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Steps To Social Success Videos!

Social Success – FirstPath Autism is proud to announce our new Steps to Social Success® video series on YouTube!

This new how-to video series can be utilized as helpful tutorials for helping to teach important specialized situations.

A Modern Learning Aid For Modern Learners

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Designed as a supplimentary teaching tool for our Steps to Social Success® stories, our free-to-view Youtube series will help engage children and set examples beyond description or pictures.

New videos are scheduled to release every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to ensure that every topic where help is needed can be covered.

Need the Steps Story to help as well?

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The premade Steps stories that correspond to each video can be found in the video’s description!  Print these to make a visual task analysis, read along with the video, or keep handy for when a video is not available.

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Of course, these videos and printouts can only go so far in your autism journey.  To learn how to apply behavior therapy, create lesson plans, or even create your own Steps to Social Success stories there is more to be learned.

Want to gain access to dozens of professional ABA therapy video lessons? Do you want to learn how to  Sign up to FirstPath Autism today!

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7 Tips for Back to School Preparation

Back to School – Summer break is coming to an end and a new school year is fast approaching. You might be feeling stressed or anxious for your child’s year ahead, but it’s ok!  Our FirstPath team has come up with 7 back to school tips for making that transition smoother for both you and your child.

Preparation is key.

When you feel prepared, you feel more calm and confident. There are several ways to get yourself and your child ready for that first day. It is helpful to have the following planned and ready to go ahead of time.

1.png Select your child’s clothing the night before.  

Better yet, planning out outfits for the week. It’s a great idea to do this with your child because it offers the opportunity to teach them about weather-appropriate clothing and gives them a sense of control. If your child tends to engage in maladaptive behavior during this activity, then this should be handled carefully. FirstPath provides helpful approaches to manage this behavior.

2.png Plan your child’s breakfast.

This should be something that is healthy but also something your child enjoys. Giving your child a couple options and having them choose will increase the likelihood of them eating it without any fuss. It is important for your child to go to school with a full stomach so the feeling of hunger does not influence any maladaptive behaviors.

If your child brings lunch to school, it is also helpful to have that packed the night before. Your child may assist in that task, which may give them a sense of accomplishment.

3.png Ensure that all materials and homework are packed in your child’s backpack the night before.

To avoid those frantic searches in the morning, it is a good idea to get your child in the habit of putting their backpack by the door, so it can be conveniently picked up on the way out to the car. This can be added to your child’s nighttime routine so it will naturally become part of their daily schedule.

Emotional preparation is just as important.

Your child’s anxiety about starting school may be eased by giving them a better idea for what to expect.

4.png Talk with your child.

Taking the time to ask your child how they are feeling about starting school may provide you with insight that you may have otherwise missed. Your child may be feeling a variety of emotions but may not initiate that conversation on their own.

Perhaps even conversating about it is not the route to go with your child, after all you know your child best. If that’s the case, encourage your child to drawwrite, or relate how they are feeling in their own way, whatever that may be.

It is a great idea to continue devoting time to do this as the school year progresses. Having your child start a journal about their school days can be an excellent way for them to express their feelings as well as being a great way for you to understand what is going on with your child.

5.png Role-play with your child.

You could run through different scenarios with them having you act as the teacher or a peer. It can be fun for both you and your child and will strengthen your child’s social skills. If your child runs into a problem at school, you can go over how to handle similar future situations.

This is also a good time to prepare for any emergency situations that may come up. Your child should know what to do ahead of time. Review situations where your child may need help, so they stay safe and can get the help they need.

6.png Review school and classroom rules. 

Your child will have a better understanding of what will be expected of them. Making an organized, visual representation of this may make it clearer for your child. Visual representations can also be a chance to make things fun and engaging for your child, using fun illustrations or FirstPath’s Steps To Social Success stories.

7.pngDemonstrate how to approach other kids.

Your child may not initiate social interaction on their own, so practicing with them is beneficial. Showing your child how to greet others, introduce themselves, ask questions, and make eye contact are all important for positive social relationships.

