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Social Skills for Autism 

Inside: Ideas for encouraging social skills in autism classrooms and in the home, as well as books, worksheets on social skills, workbooks and examples of social skills strategies.

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social skills for autism

Social Skills are an area where many individuals with autism may need some direct instruction and guidance. Teachers and caregivers often struggle with how to teach social skills, what to teach and in what order. While there is no set standard way to teach social skills, it may be helpful to focus on a few areas first when getting started.  First, think about lessons that teach the individual self-management to help them recognize their own behaviors.  Second, when teaching social skills in the classroom, teach the individual to identify emotions in themselves and in others. Next, promote self-awareness so that students understand how they interact with the world around them. Last, encourage communication through pictures, gestures, writing or words. Resources like these Social Skills Printables (here) or Teen's Edition-Social Skills Printables (here) can get you started with teaching social skills.  Additionally, there are many other strategies available to teach social skills in autism support classes and in related environments:

  • Provide Frequent Opportunities for the Students to Practice
  • Try Video Modeling
  • Develop and Read Social Sentences and Picture Cues
  • Self-Management Support
  • Identify Emotions
  • Give the Individual Choices More Frequently
  • Make Social Scripts
  • Using Board Games to Teach Social Skills
  • Incorporate Power Cards
  • Use Role Playing
  • Design Social Stories for the Student
  • Direct Instruction of Social Skills 
  • Implement/Follow a Social Skills Curriculum
  • Social Skills Printable LessonsBehavior Skills Printable LessonsPlay Skills Printable Lessons

When working in a classroom, on the playground or at home with autistic children, you might need to utilize various social skills activities for this are of development. Let’s take a closer look at some examples of social skills.

Practice During Play

Children with autism need extra time to develop their play skills such as learning to take turns or sharing with others. You can encourage this behavior by continuously practicing these types of games over and over again. Passing a ball or playing cards is a typical game where you can reinforce the rules with verbal clues and picture cues by saying “my turn” and “your turn.” Use picture cards for students with limited speech so that they can also communicate with you. They’ll be able to cope better with winning, losing, and taking turns when you utilize this in your social skills curriculum. Try using dolls or props to practice daily activities--you could eat dinner, visit the supermarket, or have a tea party to teach expected behaviors in specific situations.

Video Modeling

It has been especially challenging for special education teachers to develop the necessary social skills during this pandemic because they find it difficult to connect with their students virtually. If you’re struggling with your online classes, take advantage of video modeling! Even if you are in-person and need social skills for autism support classrooms , this works too! You can analyze videos of social behaviors with your students by pausing them to discuss expressions, body language, tone, and additional social cues. You can either record your videos or use clips from shows and movies. You have access to thousands of scenes for different social situations, so this method is very advantageous for improving social skills for autism. Use it to explain society’s rules and comprehend people’s feelings. This site gives some things to think about when using video modeling.

Picture Cues and Social Sentences

The social skills of autism of course, differ with each individual student on the autism spectrum.  Visualization is essential for many children with autism to learn social skills. Try using various picture cards, words, and checklists to help your students remember which behavior is expected of them for each location. You can have them organize the pictures in the order of events that would occur, such as ordering ice cream. They would place the greeting card first, then place their order, hand over the payment, receive the dessert, etc.

Self-Management Support

Understanding how to manage your behavior is one of the essential social skills we learn early on. These social rules can be difficult for a child with autism to know, but developing a self-management system can drastically affect their social independence and overall success in daily life. The most common type of self-managing system is with a paper and pencil, where the student marks an X or O to indicate whether they completed a task. If students have difficult with writing, use a laminated paper with checkmarks that they can Velcro™ on and off.

Identify Emotions

Not only do children with autism struggle to identify emotions expressed by their peers, but they also struggle to understand their own emotions as well. Teaching the names of the emotions and the facial cues associated with the emotions can help. Here is a free set of emotions flashcards that can be downloaded and used for this purpose. Practice looking at expressions in pictures and identifying emotions in picture books, and also, teaching coping skills like anger management, and trying to debrief after an overwhelming emotional event.                                                                                     

Allow for Frequent Individual Choice Making

Individual choice making is a natural part of everyday life and shouldn’t be withheld from individuals with autism. It is your job as a parent or teacher to provide opportunities for your child to make choices throughout their day. Something as simple as choosing between working on their math or reading homework can help develop independence and proper communication. For students with limited speech, have them point to their choice or give a picture card, if needed.

