How to Teach Social Skills to Students With Special Needs

Teaching social skills is often fun both for the teacher and the students. Simple things such as saying kind things, praising others, helping others and asking for help are what children are taught in the schools. These behavioral qualities are also known as people skills. With regular children, these skills are relatively easy to teach, as these are easy for the students to learn. What do you do, however, when the children have special needs? There are different ways to make children understand and learn social skills.

Things You'll Need

  • List of social skills you plan to teach
  • Prompts in the form of physical and verbal cues


    • 1

      Know that the first thing you will need is patience. A teacher who works with children with special needs such as autism, ADD or the like needs to have oceans of patience because these children are almost always non-responsive in the initial stages. They do not react, they do not answer, they do not imitate easily. For this purpose, the teacher needs to work out a routine chart, which will span over a period of three to six weeks depending upon the response of the children. First, however you would need to prepare a list of social skills you need to teach the children.

    • 2

      Look at the list of social skills you build up--for example, praising, following directions, working in a team, helping others, asking for help, waiting with patience, communication, speaking in quiet tones--and then work out a set of gestures and verbal commands that represent each one of these. Have the gestures be simple and very obvious. Slightly overemphasize it through mime and add to it verbal cues.

    • 3

      Work out a stepped routine. You could include a longer (more steps) routine depending upon the attention span of the children you are teaching. Usually it is the safest to use steps 1 through 4 because it is easy to dramatize these in such a way that it will stay in the children's minds easily.

    • 4

      Have the mime introduced to the children along with music, voice and participation of at least one more person besides yourself. This attracts and induces the children to attempt to imitate you. Encourage the children to do as you do by waiting for them every step. Repeat each step at least four times before going to the next step.

    • 5

      Continue to do the routine day after day after day until the children do it as a second nature. While teaching social skills to them, do not be happy that they are learning to do it mechanically. Use voice commands and dramatization to explain and translate the social skill you are teaching into the mind of the child.

Tips & Warnings

  • ADD children respond excellently to routine. You will have perfectly social skill trained children in no time if you manage to keep the routine constant over a period of time.
  • Autistic children seem to love numbers. Ensure you that you understand the level of the child's capacity to absorb the meaning of social skills as well as his emotional level. In some cases autistic children would not be responsive to any emotional input.
  • This is not something you should be doing unless you have utmost love and understanding about the needs of these children. Sometimes, your efforts would look completely futile, which could be heartbreaking
  • Be ready for a very slow progress
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