Getting into a school routine will relieve a lot of headaches for both you and your child. This may take some time- and that is perfectly okay! Staying consistent and not giving up will make all the difference.

Want to gain access to dozens of professional ABA therapy video lessons that will help your child with socializing or organization? Sign up at FirstPath Autism today.

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Autism and Food-Related Issues, Part 2: Potlucks and Picnics

Just jumping into the series? Be sure to go back and read our first post, Autism and Food-Related Issues, Part 1: Help for Picky Eaters.

For many people, the idea of savoring a potluck picnic represents the best that summer has to offer. From the refreshing fruit dishes to the delicious barbequed meats to the crispy salad medleys, gathering with family and friends and dining al fresco might sound like the perfect way to celebrate the season. Yet, since such events represent a distinct deviation from mealtime norms, these get-togethers can often cause stress and panic for autism families.

In the 2010 HealthDay News article Mealtime a Challenge for Some with Autism, Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer for Autism Speaks, is quoted as saying:

Many autistic children have a strong need for consistent routine or ‘sameness’. They want things exactly the same way and that includes the food they’re eating. To introduce a variety of food or to have changes in food may cause stress and anxiety.

The prospect of a picnic or potluck can trigger feelings of apprehension for you and your child. To help combat these feelings and prevent future reactions, follow these tips to help you handle such events with calm and confidence.

Plan for success by visualizing various possible scenarios

Once the event is on your calendar, channel your inner football coach and create a playbook. Mentally run through the possibilities based on behavior you’ve seen at similar gatherings in times past. Then ask yourself, “If such-and-such happens, how will I/we respond? What’s my/our game plan?”

For example, if you know that your child tends to rush to the dessert table, then you’ll want to decide in advance what you’ll do if you see your child grab a huge handful of cookies. Work with your child’s ABA clinician to find ways to provide positive behavior support within the context of this particular event.

When done properly, advance planning helps to reduce stress by helping you and your family envision the most likely scenarios to occur and deciding how best to prepare or react.

As Charles Duhigg writes in his bestselling book Smarter, Faster, Better:

“Psychologists have a name for this kind of habitual forecasting: ‘creating mental models’ …. [and some of us build more robust models than others. We envision the conversations we’re going to have with more specificity …. As a result, we’re better at choosing where to focus and what to ignore.”

Prioritize your list

Once you’ve considered the various potentialities, heed Duhigg’s words and decide in advance “where to focus and what to ignore”. In other words, prioritize your list and pick just one or two issues that seem important enough to review with your child in advance.

Need some ideas? You might decide to focus on:

  • Making healthy eating choices
  • Avoiding foods that trigger allergic reactions
  • Selecting a variety of different foods from a buffet
  • Measuring out healthy portion sizes
  • Engaging in turn-taking behaviors and/or waiting in line for food to be served
  • Deciding in advance how many specific “treat” items are acceptable (and perhaps preventing a meltdown in the process)
  • Practicing an important social skill at the event, such as greeting other people
  • Practicing emotional regulation skills such as deep breathing
  • Utilizing adaptive equipment such as headphones or a trampoline for help with sensory overload or sensory processing disorder (SPD)

That said, remember to give priority to safety issues as you organize your list. In outdoor summer scenarios, preventing wandering and injury take precedence over other concerns.

In her blog post 5 Steps to a Meaningful Behavioral Support: Step 1-Part 2 Prioritize Behaviors, clinical psychologist and autism sibling Christine Reeve, Ph.D. of Autism Classroom Resources outlines a helpful rubric for evaluating which maladaptive behaviors to address. She writes:

“Dangerous behaviors [such as aggression and self-injury] are addressed first, then disruptive behaviors [such as screaming and crying] and then behaviors that are not that disruptive but can be very distracting or set the person apart [such as whining and self-talk].” 

 Review the possibilities with your child

Once you’ve decided which behaviors to focus on, start working with your child to prepare for the potluck or picnic. Always remember to break down complex skill sets into very small, manageable components.

