Isn't it all social??

It's an interesting world we live in as special educators. We spend so much time looking at skills in different ways, breaking them down into the smallest units possible, finding new approaches, applications and tie ins, etc.and in doing so we often find new and surprising insights into the challenges our students face. I've been doing a lot of curriculum work recently and in doing so I just came to this realization that rock's my autism-teacher world:
There really are not any skills or activities that don't at least involve some type of social skill, interaction or consequence!
Seriously. Think about it! There are many private and personal activities which you would really never consider to be "social." But if you really look at them carefully, you'll see that there really is always something social...

Let's take a look at bathroom skills for example:

  • Using the restroom is very private and often an activity which does not involve any direct social interaction. However, there are many social rules for how to approach bathroom use (e.g., Which stall or urinal to use if one is already occupied, where to stand if waiting for a stall/urinal, when it is and is not okay to talk or make eye contact, when it is and is not appropriate to remove your clothing, how thoroughly you should wash and dry your hands, what to do when you're waiting for the hand dryer, and so many more!)
  • Ok so most of that related to public restrooms. But the same goes for using the restroom in your own home! When can you leave the door open? When is it okay to unbutton/unzipper your pants before reaching the bathroom? What if your Mom is around, or your Dad, or your neighbor? If it's 7:30 and your schedule says to shower at 7:30 but someone else has to use the toilet, who should go first?
  • And the biggest challenge? Understanding why there is a difference between using a public restroom and your own private restroom at home!
There are social rules, norms and consequences for essentially everything we do. No wonder why our students with autism spectrum disorders struggle so much in so many areas! I'm not suggesting that this is the only reason or that there are not other factors at play. However, I do think it's important to consider the social skills relevant to every activity a student is exposed to or expected to perform and to be sure to explicitly teach them in context as you would any other skill! I also think it's important to identify whether there is a social barrier, rather than a motivation barrier or skill deficit at play when a student struggles to perform a particular skill.

Perfect example of a skill which would be primarily considered self help, hygiene, even health related but not social: Brushing your teeth. Yet having poor oral hygiene can lead to tooth decay over the course of time and most immediately, bad breath. There are social consequences for BOTH of these outcomes. However, if you have trouble identifying social cues, you may miss (or misinterpret) someone covering their mouth/nose, turning their head away slightly, standing further away when you're speaking, or even avoiding speaking to you all together. If a student is not maintaining good oral hygiene, some reasons could include: not recognizing or valuing this social contract of having good hygiene (especially in public when interacting with others), lack of motivation, sensory discomfort, skill deficits, etc. In order to determine how to respond and "fix" this issue as an educator, you need to first identify the cause. If it is, in fact, a social deficit, then it needs to be addressed specifically. Having a social skills lesson on the importance of hygiene when making friends, getting a job, etc. is great. So is providing reinforcement or feedback regarding hygiene during actual social interactions.

As I'm sure you have noticed, I could talk about this for the rest of the night... But I won't! I'll just leave it at this:

It's ALL social. So let's teach it that way!

Enjoy the rest of your weekend :)


  1. It really is. I teach a social skills class every day, or almost every day. I loosely follow Michelle Garcia Winner's social thinking curriculum, as I have several of her books. But stuff comes up frequently that is not addressed in her curriculum, like the things you mention in your posts. I address all of it as unexpected and expected behavior, and address it concretely. We role play, practice the expected behavior , praise attempts, use rewards, social stories, sorting activities, etc. And just when I think I have one behavior licked, another one pops up. My students keep me on my toes.

    1. Jannike I know EXACTLY what you mean! I have been developing my own curriculum, but always know that at any time I'll have to add and be flexible! Things will always be interesting in our classrooms :)


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