Autism · social language · Social Skills · Uncategorized

Important Dating Skills for Students with Autism

Pretend you are the parent or teacher of a teenager with Autism or a Social Language Disorder. Your teenager comes up to you one day and says “Guess what? I am dating someone!” Let’s talk about the most important dating skills for students with Autism.

If this is you, please keep reading! I want to share a few tips and friendly reminders for parents and teachers who are getting ready to start teaching their students with Autism or Social Language Disorders about safely dating.

Dating and relationships are terrifying topics for any parent, but I would imagine it is especially nerve wracking for parents of students with social language difficulties. At the time this blog post is being written, there are no studies that specifically analyze the correlation between Autism and sexual abuse. HOWEVER, there is a study that indicates that a child with any type of intellectual disability was four times more likely to be sexually abused than a child without disabilities (Sullivan & Knutson, 2000). Yikes.

Indulge me for a second and think about your first boyfriend or girlfriend.

I met my first boyfriend when I was 13 years old. We were on the swim team together. One day after practice, I mustered up the nerve to give him my home phone number (because 8th graders didn’t have cell phones back then). We dated for about a year, but like most middle school flings, it didn’t last forever. After that, I dated a few guys here and there until I met and married my husband when I was 23.  

What do you remember from the dating process? Sure, I remember a lot of fun times, but I also remember a lot of uncertainty, fear, anxiety, anger, and sadness. I especially remember being confused…does he like me? Should I kiss him? Do I need to break up with him? How far is “too far”?

Now, I am relatively socially adept. I am pretty good at interpreting and using nonverbal communication. I understand the social norms that surround dating, but navigating this social routine still made anxious! Did you feel this way too?

If you and I both felt this way, imagine how our students who struggle to understand social communication feel!

That is why we need to work with their caregivers to strategically teach them about this process!

Here is what I would do. Begin by TEACHING the student the most important dating skills. Explain why we date and break down the dating process into the following easy to understand steps.

1.) You Like Someone

2.) You Ask Them Out on A Date

3.) You are Dating

4.) You Keep Dating…or You Break Up

5.) Be Patient and Keep Trying

Autism dating skills

A few more important dating skills for students with Autism to keep in mind…

Now, you and I both know that dating is tricky, so, it is important to not shy away from the fact that your student will probably face some rejection. Make sure you talk about ways to avoid rejection (hello, understanding nonverbal communication). Also, make sure you talk about what to do if they are rejected or if someone breaks up with him/her. I know it is unpleasant, but your student deserves to have a plan in place if he/she needs it.

Healthy and unhealthy relationships. Does your student understand this concept? If not, then you need to teach it. Make sure your student knows the signs of healthy and unhealthy relationships…and what to do if they are in an unhealthy relationship. (i.e. break up, talk to a trusted adult, etc.)

ONE MORE SUPER IMPORTANT THING

Talk about physical touch. If you are a caregiver, I strongly, strongly, encourage you to just dive into this topic. Yes, it will be extremely awkward-I’m sorry. But open communication could prevent your child from being abused or put in a dangerous situation. If you are a teacher or therapist of some sort, well you probably can’t go as in depth, but you CAN make sure your student knows that they don’t have to do ANYTHING that makes them uncomfortable.

Do you know a student or teenager who could benefit from discussing dating and relationships? Are you uncertain about what to say or how to approach this topic? I can help!

I created this teaching guide on dating and relationships. It introduces dating, why we date, and it breaks down the process of dating into manageable steps. But the best part is that it also gives you discussion questions and activities that will help your student make a plan to be a safe and successful dater!

Dating and relationship social skills for autism

If you found this post helpful be sure and pop over to this post about power relationships! This is another important safety topic that I feel passionate about!

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Social Communication Definition

What is the definition of Social Communication? Social communication is how we use language when communicating with others. It goes beyond thinking of something to say, and physically saying it. Social communication is how we change the way we communicate based on the people around us. Still sounds confusing doesn’t it? Let’s break it down a little bit further.

Social Communication Disorder Definition
Use this graph to help you visualize the different areas of social communication.
If you are interested in learning more about social communication, or if video is more your thing, be sure to check out this video. I go into a lot of detail explaining what social communication by giving you a definition AND examples!

According to ASHA, Social Communication is made up of 4 main subcategories: Social Interactions, Social Cognition, Pragmatics, and Language Processing. Each of these four categories are broken down into smaller categories. I know this is a lot, but we will work through each of these categories as we talk about the definition of social communication!

