Autism Q & A: What about social skills?

By Daniel B. Kessler, M.D.

I believe the core challenge of autism is a social challenge. I believe that social/emotional IQ is more predictive of success in our world than is cognitive IQ. Of course, that depends on your definition of success. What I wish for my families and their children is for them to be both happy and successful in three areas: school or related activity (the work of children), home and friends/leisure time activities. That’s what I wish for all kids, mine included. I want them to find work that is meaningful to them. I want them to love it and be good at it. I believe social skills are at the core of this success.

I tell parents and believe strongly that social skills can be learned but they must be taught. Taught the way we teach reading and the way we teach math. We don’t put kids who cannot read into a room of good readers and expect it to rub off. We can’t teach children with autism social skills by simply putting them in a room of typical kids. They need specific curricula, role playing, practice and homework (sorry kids). It can be done but mostly we aren’t doing it. It’s expensive. But it’s not as expensive as it would be to support them on public funds. Is it not better for everyone that children with autism become productive members of their community? Parents might need to be creative and consider partnering among themselves or with their school districts through the use of combined tuition tax credits to support additional services for their kids. It’s not easy but it’s important.

Next: When parents disagree with the services provided to their child.

Daniel B. Kessler, M.D., is a developmental and behavioral pediatrician and medical director of the Children’s Developmental Center at Easter Seals Southwest Human Development. His private practice, where he provides evaluation and treatment for children and adolescents, is located at Southwest Human Development.

The views he expresses in this series are based on his training, his reading of the literature and his more than 30 years of experience taking care of hundreds of kids on the autism spectrum. The series begins here.

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