My child needs to improve their social skills – but which ones do I start with first?

My child needs to improve their social skills – but which ones do I start with first?

This is quite a common question in my practice and one I am keen to address today for you!

There really is a simple answer to this and it uses a step by step method that I often use with my own son, Jon and clients who I work with and their children. As social skills is really a generic term which covers a multitude of areas, using a simple sheet to mark out which skills your child excels in first is the best way to start the process.

In the following table, I have started off for you how a social skills monitor would look like for your child:

SOCIAL SITUATIONS WHICH THEY ARE GOOD AT                                                                   SOCIAL SITUATIONS WHICH NEED WORK

Talking to friends at school Talking to adults they don’t know so well (shop assistants, waiters, bus drivers etc)
Talking to teachers Listening to others when they talk (conversation)
Talking to family members Eye contact with talking to me (parents)
Reading someone’s emotions (happy, sad) Initiating play
Saying hello and goodbye (with or with prompting.) Sharing toys
Saying sorry Attending birthday parties
Following simple instructions at school from a teacher Asking others to join in with play

You might want to go a bit further in assessing on what level your child is on each column by using stickers (stars, ticks) to show the level of how well your child is doing for that area.

There is no hard and fast rule about which area takes priority over another. That needs to be down to you. I suggest the best thing to do is look at the barriers that may be holding your child back in an important area – school, for example and classroom situations. It would be more important to work on listening skills are school and more effective play, for example, than working on your child’s interaction at birthday parties.

Please do let me know how you get on and if you have any worries or questions you would like to ask. I would love to hear from you! Just use the form below and let me know what you would like to know!

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Michelle Hatcher

Consultant CBT Therapist


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6 Ideas For A Stress Free Morning Back To School

As the summer now draws to a close, the thought of getting your ASD child up the morning they go back to school, can be Hellish. Over the last five weeks, you’ve dealt with late nights, late mornings and all sorts of mood swings, no matter what age they are or where they are on the spectrum. Now for you, the idea of getting them back into a routine is a nightmare in itself.

So for those of you who are dreading the morning of school (and for my autistic son, Jon, that’s this Friday) here are a few tips to get your child perfectly bright-eyed and ship-shape for the beginning of the new school year…

  1. Early to bed, early to rise: The night before is usually when everything kicks off. Not only is your child unwilling to go to bed but there will be a zillion questions and affirmations required from them  about what’s going to happen the following day. Of course, you’re not Buddha and all you can do is answer them as best you can. If you can get them to bed at a reasonable time that evening, then you are half way to cracking the Autism code. Just keep in mind they will need to start winding down a good three hours before bedtime to avoid making plans and visits to anywhere or anyone from lunchtime onwards.
  2. The key to an early bedtime is to wear them out with a busy day the day before: That might be easier said than done for some children, but a lot of fresh air, even a drive around in the car with the window down can help a child feel tired easily after dinnertime. Indulge in their favourite games in the afternoon, this will not only make them tired ready for bed at the right time but will keep their mind distracted from school.
  3. Warm drinks for calming down: Warm milk or some luke warm herbal tea works well to soothe an anxiety or stress. Try Camomile cooled down with perhaps half a teaspoonful of honey. This soothes the tummy and relaxes the stress levels (for both you and your child!) Avoid hot chocolate or anything that has a high sugar content (other than honey as this is a natural sweetener.) Malted drinks are good too but warm milk is best. Avoid laptop games and anything that will excite them visually. Story books with a lot of pictures in, are still handy in my house even though Jon is over 15 years old on occasions he can’t get to sleep.
  4. Thinking games: I have used these types of word games for Jon in the past and they have worked brilliantly. Make yourselves comfortable with your child tucked up in bed and start a game of guessing colours of an object such as fruit, transport or anything your child is into. They don’t have to be colours, they can be types of things such as trains, hats, buses, even uniforms! Anything that allows their mind to think about something other than school. You can use any sorts of guessing games. I Spy tends to get boring so I tend to avoid that one!
  5. Anything but the telly: It is easy to be tempted into putting on the box and letting them watch their favourite programme, but although this might give you a few minutes breathing time, it wont help your child to go to sleep. Children have the habit of sitting too close to the tv, straining their eyes and keeping their mind active causing it to remember images and sounds. This is likely to keep them awake, especially if your child is sensitive. Jon would get very upset if he watched an advert with a toy or an animal in it. Then he would be so distressed that it would keep him from settling down and going to sleep. My intervention here would be to make him laugh, so I would take a couple of his own cuddly toys and start a conversation between them. This not only gives your child some social skills practise but distracts them enough to associate then a toy as a happy thing, rather than a sad one.
  6. Waking up!: There is a rule of thumb that goes in our house for Jon when I need to get him up for school. It goes rather on the initial reading I take of his mood. Sometimes, he can be very cheerful and I will keep this level of cheerfulness from the word go. I allow him to take the lead in the mornings as I find this is the only way to get him ready. I adopt his mood and reflect it as I get his ready for school. That way he doesn’t have time to complain. If he is in a bad mood, I will ask him what he wants help with. If I am greeted by a groan of ‘nothing’ then I leave him to it, reminding him every so often what the time is. Avoid arguments and shouting. This will only mean that you end up shouting at each other and nothing will get done. If there is a sullen mood surrounding your child, then keep talking to a minimum. Sometimes, children might not want to talk at all, and this is fine. Go along with it. Don’t feel your child has got to be the same every day. They won’t be, and never take any aggravation from your child personally. His mood is not your fault. Ever.

Good luck for your mornings back to school!

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how to get your child up to speed on communication skills