Select a medium that works best with your child’s learning style and begin familiarizing them with what’s expected at the event. For example, you might role play, create a visual schedule of the event, or put together a series of printable social stories for summer activities.

It’s all about preparation

As Autism Speaks’ Family Services Going Out To Eat Guide notes, “One successful strategy when dealing with an unfamiliar routine is to prepare the individual ahead of time. Preparation can greatly reduce anxiety in unfamiliar environments and helps a person know what to expect.”

Want to gain access to dozens of professional ABA therapy video lessons? Sign up for FirstPath Autism today.

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Printable Social Stories: Summer Activities and Outdoor Safety

Have you seen the viral photo of police officer Tim Purdy helping a young adult with autism who had wandered away from school? The simple shot is worth a thousand words, as Officer Purdy sits down in a parking lot next to the young man. His posture bespeaks kindness, and his patience helped to de-escalate a potentially dangerous situation. Lindsay Naeder, the autism response team director at Autism Speaks, spoke about the incident, saying, “There was a lot of empathy and trying to meet [the young man with autism] where he was at …. A challenge for our community can be communicating and dealing with social interactions.”

This recent story illustrates the important connection between social communication and safety. Since individuals with autism often struggle to make their feelings and needs known, emergency situations can prove particularly fraught. Through social stories, you can help prevent wandering and emergency situations while preparing yourself and your community for any potential conflict and confusion.

Why are social stories useful tools to help illustrate safety? The use of pictures with explanatory text has been found to be useful when explaining common social situations to children with autism. We discuss them in our post Printable social stories and visual schedules for students with autism.

Summer Activities and Outdoor Safety

Are you feeling nervous or stressed out about the summer ahead? Never fear–we’ve compiled a list of free downloadable social stories to help you and your family navigate the next few months. With these materials in hand, you can stress less and enjoy the season:

sunshine-sm.png The Kansas Technical Assistance Network (TASN)’s Autism and Tertiary Behavior Supports Resource Center is a treasure trove of free social stories for summer activities such as bike safety and miniature golf. On the safety side, explore the stay with your family and If-Then safety social stories.

sunshine-sm.png Positively Autism is a great place to find free social stories. This summer, you won’t want to miss the Swimming Pool Safety and Fourth of July social stories. The Ouch Cards can also help your child to communicate the location of an injury or insect bite. Finally, the Waiting While Riding in the Car and Share the Road and Shoe Box Games kits will help make road trips more fun.

sunshine-sm.png The Monarch Center for Autism’s extensive collection of free visual supports includes a daily summer schedule checklist and a topic display board to request summer activities.

Social stories include instruction on summer-fun safety tasks such as putting on sunscreen, drinking water, and wearing a bike helmet. Finally, there’s also a detailed visual schedule and checklist for attending a sports game.

sunshine-sm.png Autism Speaks offers a free customizable social story to prevent wandering, a comprehensive wandering prevention resource guide, and a resource library of Visual Tools with links to recommended online social story creators.

sunshine-sm.png The National Autism Association’s AWAARE Collaboration site contains a wealth of safety materials designed to prevent wandering-related incidents.

sunshine-sm.png Looking for social stories for different scenarios? FirstPath Autismalso offers free compilations of printable social stories for birthday partiesemergency situations, and visiting family during the holidays.

Assistive Communication Tools Promote Independence

The social stories linked above can help you and your family to have a safe, fun, and memorable summer. At the same time, they can empower your child with autism to communicate effectively and develop a greater sense of personal independence.

Too often, people assume that an inability to communicate verbally indicates a lack of intelligence. But that’s simply not true. When individuals with autism have the tools and supports they need to make their voices heard, what they have to say is astonishing.

Gordy Baylinson, a nonspeaking teenager on the autism spectrum, recently composed an insightful letter to a police officer about how to treat individuals with autism. Using his assistive communication device, Baylinson wrote,

My brain, which is much like yours, knows what it wants and how to make that clear. My body, which is much like a drunken, almost six foot toddler, resists.”

