card decks, games, and conversation balls.  We would like to highlight the Chat Pack for Kids as a resource for helping with conversations in the home and practicing for improved conversation with peers.  The Chat Pack for Kids is one of several Chat Pack card decks with fun questions to spark conversation.

What we like about these cards:

  • They are small and easy to keep in a drawer, purse, or glove compartment.
  • They have fun and thought-provoking questions for kids.
  • They can be used in many ways to start and practice conversation.  Each little card has one question.  Families, teachers or clinicians can use these cards by (1) Having each person answer their own question cards in turn, helping people get to know each other in a group; (2) Having everyone in the group or conversation answer their own question cards as well as the other participants’ question cards; (3) Using the question cards to encourage further conversation about that topic with follow-up questions and comments.
  • The cards can be used for short or longer durations.  Leaders and participants can decide to do 5 cards each or 20 cards each, allowing for flexibility in many settings and circumstances (car rides, dinner table, social skills groups).

What we find challenging about these cards:

  • We would like to see a Chat Pack specifically for teens.

We have a lot of additional resources we use for social skills and may provide more reviews in the future.  In the meantime, check out these great tools, and send us your own feedback or questions!

Kaarin Anderson Ryan 12-15-18


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