How can a kiddo with social anxiety communicate effectively with others when over 93% of communication takes place on a nonverbal level? Here are some strategies I am currently using with my son, who has autism, and some of my students at school.
- Teach the kiddo how and when to stand up: bullies feel empowered when they know there are no adults around to catch them and/or that no matter what they do, they will not get “sold out” or told on. It’s important to teach the kiddo to address the bully directly by speaking up (“Stop it. “I don’t think that is funny.”)
- Teach them to stand up for themselves and tell an adult. Problem solving with a trusted adult can be the beginning step to make the bullying situation better. Make a plan of action together.
- Teach them to explain their point of view to their family, teachers, counselor, and other trusted adults. Brainstorm a “safe place” for them to go to (their home, teacher during lunch, guidance counselor at school, etc.)
Explaining friendship to my son is also challenging since he sees so much of life (including friendship) in a black and white context. I’ve had to teach him (and remind him frequently) that friendship isn’t all or nothing and there are levels between being a friend and an enemy. CJ is into codes and mysteries, so I am now working with him on learning a secret code (that is of nonverbal communication). So much of communication is done with nonverbal communication and this is extremely difficult for kiddos on the spectrum to learn. But this is essential to communication and making friends. Some exercises to help practice nonverbal communication include: watching tv on mute (guess what is going on by watching the actors’ gestures and body language); watch silent films (explain the characters’ emotions, thoughts, and actions); play games (Charades, etc. to practice nonverbal communication using acting and gestures). Here are some additional strategies to help with making friends:
- Have the kiddo look for someone who has common interests. Is the kiddo fascinated with legos? Then help them friend someone with the same interest. Are they fixated on Star Wars? Then help them find a buddy they can talk and share about this interest with. Remind them to listen carefully and use their “secret code” of nonverbal communication when looking for/maintaining this friendship.
- Find an afterschool-sports team and/or club they are interested in. Again, if they are interested in building or legos; look for an after-school club that will build on this interest (no pun…lol) and encourage friendships and social skills. A lot of kiddos with ASD do not feel comfortable in a large-group setting and/or team sports. That’s ok! There are many sports and/or clubs that may fit their style. Look for sports and activities that are more independent in nature: golf, martial arts, piano, horseback riding, etc.
- Social skills groups are also awesome ways for kiddos with ASD to interact with kiddos who share similar feelings, behaviors, etc. Currently, I have CJ in a music therapy class for kiddos with ASD. This helps him with his love for music and also encourages him to socialize with kiddos with similar interests (who are on the spectrum, as well).
- Explore camps and additional support groups that can help. There is so much out there. You just have to look!
As always, I am a huge believer in the benefits that a healthy diet plays in kiddos with autism.
I encourage you to continue to advocate for and encourage your kiddo(s) in all ways possible. I get that it is not always easy- but what in life is?!
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