What Is Social Skills Training (SST) For Autism?

Social skills training references a large body of interventions and methods of instruction to aid and bolster social skills in people.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
September 20, 2023
min read

What is Social Skills Training (SST)?

Social skills training (SST) references a large body of interventions and methods of instruction to aid and bolster social skills in people.

It's sometimes called social skills groups. In any case, SST is typically related to the following fields:

  • Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA
  • Special education in schools and therapy centers
  • Behavioral therapy for cognitive challenges

Many therapists in a range of fields also use SST.

Some of these include:

  1. Behavior analysts
  2. Teachers in school and home school
  3. School psychologists and counselors
  4. Other psychologists within the study of autism

Parents and ordinary teachers can also learn techniques that are needed to carry out the varied programs within SST.

What skills can be taught with SST?

SST teaches a vast array of different social abilities. Although there are numerous ways to describe social abilities, SST zeroes in on behaviors and stipulations that assist people in their interactions with other people.

Here are some of the primary skills that are focused on with SST interventions:

  • Giving greetings to people
  • Beginning conversations with others
  • Various social interactions with peers, adults, and authority figures
  • Making eye contact when appropriate
  • Rules for behaving in environmentally-specific settings
  • Getting to know and understand differences in facial expressions, and how to interpret them
  • Body language, including various gestures
  • Using and understanding assertiveness
  • The meaning of empathy and when it should be considered for other people

Some SST sessions and different from the next often predicated on the age and abilities of the clients that take part in them.

For kids with autism, social skills could include basic practices like learning how to wait on other people, making eye contact, and knowing how to properly take turns.

Yet for older children and adolescents on the spectrum, this might include learning how to engage with others in a workplace setting, properly expressing opinions, and keeping friendships intact.

The biggest advantage of such programs under SST lies in how they're prescribed. Everything is highly customizable for every person's various weaknesses and strong points.

Is SST evidence-based?

Based on research done by the NCAPE, SST is based on evidence in teaching important skills to people with ASD.

For this consideration to be valid, experts and other relevant professionals in the field publish peer-reviewed medical journals, maintaining that social ability helps lead clients to good results in bettering their outcomes later on in their lives.

Why is teaching social skills necessary?

SST and other programs used in therapy for autistic individuals understand the importance of working on their social abilities. Through working on a wide range of social skills, SST helps to pinpoint the key symptoms of ASD as defined in the DSM-5.

Various research studies indicate that enhancing social abilities in kids with ASD can boost positive interactions with their peer group. It's also shown to lower behaviors deemed problematic and can help keep their grades above average at school.

Different types of Social Skills Training

Social skills that are learned under SST aren't the same for every child. Seeking out a relevant program that suits each child is crucial to the success of their development. 

To understand how these programs aren't the same, the following SST designation should be understood:

Peer Mediated Instruction and Interventions

PMII teaches kids without any behavioral diagnosis to be mentors to their peers. 

Also called peer tutors, they're given a set of directions to work with kids in their class with autism, showing them how to improve their social skills during work, play, and breaks. 

Social interactions are possible to learn through the standard structure of a typical classroom setting.

Social Stories and Scripts

This is an SST program that revolves around giving descriptions of specific social ideas from materials that are seen or written down. Social stories and scripts are highly customizable, helping to find the advantages and ambitions of different people.

Video Modeling

Video modeling is considered a very important training method. It involves the usage of videos as a teaching tool for different social ideas.

With this method, the client or student views a video showcasing a demonstration of multiple behaviors, later attempting to mimic the skills shown as soon as the video ends.

These videos can feature older kids or even adults. Some teachers even record videos of the client or other students that the client knows performing a skill.

Additional Steps

Researchers constantly work on the important factors for kids to be successful in SST.

Teachers that are thinking of using SST in the classroom, as well as parents considering use at home, should focus on teaching children how to observe, practice, and rehearse what's being taught to them. This is known as making abstract problems more tangible.

Every time an SST group comes together, the format shouldn't change too drastically. Most kids with autism do well in predictable environments and structures that are strictly regimented. Alterations in a routine can lead to disruptions and the child becoming sidetracked.

As such, a schedule should be considered for every training period.

They can involve the introduction of different concepts, modeling, feedback from their peers, and a rehearsal of the skill in a bigger group. 

Working these concepts into the training periods of a child's group can help them hone in on social abilities rather than the changes taking place from within.

Additionally, children can be grouped according to their language abilities. Studies indicate that kids with ASD can greatly benefit from learning new skills with peers that have a similar understanding of language.

If a child can make out only a couple of words in a comment, getting them to learn more complicated skills isn't like working.

Therefore, social abilities can be a better tool for them to learn, especially through playing games and having ordinary discussions.

However, children with more advanced language understanding probably wouldn't fit in well with peers that are younger or less knowledgeable than them.

Every child's language abilities should be reviewed before their placement in different social groupings. When this is done correctly, it ensures better outcomes for the child and could even help them learn at a quicker pace.


steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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