Social relationships skills for teens : Social Development

Social relationships skills for teens

What approaches are effective in improving social skills among teens on the autism spectrum?

Today’s “Got Questions?” answer comes from Matthew Lerner, a doctoral candidate in psychology at the University of Virginia and predoctoral intern in psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago. His research focuses on developing interventions to improve social and emotional abilities among children and adolescents with autism.

This is such an important question because social skills become a greater issue as children with autism enter their teenage years. For many teens on the autism spectrum, especially higher functioning kids, their challenges with social skills become more pronounced and noticed in high school as teens become more keenly aware of who “fits in” and who “stands out.” At the same time, many teens on the spectrum become acutely aware of how they differ from the “norm.” One teenage boy told me he thought that everyone in his class was psychic except for him. He’s not entirely wrong in that he was missing the nonverbal cues and the subtle ebb and flow of friendship development – and was starting to realize it. At the same time, parents and school counselors are beginning to think about what skills teenagers need while dating and once they leave school for college or the job market.

Studies have demonstrated the benefits of several approaches for improving social skills. But they also tell us that no single approach works for all teenagers with autism. Moreover, the majority of studies focus on high-functioning boys and men. We don’t know whether these approaches work with teenage girls and young women or lower-functioning teens, because we lack enough research on these groups.

So let’s rephrase your question slightly to: Which approach should I use with my teenager?

By far the most common and well-supported intervention for high-functioning kids on the autism spectrum is “structured learning.” Typically done in a group setting, teachers instruct the kids on socially acceptable behavior. The teachers then model the behavior, have children role-play and then ask the teens to use these skills with their peers. Though structured learning works well for many children, I have noticed that subsets of adolescents don’t respond well to this approach. This may be because teens are becoming self-conscious and may feel uncomfortable when instructors tell them how to act or point out how they’re not good at something.

To fill this gap, I created an alternative “performance training” model called SDARI (for Socio-Dramatic Affective Relational Intervention). I originally founded the program with Karen Levine at the Spotlight Program at the Northeast Arc in Danvers, Massachusetts. Today, it’s used in many programs around the country and has shown promising effects in a series of studies.

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Some more advice for CLF regulars

by TheGoodDoctor

One person alone
lights the dark with the blaze of life.
A man and woman,
together make of two,
an eternal flame as they co-create children of flesh, thought or spirit.
With harmonic union, their fusion
ignites ice and vaporizes stone.
This living energy is
conceived in the hope of,
born in the faith of,
grows in the love of true marriage.
The Wedding Ceremony is the 7th chapter of the 4th edition of the book Love Thine Enemas & Heal Thyself by Dr. Jerry Glenn Knox BA, DC
'First comes love. Then comes marriage. Then comes the baby in the baby carriage!' So goes the old rhyme. Marriage is the foundation of all successful societies. From the union of one man and one woman springs new life. The care and nurturing of that new life are the legal function of marriage. How well it succeeds tells how well the society that sanctions…

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