Roughly one out of every 54 children has Autism Spectrum Disorder, also known as ASD. This comes to just under 2% of the population, and that number has increased dramatically in recent years, primarily due to better diagnostic measures.
Statistics like this are often used as scare tactics to raise funding for research, but the truth is far more reassuring. The huge jump in prevalence is due to the fact that the definition has been reworked to cover more people.
One of the hallmarks of ASD is a social difficulty. Most autistic people do quite well in various settings, but they may struggle to understand the neurotypical people around them.
The good news is there are ways to support them with this. We'll talk about some social activities to practice with your child in this article, and ways for them to develop social skills.
1. Relaxation And Breathing Exercises
For many people with special needs, part of the battle of socializing is how intimidating it can be. Many people with special needs want to socialize and wish it was easier, but it's not.
Various topics like math, history, and science follow a set of rules. A math problem, when done correctly, will always yield the same answer. Two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom will always result in water.
Meanwhile, the same conversation topic will lead to a different conversation for each person you ask. No wonder socializing can feel intimidating.
Teaching your child skills to help them relax might make it easier for them to socialize. You may find that these skills improve your life as well.
2. Board Games
Board games are awesome, and they can be great learning tools too. They're a useful form of social skills training that can help build a child's ability to cooperate and work with others towards a common goal.
It also helps children with other social skills, such as paying attention and following rules. It can also help children to practice losing gracefully.
Keep in mind that some games might not be good for some children. We're not talking about age limits and maturity level, either, although that's important to consider.
Many people with special needs aren't comfortable with lying or being lied to, which means that Werewolf and other games of social deception are out. These games are often aimed at preteens and older kids, but keep it in mind if you're working with an older child.
3. Imaginative Play
Imagination is a great way to bond with children and teach them various skills that they might need later in life. Playing make-believe allows people to embody different roles to learn what the expectations are in that situation.
Being able to navigate a variety of scenarios will help your child thrive among their peers. It's also a great way to teach conflict resolution. Some kids with special needs have difficulty regulating their emotions, and many more are likely to be bullied at some point simply because they are different.
Teach them to manage their anger, but also teach them that they're human, just like the people they go to school with, the teachers they learn from, and the friends they play with. They're deserving of equal treatment and respect, and there's nothing wrong with insisting they get it.
4. Know Their Boundaries
Keep in mind that there is a line here, and that line shouldn't be crossed. Certain social skills, such as being polite and waiting your turn, are important, but your child's comfort comes first.
Some people insist that sitting still and making eye contact are vital, but that's questionable. Lack of eye contact and moving around might make neurotypical people nervous, but staying still and forcing themselves to make eye contact can make the child uncomfortable. Expecting a non-speaking child to speak can do the same.
The world is a cooperative effort. It’s important for neurotypical society to accept that there are social differences rather than to ask a person with special needs to be uncomfortable forever. Try teaching your child to advocate for their needs. That could mean saying something as simple as “Eye contact is hard for me, but I am still listening” (or sharing that statement through a written format if they have communication challenges).
5. Consider Getting a Pet
Dogs are considered to be man's best friend, and that extends to the special needs community. Those with special needs, autistic people in particular, benefit a lot from interacting with animals.
This is partly owing to the fact that animals are easier to 'read,' because their social cues are far less subtle. A person who wants to go outside may comment on what a beautiful night it is, and how it's a shame that they're stuck inside. A dog that wants to go out may approach you, bark at you or jump on you, and then promptly race towards the door.
Pets and therapy animals help children develop social skills in a low-pressure environment. These skills can often be used in human interactions later on. Dogs are considered the go-to pet for therapy, but any number of animals can help.
A lot of autistic children develop social skills by riding and caring for horses.
How to Help a Special Needs Child Develop Social Skills
Helping someone with special needs with social skills can seem like a challenge, but there are ways to make it easier. We've discussed several practices that might help in this article, but there's a lot more to know about raising a special needs child than we could talk about here.
If you want to know about educating and parenting a person with special needs, please visit our site. One tool to look into is a social narrative, and you can buy them on our website. That includes social narratives for neurotypical peers!