Make Social Scripts

Social scripts allow you to change or teach a particular behavior in a story format that is easy to make, individualize and use daily. Every script needs to include a description of the problem, a basic and easy-to-understand behavioral expectation, and a brief script written from the child’s perspective. Using these “stories” provides a structure to kids with autism so that they can deal with situations that might otherwise be stressful, such as working with classmates, dealing with a change, or riding a noisy bus. When teaching social skills with autism support classrooms, you might want to incorporate some active practice along with the scripts.

Using Board Games to Teach Social Skills

Board games are excellent for developing social skills since they incorporate both learning opportunities and a fun source of entertainment. Children will learn how to take turns, understand rules and their importance, and learn appropriate behavior for winning and losing. Jenga, Connect Four, or Chutes and Ladders are great choices to start with since they are relatively simple and easy to play independently. If you need to modify the game at bit, you can. For example, Connect Four can change to a turn taking game if you put in one checker, the child puts in one checker, then you go again, without the expectation of 4 in a row.

Incorporate Power Cards

Power Card is a social skill strategy created by Elisa Gagnon in the early 2000s which utilizes your child’s favorite celebrity or character to teach behavioral expectations and consequences. For example, if your child has a particular interest in Iron Man, you can use pictures of Iron Man to reinforce a social script and demonstrate the target behavior. And…because Iron Man says it then it has to be right!!!


Role-playing is a fantastic tool for you and your student to practice how they can play with their peers and friends. You could act out a conversation they might have or play a game before the playdate. It is also helpful for practicing verbal skills by recreating scenes that they recently watched on television shows. Role-playing is excellent for problem-solving, too. You could work through various social problems with your older students, such as a broken toy or fight over computer time, and create solutions together.

Design Social Stories for the Student

This low-cost therapy strategy can help improve autistic children’s understanding of social concepts and improve their responses and behaviors. Using these stories, you can teach the child how to behave in various social situations, from being at the doctor’s office to play with other kids at a park by detailing the setting, events, and appropriate behaviors. Take a look here at how to specifically design these stories for maximum benefit.

Direct Instruction of Social Skills

This type of strategy first has you identify which social skills need to be learned, establish the steps to achieve them, and then practice them together with the student in various environments and settings. When thinking about social skills for autism worksheets, direct lessons and creativity can help. Direct instruction can occur with labeling emotions, social skills worksheets, games or roleplaying, or literal teaching of imitation skills, play skills, social skills and behavior skills.

Implement/Follow a Social Skills Curriculum

There are dozens of excellent social skills curricula available to you to use and implement in your classroom or home. To begin teaching social skills, you could conduct standardized and informal assessments to identify the exact skills that need work and then introduce that skill through various methods listed above like social stories, video modeling, roleplaying, and rules. Begin working regularly on the skills to support the child in creating positive social interactions.

Utilize these different strategies in this social skills list to teach your students and improve their skills in a structured and interactive manner. The Social Skills Printables have been popular with many teachers and parents. You’ll help them learn the skills much faster when you implement various methods and techniques that are tailored to their needs. Once the skills are learned, be sure that you practice these same skills in different environments to promote generalization.

More from Autism Classroom About Social Skills

Using  Social Skills Worksheets to Craft a Social Skills Classroom Program 

5 Strategies to Teach Social Skills for Autism Support Classes 

Social Skills Training for Students with Autism

Why Social Skills Are Important

Summer Social Skills Activities for Kids with Autism When Summer Camp is Not an Option

Building Communication Skills

Social Skills Ideas and Links

Chek out this site for evidence based ideas and activities. 

Find information about teaching social skills to students with autism to increase peer interactions here

Social Emotional Learning for students is more important than ever.  This site gives 15 activities to foster SEL. 

What are the building blocks of social skills development? Check this site to find out. 

