Considerations for Social Interaction with Autistic Students

Take these considerations into account when preparing autistic students for social interaction.
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Updated on: November 16, 2001
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Recognize That Not All General Education Students Will Be Suited to Social Interaction Programs

Unfortunate as it may be, not all children and adolescents are suited to social interaction programs. Regular class students who express reluctance or dislike for involvement with students with autism and students who have demonstrated poor role model qualities or who otherwise have interacted poorly with students with autism may be excluded. This is not to suggest that regular class students who have learning and behavior problems automatically should be excluded from social interaction program consideration.

A number of such students have shown themselves to be excellent peer confederates and tutors in spite of their own problems. Nonetheless, educators must closely evaluate each student for social interaction program participation and select only individuals who are suitable for interacting with children and youth with autism.

Reduce Aberrant Behaviors Prior to Initiating Social Interaction Programs

It is unrealistic to assume that general education children and youth will interact with students who routinely hit them, scream at them, or otherwise emit highly deviant behavior. Accordingly, educators and other professionals must bring the behavior of pupils with autism under control prior to initiating social interaction programs with regular class students. Individuals with autism need not be free of all self-stimulatory and other negative behaviors; however, basic compliance must be established prior to initiating social interaction programs.

Provide Ongoing Instruction and Monitoring

General education students and pupils with autism interact most effectively when provided continual instruction and feedback. That is, social interaction instruction must not be viewed as a process wherein initial instruction and supervision are sufficient to achieve social interaction goals and objectives. Teachers and other professionals must provide ongoing instruction and supervision.

Task Analyze Social Interaction Skills

Some students with autism are unable to master an entire social interaction skill. The skill may therefore need to be task analyzed. To gear instruction effectively to individual students' needs, teachers and other instructors should define interaction skills along with their component parts. Once students have mastered the component parts, instruction on the entire skill may commence.

Consider the Importance of Setting and Material Variables

Introduction of skills into environments where they are most likely to occur and use of inherently interactive materials facilitates student learning and generalization. Accordingly, professionals should attempt to teach social skills in integrated classroom, home, and community settings, using play items and other materials that have natural interactive qualities.

Consider Social Validity in Programming

Educators should question carefully whether or not an interaction skill will benefit a particular student with autism. Similarly, they should consider whether the skill will benefit others in the student's environment. That is, newly acquired skills should functionally enhance interactions between the student and others.

Prioritize Social Interaction Skills

Students with autism may require many instructional and practice sessions to incorporate a new skill into their repertoire. Professionals should first address social interaction skills having the greatest potential impact. In particular, they should attempt to select social interaction skills that can be used with a variety of people and settings.

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