Section 1: Language Processing

The different areas of social communication

Language processing is made of expressive language and a receptive language.

Expressive language is the language we produce. It includes things like using vocabulary words, combining words, and making grammatical utterances.  We use expressive language skills when we are speaking and writing. Although there are other forms of expressive communication.

Receptive language is the language we understand. It includes things like understanding a conversation, understanding vocabulary, and following directions. We use receptive language skills when we are listening to someone speak and when we are reading.

How Does Language Processing Effect Social Communication?

From a social language standpoint, we must understand what our communicative partners are saying before we can interact with them. In order to communicate, we must have some ability to express ourselves. If we cannot do these things, we cannot be social with others. The more language we can understand and use, the more social we can be.

Section 2: Pragmatics

The area of Pragmatics consists of nonverbal communication and verbal responses.

Nonverbal communication consists of the aspects of communication that are not verbal.

  • Eye contact
  • Gestures (pointing or giving a thumbs up)
  • Body language (shrugging or slouching)
  • Facial expressions
  • Eye gaze
  • Proxemics (personal space)

Verbal communication is every verbal component of speech. They include:

  • Speech Acts (The reason why we are communicating). Speech acts include making requests, making comments, giving directions, making demands, negotiating, and making promises.
  • Prosody & Tone of Voice. This is the intonation, rhythm, tone, and rate of speech. Socially, we change our prosody based on our communicative partner. If we are talking to a peer, we talk quickly, with an informal tone. If we are giving a presentation, we talk more formally, using a different tone and rate.
  • Discourse (The kind of communication interaction we are having). Discourse includes conversations, telling stories, retelling events, or telling someone how to do something.

Each of these kinds of discourse have different functions socially. We converse when we want to get to know someone better. To share an event, we tell a story. If we are giving instructions, we need to be able to tell someone how to do something.

How Do Pragmatics Effect Social Communication?

From a social stand point, some types of communication might be an interaction. This means both people are equal participants. Other times, it might be a social transaction. This means one person is using the other person to get something, but is not trying to interact socially with the other person. For example, a student who only communicates to ask for food, is participating in a social transaction, but is not interacting with the person he/she is talking to.

Section 3: Social Cognition

What is social communication?

Social cognition is the awareness of social cues. Very simply speaking, it is the ability to look at another person, identify how they are feeling, and then change the way we interact with them based on that information. Social cognition is made of four areas: emotional intelligence, executive functioning, theory of mind, and joint attention.

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to interpret and understand the emotions of others.

Someone who struggles with emotional intelligence has a hard time understanding complex emotions and empathizing with others.

We do this by reading others nonverbal and verbal communication, and then changing how we interact with them, based on the signals they give us.

For example, pretend you come home and you see a family member is acting sluggish and sounds extra tired. You would probably ask “What is wrong?”, right?  You have used emotional intelligence to determine the other person don’t feel good. If you offer to get him/her medicine, then you have used the information that person gave you, to change your interaction.

Think about how you would change your interactions with others if you saw the following emotions.

  • Excited/happy
  • Angry/frustrated
  • Tired/sick
  • Jealous
  • Determined
  • Sad
  • Bored

Theory of Mind is the ability to understand that other people have their own thoughts and feelings that may be different from yours.

Many students with social communication disorders do not realize that others have different thoughts and opinions from themselves. Socially speaking, this is important because it helps regulate how we interact with others.  

Consider this example. I might be having a lot of fun playing a game, but if I can tell that my friend looks bored, I might offer to change the activity. Even though I think the game is fun, I understand that my friend might not.

Someone who struggles with theory of mind, has a hard time understanding that other people have different thoughts and feelings.

Executive function is a set of mental skills that include working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. We use these skills to learn, work, and manage daily life.

Trouble with executive function can make it hard to focus, follow directions, and handle emotions. When we have difficulty with these tasks, we have a hard time interacting with others.

Joint Attention is the ability to share attention to the same thing as someone else.

If someone struggles with joint attention, they have a hard time paying attention to things that are not of interest to them. They are also not motivated to pay attention to what someone else is giving attention to.

For example, if we are interacting together and turn around and look at something, you will probably turn to look at what I am looking at, even if I didn’t say anything. This is joint attention. Those who struggle to interpret nonverbal communication often have a difficult time maintaining joint attention.

