Teaching Social Skills to Teens on the Spectrum

This week, we’re pleased to share a piece from Kirt Manecke, author of one of our newest additions Smile & Succeed for Teenswho offers his advice and take on how to teach teens and tweens very important social skills such as handshaking and saying “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome.”

Please, Thank You, and You’re Welcome:
Teaching Social Skills to Teens on the Spectrum

by Kirt Manecke

Saying “please”, “thank you”, and “you’re welcome” are extremely important for social and job interactions. Why then is it so rare to hear these words spoken by teens and tweens? I recently had breakfast with my friend and his two kids, who are 12 and 16, at a restaurant. Both kids frequently failed to say please, thank you or you’re welcome to the waitress. I found myself saying thank you to the waitress for them! Their father did not seem to notice their lack of manners.

Research from Harvard University (Deming, 2015) says social skills are the top factor for getting a job. In my former life, when hiring teens for my specialty retail business, I looked for friendly teens with good social skills. Teens who smiled and said “please” and “thank you” were often the ones I hired. I knew they could engage customers and keep them happy and coming back. Often, we are drawn to making friends with people who have these same good social skills.

Teaching Social Skills to Teens on the Spectrum

Social skills are especially difficult for teens on the autism spectrum, but many of these skills can be learned, and with practice, can become habit. Social skills are critical to make friends, get a job, and to live a fulfilling life.

Recently I helped some teens and tweens with autism prepare to sell products at a local farmers’ market. I acted as the customer in the initial role playing scenarios and found that the kids did not say “please”, “thank you” or “you’re welcome”. I then used information from my book Smile & Succeed for Teens: Must-Know People Skills for Today’s Wired World to teach them these skills. We took turns being the customer and the employee while role-playing how to say “please”, “thank you” and “you’re welcome”. Using their new social skills, the kids were able to sell chips and salsa at the local farmers’ market the next day.

You can do the same type of role playing with your kids. To improve their social skills, role play the skill with them. For example, have your teen or tween read the section, “Shake Hands Firmly.” Then, practice shaking hands with them, being sure to show them how “Too Tight”, “Too Loose” and “Just Right” feels.

I spent nine months meeting with teens to get their input for the book, and that’s a big reason teens and tweens find it appealing and are reading it. The font is large enough to make reading easy, plus there are fun, informative illustrations with educational captions every few pages.

Since, the book has received praise from teachers and school administrators, as well as Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures, and The Autistic Brain, who called me one evening after reading Smile & Succeed for Teens. She urged me to use her testimonial, “Smile & Succeed for Teens is a fantastic resource to help teens be successful at work”, to get the book out to all teens and tweens.

A firm grasp on social skills is key to maneuvering through all stages of life. Mastering these skills boosts teens’ confidence and gives them the skills they need to succeed in school, work and relationships. Please share the following book excerpt with your teen or tween to give them a head start in mastering these important social skills.

REFERENCES

Deming, D.J. (2015). The growing importance of social skills in the labor market (Working Paper No. 21473). Retrieved from National Bureau of Economic Research website: http://www.nber.org/papers/w21473.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kirt Manecke is a an award-winning author and sales, marketing, fundraising, and business development specialist with over 30 years of experience surprising and delighting customers. Kirt’s books have won 11 awards. Quick-easy social skills for teens! He spent nine months meeting with teens for his award-winning book on social skills for teens. Kirt is currently at work on two children’s books. For more information, contact Kirt at Kirtm@SmiletheBook.com.

Pick of the Week: Should I or Shouldn’t I?

New from the Social Thinking team, Should I or Shouldn’t I? encourages players to think about their own behavior choices and compare how their perceptions match—or don’t—those of others. The game is built on the idea of perspective-taking and explores social behaviors from different viewpoints to help develop understanding of how these affect relationships with others. The object of the game is to have players think about their own thoughts and behaviors and those of others in various situations. This week, we’re featuring both the Middle/High School and Elementary School editions as our Pick of the Week with a 15% discount to your order. Just enter in promo code SHOULDI3 to redeem your savings at checkout.

The brand-new Elementary School edition fosters important discussions about social situations that elementary-aged students ages 8-11 may encounter at home, at school, and out in the community. Between the ages of 8-11, the social demands placed on kids begin to change. Teachers expect kids to be more socially aware of others and be more independent in monitoring their own social behaviors. Kids of this age are also expected to successfully navigate unstructured social experiences such as recess and lunch. For many, this is difficult. As kids move through grades 3-5, play also changes from being imaginative to being competitive. Kids “hang out” more, which often translates into increasingly sophisticated conversations where group members must figure out other people’s motives and intentions. Overall, social nuance becomes much more complex.

This game gives kids a chance to explore this shifting social landscape and learn how their own views compare/contrast with the way their peers view things. The Prompt and Challenge cards address a wide range of age-matched situations that arise at school, during down time together, or in the community. However, it is always wise for parents or therapists to read through the cards and remove those that may be inappropriate for any of the players or that are mismatched to their level of social functioning or social understanding.

 

The Middle/High School edition is designed to give preteens and teens a fun and motivating way to improve their social sense, practice taking the perspectives of others, and discuss relevant teen issues in a nonjudgmental setting. Questions posed on the Prompt and Challenge cards address a wide variety of teenage-related situations, such as interacting at home, at school, at a friend’s home, the mall, the grocery store, at a party or the library, at the movies or on a date.  For some alternative ways to play, check out Sam Blanco‘s set of Modified Instructions for the Middle/High School edition of this game.
Each edition can be played 1-on-1 with a therapist or in a group of up to 6 players. Each set includes: 100 Prompt cards to practice perspective taking; 50 Challenge cards that help generalize learning; 6 sets of Voting Cards; 6 copies of the 5-Point Behavior Rating Scale; and a Teaching Guide that provides in depth instruction for preparing students to play and meeting the unique needs of each individual learner.Should I or Shouldn’t I? will be perfect if you are looking for structured activities to teach complex social skills to elementary school-aged and teens with autism or other developmental delays. Don’t forget—this week only, you can save 15% on your order of the Should I or Shouldn’t I? Elementary School Edition or Middle/High School Edition by entering in SHOULDI3 at checkout.