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Teaching Social Skills Through Games

teacher with 2 students playing a board game

At a Glance

In this post, we want to focus on some common drawbacks of many social skills lessons and explore ways that using games with a social focus can address them.

One key component of our social skills philosophy at AGU is the value of creating more safe social opportunities where students can develop their own interests, self-awareness, connections, and knowledge about different types of communication and social skills.

We discuss the types of games that may be a better match with social skills.

When it comes to teaching social skills, there are a whole range of strategies and lessons that teachers employ in an effort to best serve their autistic students. 


While social skills lessons can be valuable tools depending on what they teach and how they teach it, in this blog post we want to focus on some common drawbacks of many social skills lessons and explore ways that using games with a social focus can address them.

Our Philosophy

One key component of our social skills philosophy at AGU is the value of creating more safe social opportunities where students can develop their own interests, self-awareness, connections, and knowledge about different types of communication and social skills. 


As educators, it’s possible to play a major role in creating spaces where students feel comfortable exploring these concepts while maintaining as much of the open-ended nature of social interactions as possible.

Common Traps

Many social skills lessons fall into the trap of practicing skills in a very specific way that can be helpful for illustrating the concept or in that very specific situation, but also has diminishing returns due to its limited applications. 


Social skills like eye contact and handshakes are often dictated by shifting norms that can vary based on the context of the situation a person is in. Subsequently applying the skills from some of these lessons doesn’t necessarily work in every situation. On top of this practical challenge, social skills lessons around habits like eye contact and handshakes can tacitly encourage masking.


In some cases these types of lessons can become repetitive and boring and in other cases they can even become uncomfortable and frustrating, which is the last thing we want for our students!

Shifting Focus

Social skills are all about navigating a huge range of open-ended situations, and autistic students should have the opportunity to decide which skills they think are most helpful in attempting to navigate those situations. 


While it is not practical to attempt to predict every possible social situation a student could end up in, creating more of those open-ended situations that students can practice navigating is achievable!

Examples

One way we try to create those open-ended opportunities is through our Social Skills Group Curriculum


But another great way to create those situations in more bite-sized chunks is with prompt-based games! 


The idea behind prompt-based games is to offer students a variety of materials as the basis of discussion. Prompts can be formatted onto a wide variety of existing games to help break up the discussion as well! 


Some examples from our library include some relatively straightforward icebreakers, prompts formatted to be pasted on Jenga blocks, and an Uno-style card game with prompts on each card

With a good mix of fun, silly, and thoughtful questions you can try a whole variety of open-ended formats depending on what each student wants to work on. 


Students can ask each other questions, or all provide answers and discuss the same prompt, vote on their favorite answers, or take time to explain why. 


A great role for the teacher to play is to bring in some added structure to help pick up momentum or to help maintain a sense of comfort and safety when needed but largely leave students in the driver’s seat.


Social skills come in all forms and sometimes it can be helpful to hear about individual skills and how they broadly work. 


Creating more safe and open-ended social situations also creates more opportunities to apply those skills in a variety of situations and more importantly give students the autonomy to decide which skills are most worth their time and effort.

Conclusion

Have you had success teaching social skills through games? Are there some social skill lessons you use that address some of the major drawbacks that can sometimes be associated with them? Want to see us cover this topic more in-depth? 


We’d love to hear from you at hello@autismgrownup.com. If there is interest in seeing this topic covered more in depth then we would love to revisit it for a closer look!

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