Section 4: Social Interactions

Social interactions are how we interact with others. Skills in this category include the ability to navigate power relationships, code switch, and problem solve in social situations. Let’s look at these a little closer.

Power Relationships are connections between two people defined by how much power/authority one person has over the other.

Power exists in every relationship. It is natural and healthy. Not everyone can be equal within each relationship. Power usually exists to help others or to keep people safe. If everyone had equal power, the world would be very chaotic.

In power relationships, we understand how to participate in each of these roles. We understand who our authority is, how to submit, and why it is important.  We also understand who are our peers, and how to interact with them, as well as how to interact with any subordinates we may have.

Code Switching is the ability to change the way you speak or act based on who you are interacting with.

For example, if you are bilingual, you code switch to know when to speak Spanish and when to speak English. In social communication, this means knowing how to act and speak around certain people. For example, you would understand that you use slang around your peers, and formal language with your authorities.

Social Problem Solving is the ability to solve problems in complex social situations. This includes compromising, apologizing, and agreeing respectfully.

In Conclusion…

As you can see, the social communication definition is very complex, which can make it very difficult to evaluate and treat.

If you are not an SLP and your student has been diagnosed with social communication and you still have questions, please reach out to your student’s Speech-Language Pathologist. He or she will know your child and be able to answer your specific questions.

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How Does A Normal SLP Start a TPT Store Anyways?

Have you ever wondered about the stories of your favorite TpT authors, bloggers, and online mentors? What prompted them to start this journey, more importantly what motivated them to stick with it? I can’t speak for them, but I would love to share the start of my TpT journey with you. 

It all started back in the year 2017. I was in my 3rd year working for a public school in North Texas and I was pregnant with my first child. I was meeting a teacher friend for coffee after work one day, but this wasn’t just any friend. This is one of those special, life-long and life-changing friendships.

You see this friend, she used to teach on my campus, but she had just had her first baby and had decided to leave public education to be a stay-at-home mom. During this coffee date, my friend told me she was starting a Teachers Pay Teachers store. I thought she was nuts, but I encouraged her, because that’s what friends do. Then she told me I should start one. Now  I really thought she had lost her mind. I had literally no idea the first thing to do to create a TpT resource. None. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

But this friend, (whose name by the way is Kaitlyn AKA The Stay At Home Teacher) kept bringing it up. She was so encouraging, that I finally decided “what the heck, I’ve got a few ideas, I’ll do it.” So, I bought my first cheap-o computer and got to work. And within minutes hit my first road block. Because I had no idea what I was doing.

By this time, I had had my baby and his sleep time became my work time. Those first resources took me days. And NONE of them still exist in their original form because they were TERRIBLE…so terrible.

Pay attention here, because this is the turning point in my story. I discovered I love a new challenge.

The thrill of turning “I have no idea how to do this” into “I figured it out!” continues to propel me forward.

It’s this same basic motivator that has created almost every resource in my store. If you were to look on my store shelves you would notice that almost all of them share a common theme: social communication/pragmatic language.

Here’s why: the thought of treating higher level social communication kids, used to scare me. I would get them on my caseload and they looked mostly normal. I found it so difficult to pinpoint what skills they needed to work on, because they could do all of the “big” things. Then once, I figured out what they needed to work on, I had no idea how to strategically teach it! Have you ever felt that way?

So, I decided I would take the hardest thing for me to teach, and I would learn as much about it as I could.

I wanted to be able to use these skills in my own classroom, but I needed to learn it so well that I felt confident making a resource about it. And now, I have done enough of these that I am in love with teaching social communication, and I want to help you fall in love with it too! If you don’t believe me, go read more about my love of social communication here!

Now I just keep doing it. I keep learning.  I keep setting new goals, goals that feel impossible but this phrase has become my motto: I CAN DO HARD THINGS.

And you know what?  You can do hard things too.

I can do hard things

If you’re interested in upping your pragmatic language therapy/evaluation game then you have come to the right place. Let me share my tips and tricks with you so that you can approach this tricky area with confidence. Click here and we can start learning together–I even want to give you a free pragmatic language evaluation checklist so you can sample my work. If my style isn’t your cup of tea, you can unsubscribe at anytime 🙂

Autism · Language · Uncategorized

Must Have Pragmatic Language Evaluation Tools and Tips

Pragmatic Language Assessments

My favorite speechie thing to do is pragmatic language evaluations and therapy. I even like to write the reports. *gasp* . Try not to judge me too harshly though, because I want to share my pragmatic language evaluation tools and tips with you. I am hoping it will save you time, and maybe help you enjoy writing those reports a little bit more. (Hey don’t look at me like that, I said maybe).