Using Social Skills Videos for Kids

A blog with ideas for great ways to use videos and animated clips with students. 

How to utilize Youtube to help with your lessons. Click here for details. 

Vidoes by students for students to learn about ways to interact socially. 

How To Incorporate Social Skills In The Classroom or Home (Videos)'s Video for Teachers and Parents about Building Social Skills in Students with Autism. This can be used as a quick tutorial or introduction to a presentation about building social interactions in students.  Or can be shared with staff members in an email to provide some professional development.  

This video provides tips for families and school teams

A short video about what to teach in this area can be found when clicking the image below.

Books About Teaching Social Skills

The New Social Story Book - here


The Social Skills Picture Book -here

Social Skills Workbook for Young Students-here

Social Skills and Adaptive Behavior in Learners with Autism Spectrum Disorder -here

Picture Books for  Students 

My Day Is Ruined is a book about dealing with situations when plans change.

A Little Spot of Frustration helps kids deal with anger.  Click the image below to see more.

A Little Spot of Flexible Thinking helps kids to learn to deal with changes in routines.

A Little Spot of Feelings is a story where Spot helps kids understand emotions. Click here or on the book below to see more. 



Other Resources from Autism Classroom


Social Skills Bundle
Social Skills Printables
Social Skills Interactive Notebook
Behavior Skills Printables
Play Skills Printables
Language Skills Printables


Social Skills Workbook
Language Skills Workbook







Play skills do not come naturally for many children with autism. So, it will be up to the adults in their lives to help them to build play skills. This can be done a variety of ways.  Most importantly, it will be essential to keep it fun.  Be sure to make it feel like play and not like work. Many times, the play will need to be taught directly and intentionally using age appropriate items, when possible. These worksheets offer ideas for teaching play skills. This resource puts a twist on teaching play development by having students complete an interactive journal about play skills. It is crucial to build a rapport at first so that you can make the play time as fun and interactive as possible. Remember that “free time” is not usually helpful to children on the spectrum who are not yet skilled at managing their own time or skilled at playing games. Also remember, some sort of structure is required for children without these skills to be successful at play. 

Resources for play skills:


A few things to keep in mind while teaching play skills or trying to improve interaction skills:

  • Free time is a difficult concept for some children with autism. 

  • Remember you will have to teach play skills.  They do not come naturally for many children with autism.

  • Teach the play skills 1:1 first, then incorporate them into a group setting (Moyes, 1997).

  • Use age appropriate games and toys to the extent possible.  If a seven year old without autism likes the game, chances are, your seven year old will have some interest in it too.  You may just have to modify the presentation a little.

  • Find a way to make the game or activity “do-able” for him or her.

  • Have fun.  Your child should want to come to this play area.  If you are not having fun, they are probably not having fun.

  • Try something new like, roller skating (start on a rug or carpet first), tennis, baseball, t-ball, soccer or bowling.

  • Follow your child’s lead and comment on what he or she is interested in. Try not to get too consumed in your own idea of what play should look like.  Focus on the act of attending to the same item at the same time, sharing the same space and being on the “same page”, more than having him or her “play” with the toy in the exact manner for which it was made.

  • If you are going to play, then play.  Try not to drill your child on colors and shapes and numbers, etc. during the play time.  It is okay to comment on these concepts, but keep the play fun and engaging and the opposite of work time. 

  • Find a method to teach the skills they need.  You are the facilitator.  During the beginning stages, try not to leave him/her to “play on his/her own.”



Worksheets for play skills:

Play is challenging to teach since it comes natural to most children. The idea of having to break down the play skills is unique. Teaching interaction skills is not usually something that teachers learn when preparing for the teaching profession.  However, there is a large need for professionals to have this skill and/or be able to help parents to foster this skill as well (by providing tips, ideas and support.)

Educators and parents can h
elp students develop play skills in a number of ways:

  • Use toys that have a clear cause and effect component
  • Teach the rules to games
  • Practice turn-taking
  • Model making comments in play
  • Directly teach game skills, playground skills, and outside skills 


              See more about these Play Skills Printables here.
To see the video about play skills click here.