Baylinson’s communication device helps him begin to bridge the gap between his mind and body, and this summer, social stories could help your child to do the same.

Did you find this post helpful? If so, please share it with your network and help others be prepared for a safe and fun summer!

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Printable Social Stories: Birthday Parties

One of the best parts of parenthood is sharing your own childhood joys with your kids. When you raise a family, you have a chance to recreate your favorite memories and pass along cherished traditions as well.

That said, children with autism often need support in order to successfully participate in celebrations such as birthday parties. Such gatherings typically involve more people, noise, and sugary treats than usual, so it’s important to prepare your child to deal with the onslaught of emotional and sensory stimuli.

Not sure where to begin the preparation process? To help your child learn how to join in the celebration without suffering from confusion or triggering a meltdown, try a social story.

What are social stories?

As the National Autistic Society website notes, social stories were created by Carol Gray in 1991 as a means of teaching social skills to students with autism. By pairing pictures with explanatory text, social stories demystify daily life scenarios for individuals on the spectrum.

Social Stories: Birthday PartiesSocial stories feature brief overviews of common situations, along with tips on how to communicate, respond to cues, and engage in safe behaviors. They’re helpful tools that allow you to prepare your child to interact successfully.

Printable social stories for birthday parties

Feel like you don’t have time to create or gather printable social stories before you attend the festivities? No problem! We’ve got you covered. Here’s a list of our favorite online resources for birthday party social stories.

Lessen anxiety and plan for success

Social stories can mitigate the anxiety involved with difficult, over-stimulating, or unfamiliar aspects of birthday parties. When the balloon pops or the clown appears, social stories give your child a script to follow and a better chance of remaining calm.

As we wrote in our post Printable social stories and visual schedules for students with autism:

“Reviewing new social situations [in advance] may lessen the fear that accompanies them. In this way, social stories free children with autism to learn and make connections and provide socially appropriate behaviors.”

So don’t wait–download free printable stories today!

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Printable Social Stories: Emergency situations

If you’re a frequent flyer, you know how tempting it is to zone out when the flight attendants review emergency protocol before takeoff. As they point out the exits and demonstrate how to use an oxygen mask, you’ll likely see many of your fellow passengers distractedly checking their phones or flipping through the in-flight magazine.

Why do flight attendants reiterate the same information when most people don’t pay attention? Because in the event of an emergency, a few simple instructions could save a life, and you never know when you’ll need to apply that information you begrudgingly learned. And that’s why it’s important to teach your child how to respond in a crisis. The short time you spend going over the basics might make all the difference.

Why use social stories for emergency preparedness?

Social stories are brief, illustrated accounts that help children with autism to understand and interpret common social situations. Social stories, or FirstPath Autism’s “Steps to Social Success” spell out norms and expectations and equip individuals with autism to move through life with greater confidence.

Many people learn behavioral norms simply by watching others and mirroring their behavior. For children with autism however, the learning process looks different. There’s a need for specific, repeated modeling of social skills, in part because individuals with autism have visibly different brain structures.

As the 2015 University of Warwick article, Autistic and non-autistic brain differences isolated for the first time, notes, researchers have identified several measurable divergences in the brains of individuals on the spectrum. Individuals with autism have reduced functional connectivity in several brain regions related to social communication and behavior.

That’s one reason why it’s crucial to begin Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy as soon as possible after an autism diagnosis. ABA exercises help learners of all ages to build up essential neurological pathways, but this process happens more readily when children are young and neuroplasticity is high.

Stress and personal safety

Children with lower-functioning autism are prone to increased anxiety and stress, and this means that emergency situations pose greater risks.

The 2015 Disability Scoop article, Autism Severity Tied to Stress Levels, reports that cortisol levels “remain significantly higher throughout the day in children with low-functioning autism as compared to typically-developing kids and those on the high-functioning end of the spectrum.”

Since emergencies are high-stress scenarios, it’s vital to review safety protocols with children on the spectrum ahead of time. In this way, parents can empower children to respond with minimal increased stress when a crisis strikes.