First, I want to take a moment to discuss what ASHA says indicates an area of concern when it comes to social communication.

According to ASHA, “Social Communication includes 3 major skills…using language for different reasons, changing language for the listener or situation, and following rules for conversation and storytelling”.

Nonverbal communication such as understanding/ using gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, proxemics, and eye contact all fall within that last section- “following rules for conversation and storytelling”.  (To read more about what ASHA says, click here).

So if you are like me you might be thinking, “Whoa…that is A LOT of really complicated things to evaluate, how do I do this in a methodical way that will get me all the information I need so I can write good strong goals (and a parent friendly report)”? Well, keep reading my friend, and I will tell you how.

Parent/Teacher Report

As with all evaluations, I start my assessment process by sending out checklists and questionnaires to the parents and the teachers. I have created some that specifically ask questions regarding the areas outlined by ASHA. I created them to be a rating scale, because I have found most student’s rarely fall into a “they always do it” or “they never do it” category with these skills. In my experience, parents and teachers find rating scales easier to fill out, and I find they give me more useful information.

Student Observation

The next step- try and observe the student in his or her natural habitat…or the lunch room, or recess, or centers…you get my point. Students act different for us in one-on-one settings, so watching them interact with other children in less-structured settings can give you a wealth of information. Even though I know this takes a lot of time out of your day, I strongly advise not skipping this step if possible. To keep me organized during this step, I use a checklist to remind me to try and observe #allthethings.  If you are in a position where you cannot observe the student, you will have to rely on the parent/teacher rating scales.

The rest of the evaluation takes place in my room. I like to give the student structured tasks that revolve around those ASHA guiding principles. Personally, I find that I get more/better data from my own personal evaluation than I have gotten from a formal assessment. I know those assessments have their place, but I personally find them too rigid and not quite as thorough as I would like them to be.

Nonverbal Communication/ Theory of Mind

This is probably my favorite area of the evaluation because you never know what is going to come out of the student’s mouth. I just love getting a glimpse into their little brains.

So just a quick reminder, theory of mind is “the ability to understand the desires, intentions, and beliefs of others”, and typically develops between 3-5 years of age. It is well documented that students who have Autism and/or social language deficits often struggle in this area, so it is extremely beneficial to evaluate this area.

I evaluate theory of mind and nonverbal communication together because you can’t have one without the other. Think about it. What strategies do you use when you are trying to guess what someone else is thinking or feeling? You look at their facial expressions, body language, gestures, eye contact…AKA their NONVERBAL LANGUAGE!

To evaluate both areas at the same time, I show my student a picture of someone displaying an emotion. I have the student identify what the person is feeling and then they have to tell me two things the person in the picture might be thinking. I like to show pictures depicting both basic emotions and more complex emotions. (To read more about complex emotions click here). Usually my students do a good job identifying simple emotions, but asking them to tell me what the person in the picture is thinking (AKA theory of mind) is much more challenging. I have even had students tell me “How am I supposed to know what they might be thinking?!”

Story Telling

Since ASHA states that deficits in storytelling accompany social language disorders, I definitely want to assess that area. I like to give my students a prompt, then, as they tell the story I listen for the following skills:

  1. The story is on topic
  2. The story contains details
  3. There is a clear beginning middle and end
  4. The student uses nonverbal communication to enhance the story

As for what kind of prompts I like to give, I usually use the following hierarchy:

  1. How to do a familiar task (i.e how to do a chore)
  2. A story about a personal event (i.e. a time the student got hurt/felt scared—these are usually easy for the student to remember)
  3. Retelling a familiar story (i.e. fairy tales or summarizing a book)
  4. Creating a new story (i.e. “Tell a story about a time a boy went to outer space”)

Conversation Skills

When I evaluate conversation skills, I look to see if the student does the following: initiates a conversation, stays on topic, asks questions, makes comments, takes turns speaking, and ends the conversation appropriately. I try to let the student lead the conversation as much as possible so that the student has the opportunity to use these skills. Usually though, I find that the student needs to me to lead the conversation.

