Understanding Autism: Developing Social Skills

Children with autism typically have problems developing a social skill set and friendships and often enjoy isolation. One ABA Behavioral-based social skills group uses positive reinforcements and corrective feedback to help young kids develop necessary "€œlearning to learn"€ behaviors that will impact their futures. Video courtesy of interactingwithautism.com


-I didn't have any friends in the last decade. I grew up with so much confusion. If only they'd look closer, if only the people that don't like me and friends could just look closer, they'd find there were so much more to me, so many good qualities. -[unk] -July-- -Right. -Okay. [unk] did nothing, nothing. -We first noticed that something was a bit different with Ben when he didn't engage so much with the other kids. He was sort of in his own world. When he started school, we had nothing but trouble. They tried to do different accommodations, but nothing really seemed to work. -We were not cognizant in this small arrogant town of our rights as parents that our child should have a public school education. As a result of which, we became involuntary home schoolers. -Then, he developed an obsession with leaves and he was off into the trees, and he claimed that it was his job to remove all the yellow and red leaves before the wind blew them down and they'll fall. We didn't know what that was. We did finally consult a psychiatrist about that who thought it might be obsessive compulsive. But when it actually led to his hospitalization, that was when they sent him to UCLA and that's when they determined it was a stimulative behavior, it was an autistic behavior. We didn't really get an early intervention. His intervention was at 12. But the early intervention only goes up until special education ends and then what happens when they become an adult. -When I was a kid, I had all these baby-sitters. I had all these friends, play dates. And it felt good to be liked just by everyone, even strangers I met on the street. Everyone liked me. Why is it when I was young did everyone just naturally love me? And now, why isn't it that way? -Welcome, everybody. My name is Dr. Liz Laugeson, and I'm the director of the PEERS program. And I'm not sure how much you guys know about PEERS, but initially, it started out as a social skills program for teenagers with autism spectrum disorders. And we've now developed this young adult program which is why you're all here. And so, you know that the purpose of PEERS is really to kind of learn to make and keep friends and develop meaningful relationships. So, we would love to just take a moment and find out about who all of you are. -Hello. I'm Ben. I used to go to Musicians Institute. I went for about five to six years. I'm 24 years old, almost 25, and I'm glad to be here in the group before I get too old, so I can have fun in my 20s with friends. -There are so many challenges that adults on the autism spectrum face, but I think that the social challenges tend to be perhaps the most significant, and sometimes, the most impairing. They tend to have very few friends. They tend to not be involved in romantic relationships. They also have difficulty obtaining and maintaining employments. And as a result, they tend to be pretty isolated and experience actually quite a bit of loneliness. -We are seeing now, with Ben, this huge mushrooming population of young people without very many good programs to transition them from special ed or even regular education into the real world. -Last year, remember, we made a whole big schedule, which everyday or at least every week we were hitting all these things and working on all these things,-- -Uh-huh. -and that seems kind of overwhelming, right? -Uh-huh. -Never really got off the ground in that schedule to the-- to the extent that, you know, all of these goals were being at some time worked on. So, we've scaled it back. Right? Your main goals right now have been music and then your PEERS program-- -Okay. -and the social aspect of what you want from life. -So, we're gonna start with talking about phone calls. Last rule that I wanted to talk about relates to something that's called cold calling. Cold calling is when you call somebody on the phone that never gave you permission. -Nine years ago, I was calling my old by baby-sitters trying to see if we could hang out and it was strange to them and I didn't get why it was strange that I was calling. -Occasionally, you know, he realizes he's different and that he's missed out-- he missed out on high school, then he wants to go back and relive it, and of course, he can't. He has to move forward. -Having the desire to interact socially, Ben certainly has that and he's gonna need to be coached in a way that supports, people not being put off by that. -So, much better slipping into the conversation this time in, but there's something we still need to work on when you join a conversation. Remember how we talked about that when we first join a conversation, we're still sort of a visitor? -Yeah. -Uh-huh. -Right? So, what do we wanna do? We talk-- Do we wanna talk more or less? -Less. -That's what we need to work on, Ben. -Part of my interruption problem is because I think very fast. -When they taught you in PEERS not to interrupt and not to give lectures, what thought went through my mind, "Oh, oh, good luck." -So, it's six times two is 12. -Six times two is-- -So, it's been a 12 over Y. -Mauricio is Ben's day aide. Mauricio was a student at Musicians Institute who then-- they-- and they required Ben to have an aide while he was in the school. He remains Ben's aide now because he's trying to get into the GED as well as helping with his music career. -So, we'll just go and follow the song. Just do your part, so we can start doing-- playing that-- the whole