If a building is on fire, immediate action is paramount. There’s no time to pull out note cards or convince a frightened child that the fireman is trustworthy. Split-second decisions are crucial. That’s why it’s so important to review protocol for emergency situations well before they occur.

Such preparation can also help to prevent meltdowns and other behaviors that could endanger an individual’s safety. As we wrote in our blog post Printable social stories and visual schedules for students with autism:

“Reviewing stories about potentially stressful situations can help to prevent a child from engaging in meltdown behavior. Furthermore, averting tantrum behavior can ensure a child’s safety in the event of a real emergency.”

Free printable social story resources

Ready to help ensure that your child stays calm in a crisis? Here are a few of our favorite online resources for printable social stories with a focus on emergency situations:

Take a few minutes to download a set of printable social stories and read through them with your child today. By preparing in advance with clear guidance, you’ll increase the likelihood that your child will remain safe in the midst of an emergency.

Want to read more about social stories? Check out these related FirstPath Autism blog posts:

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Printable Social Stories: Visiting family during the holidays

You may not be riding over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house in a horse-drawn sleigh this season, but chances are, you’ll be visiting family at some point. And you’re probably wondering how your child with autism is going to handle it all.

Even when relatives offer positive contributions such as hugs, presents, and attention, the holiday experience can get a little overwhelming for a child on the spectrum.

Here’s the good news: you can take steps to prepare for positive family interactions right now, starting with this list of free printable social stories.

As a reminder, social stories are brief, illustrated accounts that help children with autism to understand and interpret common social situations. They represent an easy, low-cost ways to provide positive behavioral support for your child.

Plus, they can improve your family’s quality of life in the holiday season and beyond. For example, a social story on hand-washing can help reinforce healthy behavior and prevent the spread of germs all year round.

As such, our FirstPath Autism team compiled of free printable social stories for you. Common themes include greetings, dining etiquette, traveling, interacting with family, and celebrating traditions. It’s our hope that these tools will empower you to enjoy the season with those you love!

Traveling:

The Monarch Center for Autism has an extensive Visual Supports page with a Holiday Travel Section, which includes a Family Vacation Visual Schedule (PDF) and an Airplane Ride Activity Story among others.

 

Getting Dressed:

Project Autism offers a nicely-illustrated Getting Dressed for Wintersocial story, perfect for children who resist donning long sleeves and jackets when the temperature drops!

Sped-Ventures is a blog by certified special education teacher Kara Heslinga. She created two free, gender-specific social stories to help children to choose winter clothing. There is one story for boys and one for girls. (Note that the stories are meant for upper elementary and middle-school-aged children.)

As Heslinga notes:

“These stories are for those students … who need a more scripted/list-style instruction to be able to select appropriate clothing. These students will often complain about being too cold, even if they have chosen their own clothing …. I made the text in these stories simple and repetitive: …. ‘If I wear ____________ in the winter, I will stay warm and comfortable.’”

The Monarch Center for Autism‘s Winter Fun section includes an “I Want to Play, But it is Cold Outside” Activity Story, a Non-Identical Winter Items Matching Board, and a Getting Dressed in Winter Checklist too.

Attending Parties & Getting Presents:

Positively Autism is a treasure trove of free social stories tailor-made for various holidays. There’s the customizable My Family’s Thanksgivingsocial story for November, and the “Visiting Family at Christmas” story for December.

The latter “targets the skills of: visiting family (or having them come to visit), saying ‘Merry Christmas,’ things visitors may do, such as hugging the child, and things families might do together, such as have dinner.” It’s available in PDF and Microsoft PowerPoint for easy editing.

They also offer a specific “Getting Presents” story, as well as a “Going To Visit Santa” story in case going to the mall and taking a photo with Santa is an annual tradition in your family.

 

General Holiday Resources:

Check out Postively Autism’s Social Skills Social Stories library, which includes downloadables such as “Saying Hello to People” and “Eye Contact When Greeting.” These are helpful anytime, but particularly for holiday-season social gatherings.