Jokes/Humor/Idioms/Figurative Language

Even though ASHA does not explicitly outline deficits in these areas as a potential indicator of social language disorders, I still like to take a look at some of these skills. This is because in order for an individual to understand humor or figurative language, they must be able to take on someone else’s perspective (which they do by utilizing those nonverbal communication and theory of mind skills).

Let Me Save You Some Time

If you like this method of completing informal pragmatic language evaluations then I have some good news for you! I have already created an informal pragmatic language evaluation resource that follows this method of evaluation. I personally use this resource for all of my evaluations and I have found it to be very helpful.

This resource contains all of the pragmatic language evaluation tools that I talked about in this blog post: a parent/teacher rating scale, an observation checklist, plus stimuli for evaluating theory of mind and nonverbal communication, conversation prompts, story prompts, and jokes and idioms to help you evaluate figurative language.

If you’re interested in upping your pragmatic language therapy/evaluation game then you have come to the right place. Let me share my tips and tricks with you so that you can approach this tricky area with confidence. Click here and we can start learning together–I even want to give you a free pragmatic language evaluation checklist so you can sample my work. If my style isn’t your cup of tea, you can unsubscribe at anytime 🙂

Autism · Uncategorized

Teaching Conversation Skills in Speech Therapy

How To Teach Conversation Skills

Do you know how to begin teaching conversation skills in speech therapy? You know conversation skills are imperative to lifelong success, but where do you even start?

Maybe this conversation looks familiar:

Me: “Hi! Welcome to Speech, I am Mrs. Davault and I am going to be your speech teacher.”

Student: *mumbles incoherent response while avoiding eye contact*

Me: When you come to speech, you are going to be working on goals that will teach you ways to be a better friend.

Student: “I don’t have any friends.”

Me: That’s ok!  We have a goal for learning how to make friends! We also have a goal for learning how to have a conversation.

Student: “Oh yeah, I don’t know how to do that either.”

If video is more your thing, go check out the video version of this blog post!

This is summarized version of an actual conversation I have had with one of my students. (We went into his goals a little bit more in depth, but you get the idea).

Conversation skills…what are they exactly? How do we teach them? More importantly, how do we help our students learn them?

As with all good lessons we start the bottom of the ladder and scaffold our way up to the top. Teaching conversation skills in speech therapy is no different…but what is the bottom of the conversation ladder?

Step 1: Teaching the Vocabulary

Since many of my students struggle with language delays and disorders, I always want to make sure they have a nice, firm, grasp of the vocabulary they will need to know in order to be successful with the skill we will be practicing.

When teaching conversation skills, I like to focus on two main vocabulary words: conversation and topic.

What are conversations and topics

I explain to my students that a conversation is what you do when you talk to people and that the topic is what you are talking about. Then, we brain storm all the different topics we could talk about. We identify topics the student likes to talk about and we identify topics that other people might like to talk about. Common topics I like to review are family, friends, games, books, pets, chores, school, recess, etc. I especially want my students to understand that anything ANYONE talks about can be a topic.  Keep this list of topics to refer back to as your students learn more conversation skills.

Step 2: Smile and Look

Here is the point where our sweet students learn the first actionable steps to having a conversation: smiling and looking.

Remember, we are starting at the bottom of the ladder and climbing up, so I don’t even have my students worry about talking yet.

Smiling and looking is hard enough for many of them. I don’t expect them to make eye contact with everyone, but I do encourage them to try and look at the other person’s face. I explain that when we do this, it lets the other person know that we are friendly and that we want to talk to him or her.

After we have talked about this skill in the relative safety of the speech room, we walk around the school and practice smiling and looking at everyone we meet. It sounds easy enough, but it often makes my students squirm with discomfort. With each new person we see, I remind my student why this skill is important until the student can repeat it back to me. We try and practice smiling and looking each time we walk together around the building.

Step 3: Asking Questions

Asking a question is a natural way to start a conversation. Typically, we start a conversation by asking “How are you?”, so I teach my students this first. Unfortunately, a conversation cannot be maintained on this single question alone, and our little friends need to learn other strategies for developing questions.

 Having students initiate a question around a preferred topic, helps them ease into the conversation, but it is also important to explain that they need to ask questions about many different topics. This is where that list of topics from Step 1 comes in handy. Help your students generate different questions they could ask someone about each topic on the list. I also give my students pretend scenarios and have them practice thinking of questions they could ask in each situation.

Our students always need to know why each skill is important, so I make sure they understand that asking questions gives the other person a chance to speak, which makes that person feel good and makes the conversation more interesting for the other person.