song. -[unk] -[unk] -But why is it that life can be so cruel. I go insane where I tend to not follow the rules. -He wants to make a big change in this world, expressing his ideas in his music and he wants to feel like, I guess, like normal like everyone. -You told me once that PEERS is different to the other programs you've been through. -Oh, yeah. It was the-- -What's the difference about this program? -Well, just help explain things better and make things clearer. They're translating languages into the Asperger's planet mindset. They're trying to translate the social world in our typical world here. You don't make sense because it's like-- it's like being blind or deaf or you can't see or hear or understand things. -So, what was it that you wanted to talk about? -It didn't help make sense about why there's privacy settings on Facebook? -Well, do you think that it's ever possible that people might not wanna share their personal information with people they don't know? -But they're trying to get you-- encourage you to do it. -Do you have to do that just 'cause they encourage you? -No. But why are they-- if their intentions are good, why are they encouraging people to do unsmart things? -Well, I'm not sure. What is the question that they were asking you that you were getting too personal about? -They ask what's on your mind and then you just type it up, friends. -Okay. So, saying what's on your mind is a pretty vague, kind of, you know, nebulous sort of question. It could mean anything. -Oh, but that's dangerous for Asperger's people-- -I know. -'cause they're going to do it. -He takes the world very literally, so sometimes, helping him to understand someone's intention behind the actual words that they say is necessary. -So, actually, we think it's probably a good idea to have some privacy settings and there's very good reasons for that. And that's just so that not everybody can access their informations. -Like, where they work. I mean, there's ways to find that on the internet, but that doesn't make it okay. -Yeah. -You have to get their permission first. -Just because you find some of the address online, does that give you permission to go over their house and say, "Hi?" -Oh, yeah, I did do that. -Did you do that? Well, how'd that go over? -They were frightened. -They were frightened. -They called the police almost. -Yeah. So, just like you have to control your feelings,-- -You have to-- -you want to control your behavior too. But instead, Ben, going out and Googling everybody and trying to figure them all out through the internet, there's something else that you could do that's not creepy. -You have to know them. -How do you do that? -Meet them in an appropriate setting, get to know them. -How do you get to know them? Would you? -Like we-- what we talked about, trading information and then having a reason to ask for their number, contact information. -Exactly. -That is the right way, appropriate way to do it. -That's the appropriate way to do it. -Doing it through other means like that-- -Uh-huh. -even if your intentions are good is not okay. -No, it's not and it can be really creepy and it might freak the person out, right? -That is a no-no. -Yeah, very good. -Ben, do you need help with your stuff? Here, let me take your laundry and your-- -This is clean. -This is clean stuff. Okay. -Uh-huh. -You don't-- You don't have to do laundry here this weekend, huh? -No. -How has PEERS helped you in all this? And what is it that you now understand that you didn't understand before? -Well, it's helped me realize like why-- what I was doing was inappropriate-- -Uh-huh. -when I was calling people I barely knew that wouldn't remember me and-- -Yeah. You were making lots of cold calls and you didn't realize that you had to ease into things, you can't just start off on whatever you're interested in. The problem now is to avoid the impulse or repeat the impulse. Sometimes, the impulses are still-- overwhelm his understanding. -How many voice mail messages can you leave in a row? [unk] -I did have a little bit of regression and this got me wondering-- thinking PEERS is the best I found, but then I thought to myself, "I wonder if PEERS is really helping." I've called a girl up that I had class with at MI, but hadn't talked to her for three years-- -Uh-huh. -and when I found out where she worked from Facebook friends, it made her a little-- it made her uncomfortable. -You showed up at where she-- -No, no, no. Called, but it made her uncomfortable because, well, she couldn't-- didn't really remember me and it was weird. -So, I'm sorry, how did you contact her? -Well, that's the problem with Facebook. They try to get you to reveal where you work. -Okay. So, did you go to her work? -No. I called her work. -Okay. But in terms of moving forward, what do we learn? -Does that mean that-- -No, I'm asking you a question. -that this-- when I'm-- -What is the lesson? -this group-- -Ben? -is not working. -Hang on a second and back up. What was the lesson? -Think before-- -Work from this. Yeah. -you do anything. -Exactly. -Really think about it. Really think if it's appropriate or a good idea. -If you make mistakes, which happens sometimes, and maybe, you get the sense that you've freaked somebody out, kind of creeped them out, it's your responsibility to fix that. -But I'll need to have the tools of what to say. -Okay. So, let's talk about that. What would you say? Right now, you just creeped me out. What are you gonna do to fix it? -I'm sorry, I creeped you out. I have a condition known as Asperger syndrome which is like it's really-- it's high-functioning autism and I-- it prevents me from always understanding the social boundaries. -Uh-huh. -I didn't mean to creep you out. I just have Asperger's. -Everyone, are we agree-- that's perfect. -Uh-huh. -Bravo. -I will be the one to [unk] -That's the