Ability Path offers a free Holiday Survival Guide for Parents with Special Needs Children. The PDF guide includes an outline of how to make Hanukkah traditions accessible, a Going to Visit Santa social story, holiday decoration tips, sample holiday visit letters informing relatives of your child’s needs, and more.

One Place For Autism has a wide-ranging document and video library; check out their Holiday Social Stories category for relevant listings.

Autism Speaks has an extensive Autism and the Holidays resource list, which features travel tips, toy recommendations, and a downloadable Thanksgiving Social Story.

The most important social skill to practice with your child with Autism

Imagine that you’re having a tough morning, running late and low on patience too. But then you drop off your child at school, and her teacher takes a moment to greet you by name. She makes eye contact and smiles at you.

For just a moment, you feel seen, recognized, and acknowledged. Suddenly, your day doesn’t seem so bad. You walk toward your car with a spring in your step.

That’s the power of a positive greeting.

So when it came time to for us to choose autism social skills for you to practice with your child, we decided to start there: with a friendly greeting.

Greeting another person with a “Hello!” and a handshake may seem so simple as to be forgettable, but it’s not. In reality, it’s a powerful part of both first impressions and ongoing relationships. It sets the tone for interactions, and it’s an important cultural ritual too.

The power of a personal greeting

While social niceties are devalued in some areas of the United States, children in other countries learn the importance of greetings early on. And that formal instruction in social skills stands them in good stead for the rest of their lives.

For example, many French parents teach small children to say, “Bonjour!” upon meeting friends and family members. This simple word empowers the child to participate in appropriate social interaction from a young age.

As Pamela Druckerman writes in Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting,

“In the United States, a four-year-old American kid isn’t obliged to greet me when he walks into my house …. Part of what the French obsession with bonjour reveals is that, in France, kids don’t get to have this shadowy presence. The child greets, therefore he is.”

When your child greets another person, he or she demonstrates both awareness and maturity. That’s why Temple Grandin’s short list of the most important skills she was taught under age eight includes shaking hands and greeting people.

How to teach and practice greetings

Though Grandin has strong social skills today, greetings did not come naturally to her. As she recalls,

“[My] mother and teachers demonstrated the correct [social] distance, looking in the eye and the amount of hand pressure. I practiced my skills by being party hostess when my mother invited guests for dinner.”

So if your child has difficulty making eye contact and shaking hands, take heart. It doesn’t mean that he or she cannot learn. Rather, it signals a need for calm coaching and ongoing practice. Here are a few helpful hints when practicing greetings with your child.

1. Think of social skills as similar to other life skills. 

Since you may not remember learning basic social skills yourself, you may take them for granted. And if you are a person for whom socialization comes easily and intuitively, it’s probably a challenge to see your child struggle.

To prevent frustration, think of social skills as similar to other life skills in that they take time and practice to master. After all, you wouldn’t expect your child to be able to tie their own shoelaces after just one demonstration, would you? So why would you expect a flawless pattern of greeting after just one period of instruction?

2. Strive for progress, not perfection. 

Be patient and celebrate small milestones. Did your child need prompting to say hello to her teacher from Monday through Thursday, and then offer an unprompted hello on Friday? That’s progress. Perhaps next week she’ll greet her teacher spontaneously two days out of five.

3. Focus on a single skill.

Also, remember to zero in on a single skill (or a single aspect of a skill) at a time. For you, looking someone in the eye, saying hello, and shaking their hand may seem like one cohesive task. Since you’re so accustomed to it, your mind doesn’t need to break it down into individual parts.

However, a greeting like this actually involves several discrete skills: a verbal greeting, a visual experience of eye contact, and a tactile handshake. So, if your child has trouble with greetings, practice one aspect at a time at first. Then, when you’ve mastered the individual components, work on combining them.

4. Do your best to ensure adequate sleep and healthy food.

It’s difficult for neurotypical adults to socialize appropriately when their basic needs go unmet. Have you ever struggled through an early-morning meeting, distracted by foggy thinking and hunger pangs? If so, then you know how hard it is to interact without sleep and food.

