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Social Skills Training

Comment on Social Skills Training

( I wrote this letter in response to a questions asking who would be effective teaching social skills. Note the response to the letter which is included at the end. This is what understanding autism is all about).


I have been thinking about this question since I read J's question and I find myself feeling very cautious.......the problem is not , as I see it, that we have to teach people "social skills" so that they can be like us, but instead teach them who they are as a person and how their body is reacting in the specific environment of the moment....once that is clearly understood, the social skills are not the issue.


For example: one client I am working with just went through a family gathering for a baby shower. We have been working together for a year now and she is beginning to understand more and more how her body is reacting and what she does to quell the anxiety. She is also becoming very aware of how the attitudes and expectations of others affect her level of anxiety, so she has realized that she needs to share her particular skills with her family members in order for them to understand why she is doing what she does. This baby shower is the first family gathering she has attended where she was able to honestly gauge her reaction to the heightened level of stimulation and leave the room BEFORE it got to be too uncomfortable with the blessing of her family members who understood what she was doing. Thus she was able to move in and out of the actual party to fit her unique needs, and was able to be as social as anyone else and truly enjoy herself in the midst of a large gathering of people. She claims that it was an incredible experience.


I haven't found very many people who understand any of this to date.......those who focus on specific symptoms: whether it be the impairment in communication, the impairment in social skills or BEHAVIOR!!! are missing the boat........they are only a symptom. One of the first things we did together as client and therapist was play the Life Stories game. This was not to teach her anything, but to demonstrate to her that she was capable of social exchange already, even if everyone had always told her that she wasn't, and she had convinced herself that she wasn't. In the beginning the social exchange was very abrupt, short, and in a way meaningless, but we continued on for an hour. As she relaxed and her anxiety level decreased our interactions became more and more normal to the point I finally stopped the game and asked her what was happening. She was amazed to realize that we were interacting exactly as she wanted. I hadn't "taught" her anything. I hadn't "modeled' anything. I hadn't changed her in anyway. I had just allowed the time and the environment to be safe enough so that the anxiety could decrease to the point that she could do what she is already capable of doing.


So, if I was looking for a person to fill this role, I would NOT look for someone who knows how to teach Social Skills, or who has been trained by anyone who is claiming to focus on social skills,  but for someone who understands autism completely and is willing to adapt our world to fit that of the person with autism so that they can begin to clearly understand themselves and then in turn be free to be themselves where ever they are without high levels of anxiety.


That's the way I see it..................Gail


gail, are you a mind reader? i sassing you, i am so happy to just know you understand. i laughed out loud when mom read your email to me.  for a second i was filled with joy. free from anxiety just knowing someone understands.  i know i could speak if only i got rid of the anxiety.  i just always anxious.  it restricts my throat if i try to speak. i guess i just have to hope the world hears your message. thanks. Chandi

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