Step 4: Find Common Interests

Once our students are proficient at asking questions, they will now have the ability to find common interests with someone. We find common interests by asking questions about many different topics, until we find a topic everyone likes. I try and explain to my students how to tell if someone enjoys the topic or if the topic is not a shared interest.

Why is finding common interests an important piece of the conversation puzzle?

Because, when we find that golden spot where each communicative partner is engaged and interested, the conversation is so much more enjoyable for everyone.

 To teach my students how to find common interests, I have them first identify their own interests, then I have them practice asking questions that can help them find out if someone shares their interests. I also talk to them about how shared activities/situations such as the weather and school can be a common interest and can be used to make conversation.

Step 5: Take Turns Talking

I have listened to countless one-sided conversations perseverate on everything from squirrels to video games, and I bet you have too.

While these fixed interests are part of what makes the student unique, they aren’t functional because we know that it takes two people to have a conversation. And if one person isn’t getting the chance to speak, that isn’t really a conversation, is it?

Find a way to remind your students to take turns talking. Teaching your students to respond to a visual or auditory cue might be helpful if your student is struggling in this area.

Step 6: Stay on Topic

As we continue to climb the conversation ladder, our next rung is staying on topic. At this point, our students can (hopefully) ask questions and take turns talking, but if each conversation partner keeps trying to redirect the conversation to a specific topic…well that’s going to be a confusing conversation.

Find a cue that can remind your students what the topic is, and a cue to redirect them if they get off topic.

Step 7: Add Comments

This next step is really tricky. It can be extremely difficult for students to generate an appropriate comment, on topic, and insert it in the appropriate place in the conversation. I like to teach my students how use place holder comments such as a head nod, saying “uh huh” or “mmhmmm” to show their communicative partner they are listening. I teach them to listen for natural pauses or breaks in the conversation and insert comments in those places. I explain that adding comments like these lets their partner know they are interested and that they are paying attention.

Step 8: Ending the Conversation

Have you ever had someone literally walk away from you without doing anything to indicate they are leaving the interaction? It is kind of jolting and it is definitely awkward. Knowing how to end a conversation can be really confusing, so it’s important that we explicitly teach this skill to our students.

To do this, I explain to my students that just leaving a conversation is not polite…even if they are ready to be done with that conversation. Then I give them a few key phrases that they can use to end a conversation more politely. We also talk about making sure the other person is done talking before we leave the interaction.

Step 9: Practice

We all know that repetition is the key to learning. The more opportunities our students have to practice these skills, the easier and less awkward it will be come. The final step of teaching conversation skills is practice. I like to begin practicing full conversation skills by using conversation prompts in my classroom. I give my students a visual of the steps to having a conversation, and we work through each prompt, making sure we have used each step appropriately. If the student is struggling with a particular prompt, we practice it again until it becomes easier. Then, if it is possible, I like to practice using these skills with familiar people in our environment. This might be peers or other adults who are around us. We then practice and practice some more until the student has met mastery.  

Conversation Social Story

I have created a “How to Have A Conversation” Social Story, that teaches conversation skills using the steps I have outlined above. Each step is explained using simple, easy to understand language so that it can be understood by most learners, even those with language delays or disorders. Each of the steps above has a dedicated page in the story and a companion activity so that students can practice the skill in a structured lesson. There is also an option for the students to draw the pictures for their story. I have found these pictures spark interesting conversations and it also helps the students take more ownership of the story.

I usually spend one session teaching each step. I have found reading the story, doing the activity, and drawing the picture usually takes around 30 minutes. Afterwards, I like to send the activity home for the student to review with his or her caregivers. Once all the steps have been taught, we practice using each step together to try and form a conversation.

If you are interested in learning more about teaching conversation conversation skills in your speech therapy groups, please click the picture below!

How to have a conversation social story and activities
Conversation Social Story and Activities

If you’re interested in upping your pragmatic language therapy/evaluation game then you have come to the right place. Let me share my tips, tricks, and research with you so that you can approach this tricky area with confidence. Click here and we can start learning together--I even want to give you a free pragmatic language evaluation checklist so you can sample my work. If my style isn’t your cup of tea, you can unsubscribe at anytime 🙂

If you enjoyed this post, please share one of the images below on Pinterest!

Do you want to learn more social communication tips and tricks? Grab your coffee and start binge reading about teaching affective expression, empathy, and complex emotions!

