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Helping Your Child Develop Social Skills

Updated: Jan 16, 2019

As speech language pathologists (SLPs), we play a key role in working with children to develop their social skills. This is especially true for children with autism. When people envision working on social skills, they typically picture helping a child make better eye contact. But there is so much more to social skills instruction! What about topic maintenance, body proximity, tone, questions, and more? Everything that falls under the pragmatic or social umbrella can really keep an SLP quite busy!

But you don’t have to be an SLP or specialist to help a child improve in this area. Follow these tips to help promote social skills growth:

  • Talk about feelings. Point out different people’s emotions during your daily interactions. Over time, shift the focus and ask your child to decide how someone is feeling. You can explain how understanding the emotions of others helps us decide how to speak to them.

  • Use social stories to prepare for success. Our published social book series, Lou Knows What To Do, helps children learn to deal with real life scenarios, such doctor’s appointments, supermarket trips, restaurant dinners, food allergies, or birthday parties. If you need a different topic, writing a short story to explain where you are going and what will happen there can help prepare your child. This reduces their anxiety and helps them cope with new scenarios better! Make sure you include all key events and sensory information. Also suggest behaviors that will be useful. Use a google image search add visuals to your short story to help aid your child’s comprehension.

  • Practice real life social scenarios. After reading our Lou Knows What To Do: Birthday Party story in therapy, we practice skills discussed in the story such as saying, “Happy Birthday,” or giving and receiving presents.

  • Practice maintaining appropriate body proximity. Explain how being too close to other people’s bodies can make them feel uncomfortable. Show your kiddo how much personal space someone needs. Then practice a variety of distances and have your child decide if you are too close or keeping a good amount of space.

  • Talk about topic maintenance. Explain that conversation partners should give statements that “make sense” for the conversation. For example, you wouldn’t say something about bananas if someone is talking about dogs. Practice choosing a topic and only saying statements that match the topic.

  • Try a different tone and facial expression. Demonstrate how changing your tone and facial expression can impact your message. For example, tell your child, “I am so sad,” using an excited tone with a big smile. You can further explain how this is confusing to the listener and your tone should match your message. Practice a variety of tones and messages and have your kiddo decide which tones go with the given message.

  • Practice answering and asking questions. Providing visual or verbal options in the beginning can help with this skill. Giving choices can help children successfully answer questions and you can fade this support away over time. You can model appropriate questions to ask as well.

  • Keep it positive! With any social skill you are practicing, use positive reinforcement! When you see your child doing something the right way, give them some praise for it! A little positivity goes a long way!

As with anything else, practice makes perfect. But using these strategies will help your kiddo be on the road to social success!

Kimberly Tice, MS, CCC-SLP, provides intervention in language, learning, literacy and feeding to people with autism spectrum disorder as a speech-language pathologist and certified special educator. She co-authors the “Lou Knows What to Do” book series and co-hosts the Speechie Side Up podcast with Venita Litvack. The two also write a blog. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1, Language Learning and Education; and 12, Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Visit:

Venita Litvack, MA, CCC-SLP, serves people with autism spectrum disorder in a variety of settings as an SLP and augmentative and alternative communication consultant. She also co-authors the “Lou Knows What to Do” book series and co-hosts the Speechie Side Up podcast with Kimberly Tice. The two also write a blog. She is an affiliate of the ASHA Special Interest Group 12, Augmentative and Alternative Communication. Visit:


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