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Using Social Skills Groups to Develop Learning in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Visual Impairments (ASDVI)

group of children all touching a large drum

From the AFB Press book Autism Spectrum Disorders and Visual Impairment: Meeting Students’ Learning Needs written by Marilyn H. Gense and D. Jay Gense.

Children who have Autism Spectrum Disorders and are Visually Impaired (ASDVI) have great difficulty understanding and interpreting social situations. They are often “stuck” in rigid routines that challenge their ability to makes sense of and control their world. Children with ASDVI need support to learn what is important in a social situation and what is expected of them.

An instructional strategy that has been implemented successfully involves the use of social skills groups, which involve planned interactions with small groups of peers in different settings. These groups give children with ASDVI an opportunity to rehearse, model and practice appropriate social behaviors.

Key skills that are addressed through social skills groups include turn taking, getting help, following group directions, solving disagreements, using compliments, and managing stress. The materials that are used also vary, depending on the interests and ages of the students and the goals to be addressed.

In addition to games and other socially engaging materials, it can be helpful to use both an audio and video recorder. Anecdotal reports have indicated that children improve their own social behaviors when they have an opportunity to record the expected behavior as well as to review the recordings (both audio and video).

Social skills groups support the appropriate practice and modeling of social skills. By using selected peers as models, you are better able to provide direct instruction and the enhance the child’s opportunities for repeated practice in using the skills in a variety of settings (at school at home, and clubs and organizations in the community.)

The social skills group can be developed by following these guidelines:

1. Identify the target social behavior. At least initially, focus on one skill for an activity so the child clearly understands the skills that are being addressed.

2. Identify the social settings in which the skill is used and will be taught. The child’s educational team should help to identify a variety of settings throughout the day that target the skill to be practiced.

3. Identify any additional supports that are needed to increase the student’s independent use of the skill. This can include checklists, cue cards, social stories, scripts, posted rules, direction charts, and semantic maps. Any of these supports can be presented in a variety of modalities including braille, tactile symbols, pictures, auditory output devices, and large print.

4. Determine and implement the instruction. This can include video modeling, audio modeling, role-playing, coaching, or direct instruction.

5. Develop reinforcement systems and a schedule for implementing them, including natural occurring reinforcements and self-reinforcement systems.

Social interactions are a critical gateway for success in school, at home, and in the community. Every child has different social expectations and a different set of skills to learn. The goal is to develop lessons that match the child’s goals, needs, and learning style so he or she learns successful social skills and can use them every day.

For more information about teaching social and other skills to children with ASDVI, check out Autism Spectrum Disorders and Visual Impairment: Meeting Students’ Learning Needs by Marilyn H. Gense and D. Jay Gense, available in the AFB Store at

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