Social communication and interaction skills (“social skills” in short) include verbal and nonverbal communication, perspective taking, empathy, cooperation, and problem solving. Social skills help us interact with others in appropriate and effective ways. They are essential for building and maintaining relationships, participating in social activities, and succeeding in school and work.
High Functioning Autism (HFA) is a term that describes individuals who have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) but do not have intellectual disability or significant language delays. Individuals with HFA often have difficulty with social interactions, making, sustaining or modulating eye contact appropriately, and reading social cues. They may also engage in repetitive behaviors or have unusually strong attachment to specific items, and have a narrow range of interests.
Children with HFA are usually diagnosed at a later age as they may not exhibit symptoms of classic autism. The child may then miss out on opportunities for early intervention and practice, compounding social skills deficits into the adolescent years.
Some of the common social skills deficits in children with HFA are:
- Difficulty initiating and maintaining two-way conversations
- Difficulty understanding and expressing emotions
- Difficulty taking turns and sharing
- Difficulty understanding jokes, sarcasm, metaphors and figurative language
- Difficulty making friends and joining groups
- Difficulty following social rules and norms
- Difficulty coping with changes and transitions
These social skills deficits can have negative impacts on the children’s self-esteem, academic performance, mental health, and quality of life. They may also lead to social isolation, bullying, rejection, and conflict.
At Clinical Psychology Associates, we provide many interventions that can help children with HFA improve their social skills. These include
- An evidence-based computer program which has been transforming lives for children ages 8 -12 years old. The program Secret Agent Society is designed to capture the attention and interest of children to understand their world around them appropriately. We may be the ONLY clinic in Singapore offering this award-winning program. This game format explore four key life skills: emotion recognition (in self and others), emotional regulation (particularly anxiety and anger), social problem solving and social skills (for friendship and teamwork).
- Social skills group for teens: These are structured sessions where children with HFA practise their social skills with each other and/or neurotypical peers under the guidance of a trained facilitator. Social skills groups can provide direct instruction, feedback, reinforcement, modelling, role-playing, and generalization of social skills in various settings. Here at CPA, we recognised the need and have been successfully conducting this program for teens. It is well received by parents and teens alike.
- Social stories: These are short stories that describe specific social situations and the expected behaviors and outcomes. Social stories can help children with HFA understand social cues, rules, and expectations, as well as develop appropriate responses. Caregivers will be taught how to create and use these in a flexible manner to address significant concerns as they arise.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: This is a form of psychotherapy that helps children with HFA identify and challenge their negative thoughts and beliefs that affect their social functioning. Cognitive behavioral therapy can also help children with HFA develop coping strategies, problem-solving skills, and self-regulation.
Social skills interventions for children with HFA should be tailored to their individual needs, preferences, and goals. For maximum efficacy, they should also involve parents, teachers, and peers as partners in the process. With consistent and systematic support, children with HFA can learn compensatory strategies to reduce their social challenges and enjoy more fulfilling social interactions.
At Clinical Psychology Associates, we offer customised and comprehensive treatment plans for ASD / HFA and other concerns. Our clinicians are experienced and equipped to help you on this journey. Contact us for more information on how we can journey with you to address your concerns.