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How to Make Friends

How to make friends

How to Make Friends

“I don’t have any friends!” “No one likes me!” Have you ever heard a student say these words? Did it absolutely break your heart? It’s broken mine. If you have ever had a student struggle with knowing how to make friends, keep reading my friend, and I will give you everything you need to strategically teach them this complex social skill.

As I began researching this topic, it became evident to me that many people don’t know how to make friends, and I am not just talking about people with Autism or Social Language Disorders. I was talking to my best friend the other day about her (typically developing) son who is having a hard time finding a group of friends at school. I asked her if she has tried teaching him how to make friends and she said “I don’t know how to make friends; it is just something that happens.”

Now that got me thinking. How do we make friends?

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Is making friends something that just happens naturally? Or is there a magic formula that will bring you success?

I think it is a little bit of both. When you make friends naturally, you do follow a certain set of steps. So, I think it is reasonable to assume that if people who do not make friends naturally follow these steps, they should be able to make friends. Or at the very least, they have a better shot at it than if they went into it blindly.

After doing some research, I simplified this extremely complicated process into 8 simple steps. I feel like these steps help students with social language difficulties break down this skill into pieces that they can manage, which leads them to greater success. Each skill builds on each other, so that students start by learning a simple and concrete task and keep learning new skills until they understand the steps to making a new friend. So, what are these 8 steps you ask? Read on and find out.

Making Friends Step 1: Smile and Say Hello

Do you agree that making a good first impression is the first step to making a new friend? “Surely people aren’t that shallow!”, you say.

If that is what you are thinking, I hate to break it to you, but you are wrong.

There is research that suggests we begin to make our first impressions of people in less than a second of meeting someone new. LESS THAN A SECOND, people. That is a really scary thought because I know that deep in your heart you know that your babies who struggle with social skills don’t usually make good first impressions.

It is a cruel and vicious cycle, but we can give these students a leg up by teaching them about the importance of first impressions and by teaching them how to make polite greetings. That is why the first step is practicing something as simple as smiling, and saying hello.

Making Friends Step 2: Be Polite

Being polite. Are you cringing at the thought of trying to teach this? I kind of am.

I will be honest, this is not a skill that your students will learn, master, and use overnight. This will take weeks, months, probably years of you gently pointing out and explaining rude behaviors to students. They probably don’t mean to be rude. They probably don’t even realize they are being rude, but nevertheless that is how their actions come across. So how do we begin to teach this skill? We teach what it means to be polite like we would any other vocabulary word. Then, as we see or hear about specific situations, we use them as teaching moments.

Making Friends Step 3: Find Common Interests

We find it easier to talk to people with whom we have things in common. I know for me, when I meet someone who is a teacher, an SLP, or anyone in the education field, I have an instant connection with them and we have lots of potential conversation topics. This is because we share the common interest of education. The more common interests we share with someone, the more likely it is that we will be that person’s friend.

When teaching your students how to find interests they share with others, first help them identify their own interests. After that, teach them how to ask other people about their interests. After they have learned how to ask others about their interests, help your students continue practicing these skills until they are proficient at finding shared interests with others.

Making Friends Step 4: Listen and Ask Questions

Watch yourself the next time you have a conversation with someone.

Is your first impulse to sit back, listen, and ask questions? Or is it to find a way to relate the other person’s comments back to yourself? If you said listen and ask questions, good for you! There are good listeners out there, but many of us (myself included) have a tendency to want to primarily speak about ourselves. Our kiddos with social language deficits really have a tendency to monopolize a conversation by talking about their specific interests.

We need to clearly explain this step to our students. They need to understand why it is important to ask questions to their communication partners and they need to be made aware of the times that they are monopolizing the conversation. We need to be teaching them how to ask good, strong “wh” questions and how to sit and listen to the persons response, then ask another good “wh” question. They will also need to be frequently reminded to not ask many yes/no questions and try and not comment about themselves or bring the conversation immediately back to their interests.

Making Friends Step 5: Spend Time Together

This is the step when true friendships are made.

Good friends spend time together. It has often been my experience that the more time I spend with someone, the better friends we become. In fact, this step can be someone’s saving grace if they made a bad first impression. When we spend time together, we get to know each other better and it becomes easier to talk to them.

Help your students think of ways they can spend time together using the interests they share with their friends. For example, if your student identified that a shared interest is playing video games, the time spent together could be playing video games at the other persons house.

