It's well known that kids on the autism spectrum struggle with generalizing learning from one setting to another. Simon Baron-Cohen explains this by way of the extreme systemizing theory of autism, where autistic individuals set up rules to understand the world, and those rules don't easily generalize from one situation to another. I think this difficulty is clearly apparent in social situations. So often, I've worked with children who could teach the content of a social skills class, yet they struggle to apply those same skills in any meaningful way in their own lives.
That's why I like to see experiential social skills training, rather than more didactic, instructional training. When an individual has the experience of doing activities with others, ideally with some support on the social skills involved, and he/she gets to apply the intellectual theories of social skills in a real, social setting, that person has the chance to practice, understand and learn those skills, rather than merely recite them. Experiential learning takes place in many settings, from a group project in the classroom, to sports teams, to hobby groups and camps. When I work individually with children and teens, I combine instruction on social skills to application, through here and now games and activities. Whenever I get the chance, I bring up what's going on socially, right in the session. I think the most useful part of many social skills groups isn't the skills discussion around the table, but rather the shared pizza time afterward.
So what's the point of all this instructional theorizing? The experiential call to action! It's February, and not too soon to think about summer camps. There are so many good ones, with camping, Legos, robotics and computers, arts, sports, nature, and horses. Check out my resource page for my favorite Bay Area social skills camp choices or search online for activities your child will enjoy.
photo credit: Johan Jönsson via Wikimedia Commons
Patricia Robinson MFT
I'm a licensed therapist in Danville, California and a coach for Asperger's and ADHD nationwide. I work with individuals of all ages who have special needs, like Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADD, ADHD, and the family members and partners of special needs individuals.