If you’re trying to facilitate social learning for your child with autism, one of the most powerful things you can do is promote restful sleep and a healthy diet.

Too much sugar leads to wired, hyperactive behavior, and too little sleep leads to fatigue and lethargy. As we wrote in our blog post, A morning routine will help your child improve their social skills,

“A consistent morning routine reinforces a regular sleep schedule, which is key to success in school and socialization. There’s a strong connection between restful sleep and positive social interactions. Lack of sleep makes interpersonal communication a struggle.”

5. Receive help and support.

If your child has the opportunity to work with an ABA clinician in person, fantastic! But maybe you’re flying solo and feeling discouraged, or perhaps you’re trying to supplement your child’s sessions and feeling frustrated. If so, that’s understandable.

We created our video library so that when you work with your child at home, you won’t have to start from scratch. You may not be able to travel to an office to receive ABA, but with FirstPath, you can engage your child in new learning every day.

Best of all, you can do so with the assurance that you’re following an evidence-based, scientifically proven program to promote growth and development.

Did this post help you? Then be sure to share it with your friends and social networks.

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FirstPath Autism Q&A: Teaching children with Autism social skills

If you’ve ever tried to talk to a toddler from behind a closed door, you know how disconcerting it can be.

Why is it such a strange experience? Because regardless of the barrier between you, young children tend to act as though you’re in the room with them. 

They’ll hold up their favorite book for you to ‘see’, or point to something they want you to notice. Why can’t they understand your perspective?

In today’s post, we’ll address this question, and how it connects to teaching social skills to children on the spectrum.

Question: 

I have heard that many children with autism have difficulty with social skills, and that this difficulty impacts how they get along with peers and siblings. Why is that? What can be done to provide support?

Answer From Amalie D. Holly, Board Certified Behavior Analyst:

Children with autism often experience a “Theory of Mind” deficit. Basically, this means that they are unable to read social cues effectively or look at life from another person’s point of view. Another term for this social disconnect is “mind blindness”. 

In typically-developing children, there is rapid growth in theory of mind skills between ages 3 and 4. (that’s about the age at which it gets easier to speak to them on the phone!) 

However, children on the spectrum experience developmental delays that affect their ability to see from another’s perspective.

As you might imagine, it is very difficult to act appropriately in social situations if you cannot understand what another person is thinking or feeling! 

For example, say you’re a child on the spectrum at a new school, and your classmate starts crying when her parents drop her off. Since you don’t have good Theory of Mind skills, you are unable to understand why she’s so upset. 

Then you laugh loudly, because it seems funny and strange to you that she’s crying. Your classmate then becomes angry with you. Since you didn’t know what to say or how to act appropriately, you inadvertently hurt your new classmate’s feelings.  

Having a Theory of Mind deficit can isolate you from others, making it difficult to create and maintain friendships. 

When children can’t read social cues, they can’t learn social skills solely by watching others. Instead, such skills must be taught explicitly and practiced thoroughly. 

FirstPath Autism addresses these skill gaps by providing social lessons and strategies. Our program covers everything from learning simple identification of basic emotions to understanding how to act in complex social situations.  

Theory of Mind skills can be taught, and FirstPath Autism provides the tools that children need to learn. Practicing these skills can help chilren to get along better with others and empower them to navigate social situations effectively.


If you’re a FirstPath Autism member and you’re interested in teaching your child with autism social skills, try these two helpful lessons with your child:

Video: Emotions Labeling

This lesson teaches students how to identify and recognize emotions in self, others, and pictures.

Video: Situation-based emotions

The focus of this lesson is to teach students how to identify and recognize how someone typically feels in common situations.

A morning routine will help your child improve their social skills

Building a strong morning routine has the potential to change your child’s life.

You’ve seen the self-help titles: How to Wake Up and Conquer Your Day. What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. Morning Routine Mastery. The underlying premise of these books is that what we do first thing in the morning matters.

A morning routine isn’t just about getting out the door on time. Rather, it has the power to dictate the rest of your child’s day.