One word of caution-not every parent will want their child spending time at other people’s houses. Not every student will feel comfortable hanging out with their friends outside of school. So, as you are thinking of ways that students can spend time with their friends, make sure that you are also helping them brainstorm ways they can spend time with their friends at school (or wherever it is that they met this friend).

Making Friends Step 6: Resolve Disagreements

Disagreements are a part of human nature; we know this.

What many of our students with Autism or social language disorders don’t know, is how to resolve those disagreements in a way that benefits both parties. This is why resolving disagreements is step six in my how to make friends guide.

I explain to my students that if they don’t resolve their disagreements properly, they won’t keep the friends they have worked so hard to make. After all, no one wants to be in a friendship where they don’t feel heard. I explain to my students what a compromise is and then I give them scenarios of disagreements for them to practice resolving. In my structured speech therapy room, they usually can identify a good compromise pretty quickly. The challenging part is using these strategies in real life.

Making Friends Step 7: Apologize for Hurt Feelings

Step 7 is similar to step 6, but it takes it a little bit further. I don’t just want my students to learn how to compromise, I want them to learn how to make a sincere apology.

Many times, our students just want to say “sorry” and walk away from the person whose feelings they have hurt, but in my opinion, these apologies are not adequate.

I explain to my students that there are two important pieces of a good apology.

  1. Say sorry for the specific situation (preferably using the other person’s name).
  2. Make a plan so it won’t happen again.

So, if Johnny spills his drink on Maria’s project, he should say something along these lines. “Maria, I am sorry I spilled my water on your project. Next time, I will make sure that my drink is far away from your work.”

  Making Friends Step 8: Be Patient and Keep Trying

Oh, step eight. This is the hardest step of them all.

As adults, we logically know we will not be friends with everyone and this step is still excruciatingly hard. After all, if someone doesn’t want to be our friend, it feels as if you have been personally rejected.

I am pretty sure that many of our students actually expect everyone to be their friend. Actually, I think we are guilty of teaching them this when they are very young. While I DO think it is appropriate to encourage everyone to be friends, I KNOW the reality is the opposite. This harsh reality needs to be gently explained to our students. *Insert nervous emoji*

So, how do I teach this painfully difficult lesson? I explain that making friends takes time. I explain that they might need to do all of these steps many times before making a friend. I explain that the more time you spend with someone, the more likely they are to become a friend. I explain that the more shared interests you have, the easier it is to become someone’s friend. Then I explain that even if you do all these things, you still will not be everyone’s friend. I explain that that this is normal. I remind them to be patient and keep trying. Eventually they will find a friend.

After I have explained this, I give my students authentic scenarios they might encounter in the real world and we walk through ways to handle them together. This is not pleasant and should be presented carefully and with an attitude of kindness, but I do think it is necessary.  Here are a couple of sample scenarios:

  1. You try to sit in a certain seat in the cafeteria, but the people sitting by that seat tell you it is saved. What would be the best thing to say and do?
  2. You ask your friend to be your partner for the group project, but he/she wants to work with another group. What would be the best thing to say and do?
  3. You text your friend asking about going to a movie, but he/she never responds. What would be the best thing to say and do?

As with step six, students can usually give an appropriate answer shortly after we begin these discussions. However, when they face these situations in real life, I have found my students to be deeply hurt and sad. Honestly, I feel that way too in some of these situations. It is important to keep an eye out for situations like this your student might be experiencing so that you can go back and talk about them later.

How to Make Friends Self Analysis

One more thing that I like my students to do is participate in a friendship self-analysis. I have created a worksheet that reviews the steps and I use it to help my students see how they are doing at following these strategies outside of the speech room.

Making Friends Social Story and Companion Activities

Making friends social story
Click the image above if you would like to see more of this social story about making friends.

Friends, I know we are all insanely busy, so if you are struggling with teaching friendship skills to some of your students, I would love for you to check out this resource. It is a social story about making friends using these 8 steps. There are also companion activities that go along with the story, so that your students can practice the skills that they have learned. If you are interested in learning more, please click the picture above and it will take you to it!

If you’re interested in upping your pragmatic language therapy/evaluation game then you have come to the right place. Let me share my tips and tricks with you so that you can approach this tricky area with confidence. Click here and we can start learning together-I even want to give you a free pragmatic language evaluation checklist so you can sample my work. If my style isn’t your cup of tea, you can unsubscribe at anytime. 🙂

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