way to do it. It's all about what you're gonna do next time. -I had this idea that I wanted people to just be comfortable and know and just accept me the way I am and try to understand that it doesn't mean I'm a bad person, but little did I know that when you're meeting people, people don't know that. They judge from the way it looks outside. -I think PEERS is gonna have given you general guidelines, but really how those play out is gonna be up to you. But moving forward is the thing you have to do. Can I ask you about Jenny? Do you like Jenny? -Yeah. -Yeah. Do you think she likes you? -Yeah. Jenny. Jen is an exceptional person from MI who talked about wanting to jam with me and so we got contact info and then we-- our friendship grew from there that way. -When we were talking about people, it might be interesting to invite over for a get together, he decided to invite her. -Over the holiday break, she and I got together and I was like, "Man, I wish I was less shy," but then I thought to myself, "Well, but I shouldn't be hard on myself. Of course, I'm gonna feel a little shy 'cause I'm just starting a new thing now. As far as getting together with friends, I'm starting new, and I'm restarting, and of course, I'll feel a little shy 'cause I wanna do things right." Wish me luck. -Good luck. -Hey, Jenny, it's going great. It was great getting together last time, man. -Yeah, that was fun. -So, yeah, it was really great getting together and I've been thinking, how about-- would you be-- That's great. Do you wanna learn some of the Beatles songs or Rolling Stones or classic rock stuff? So, I was just thinking of maybe getting together to jam, so we could do some time at The Talking Stick? Well, I'll-- give me a call or maybe I'll call you [unk]. So, we gotta-- I think I'll get back to my practicing now. Talk to you soon. -Okay. -Bye, for now. Second of February. -You did great. -I did the best I could. -You did great. -There she is. What's taking her so long? Hello, Jenny. Hug you. -Hello, Ben. -And the head-- And then, that's when that part comes in. -Oh, yeah, the crazy part. -I can't do that part. -I'm going to ask you, Jenny. What kind of TV shows do you like? -Oh, I like-- I like comedies, like Family Guy. -What about some of what I still like-- like Winnie-the-Pooh? -Oh, my God. It's just been years since I've seen Winnie-the-Pooh-- -Would you ever like pretend-- when you were having fun thought to go ho-ho-ho-ho like Tigger does? -Uh-huh. Yeah, when I was a little kid, I used to pretend that I was Tigger, too. -How about Timon and Pumbaa? Did you ever see any episodes of that? -Long time ago, Ben. -I like Aladdin, the series. The genie is cool. People always try to think of new ways to be cool, like that's why sometimes with certain people or girls, I used expressions like, "To get directly to the point, direct-- to get directly to the point, berries that is." That is. I tried to, you know, use words like that 'cause they're quite cool words. We all sometimes try to be cooler to be liked more. -Uh-huh. -Does it work? -I think just being yourself works, works the best way. -And not trying to be something you're not. -Yes. -His music is always gonna be a social link and an outlet for him. And he's been writing his own songs. -Now, we have Mr. Ben Anderson. -Hello, everybody. Tonight, I have a partner who's playing with me. It's Ben and Jenny. My first song is called The American Dream. This simple [unk] song is about just what happened to the American dream in those years of prosperity and let's hope that it comes back again. -I remember once there was a time when we didn't [unk] day. Every [unk] -[unk] -[unk] -[unk] -[unk] -Welcome to our PEERS Graduation. We have come a long, long way. We know that PEERS is not easy and we make you work really, really hard and you guys have come every week faithfully and practice all these skills. And we know that you're gonna continue to practice those. -Exactly. -Tonight, we're only looking at positives,-- -Right. -Exactly. -even though we acknowledged that it's-- that it may not be over, there may still be struggles. -No, it's definitely not over. Does everyone agree? This is not over. Just 'cause the program,-- -Uh-huh. -the group may be coming to an end doesn't mean that this journey has ended. -But you do-- -It's just the beginning. -you didn't ask-- you didn't get around to asking us how we felt about graduating and getting our thoughts. -Well, you haven't graduated yet. So, I-- And our final PEERS [unk] goes to Ben. -[unk] -Congratulations, Ben. -Yes. -Yes. -Congrats. -Good work. -Yeah. -Yes. -Good job, Ben. -Great. -[unk] -[unk] -Why is it that often people who are young fall under this impression that getting this is gonna make them successful or guarantee them success or make them invincible or immortal? -[unk] But I think it gives you that-- it tells you that you have some knowledge. -But it doesn't make you invincible-- -But it doesn't-- No, it doesn't. -or successful. -You're right. So, you have this certificate now. So, what are you gonna do to make sure that you're successful? -Continue to implement the choices you gave me,-- -Right. -because you can give it to me, but if I don't, I'll still have the same failures. -Okay. Well, you keep us posted on how you're doing. We're really, really proud of you. Good work. -Yes. -Good work. -The safety nets always have to be there. It's like it takes a village. Really, you cannot expect an individual on the spectrum to move past their challenges. They will always have challenges, but how they learn to cope, how happy, fulfilled they can be everyday 'cause they'll wake up and have a purpose and a reason to live, I think that should be more of the focus. -I don't feel as down as I did last year. I feel more hopeful.

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