At FirstPath Autism, we know that every family is unique, and there’s no one ‘right’ way to move through the morning. So don’t be afraid to try things out. Experiment until you find a rhythm that works for you and your family.

But what are some basics that will allow you to build a helpful routine? Furthermore, how might a strong morning routine improve your child’s social skills? What’s the connection between the two?

Routines reduce stress

First, there’s this simple reality: familiar daily patterns lend structure and stability to the lives of all children. For children on the autism spectrum, the predictability of routines helps mitigate stress. If your child knows what’s coming next, there’s less worry and distraction, and that sets the tone for the rest of the day.

As Dr. Kenneth Robinson notes in, “How to Establish a Before-School Routine for Children with Autism-Spectrum Disorders,”

“[Children with autism] are prone to anxiety and worry. A routine alleviates their fears and helps them function without being in a constant state of panic.”

Along the same lines, you can implement practical measures to help the routine flow smoothly. These include laying out clothes the night before, prompting your child to use the bathroom before heading out the door, and creating a generous routine timetable so as to avoid rushing and the stress it provokes. By planning ahead, you can head off problems before they start.

Routines facilitate learning

A morning routine provides an opportunity for you to engage with your child in teachable moments. You might use visual schedules or picture cards to offer support with multi-step tasks such as getting dressed.

You can reinforce word learning by mentioning objects (i.e., toothbrush, banana, placemat) as your child encounters them. Ideally, try to name an item as your child is focused on it, rather than interrupting his or her focus on a different object.

Through your morning routine interactions, you can facilitate greater independence by first teaching a routine, then allowing your child to initiate parts of it. For example, you might spend several mornings prompting your child to put a dish in the sink, then step back one morning to see if your child initiates the task without your prompt.

As The Hanen Centre’s, “The Power of Using Everyday Routines to Promote Young Children’s Language and Social Skills” says,

“[Allowing the child to step into the role of initiator] is a very powerful experience in helping a child understand that he can take another person’s role or perspective, an important part of effective two-way social interaction.”

Where appropriate, allow your child to initiate and shape the routine alongside you. If possible, integrate your child’s preferred behaviors into the routine as reinforcers. If your child is reluctant to brush teeth each morning, you might offer 15 minutes of video game play once toothbrushing is complete.

As the Hanen Centre article observes, “If the child sees that there is a reward for following the steps of the routine, he’ll be more likely to comply.”

Routines help your child get vital sleep

A consistent morning routine reinforces a regular sleep schedule, which is key to success in school and socialization. There’s a strong connection between restful sleep and positive social interactions. Lack of sleep makes interpersonal communication a struggle.

If you feel grumpy and socially withdrawn when you don’t sleep well, imagine how your child with autism feels! Socializing appropriately takes focus and energy for your child, and sleep deprivation decreases both.

If your child struggles with falling asleep at night, a consistent wake time could make all the difference. As the Sleep Foundation article, “What to Do When You Can’t Sleep” states,

“Wake up at the same time every day. Even if you have a hard time falling asleep and feel tired in the morning, try to get up at the same time (weekends included). This can help adjust your body’s clock and aid in falling asleep at night.”

Furthermore, disordered sleep can actually skew the subtle perceptions that drive social interaction. For example, individuals with autism often have difficulty with facial recognition, and lack of sleep only exacerbates the issue.

As Dr. Jeremy Dean, “Lack of Sleep Impairs an Essential Social Ability”notes,

“Lack of sleep impairs the ability to read facial emotions …. Those short on sleep tended to think both neutral and even friendly faces were actually threatening.”

Children with autism who don’t get sufficient sleep may perceive threats where there are none, thus triggering additional stress and fight-or-flight behavior.

Finally, a consistent morning routine also ensures that your child will eat an appropriate breakfast, which is vital to promoting social skills. After all, it’s difficult to focus on anything when hunger is gnawing at your stomach!

Building a solid morning routine takes work, but when you make the effort, your child’s social skills will benefit.