Social Skills

What Are Social Skills?

Social skills is the term that refers to a child’s ability to interact with other people. Many different skills fall under the umbrella of social skills, including understanding social rules, using correct body language, using appropriate language, and using empathy to understand the world from someone else’s point of view. Many children with language delays also have difficulty with social interaction.

If a Child has Trouble with Social Skills, Does he Have Autism?

One of the main indicators of autism is difficulty with social interactions. However, many children who have trouble with social skills DO NOT have autism! Just because a child has difficulty with social interaction, it doesn’t mean he has autism.

Early Social Skills: Responding To Others

One of the earliest social skills that we work on with children with social communication delays is helping the child respond to others. We can work at a very basic level on this skill by helping a child just learn to respond to sounds that someone else makes or by helping them respond to their name when it is spoken. Responding to others is the very base for social interaction.

How to Get Your Child to Respond To Voices

One of the earliest pre-requisites for developing communication skills is that the baby is able to respond to sound and/or voice. For most children, this skill develops naturally and no formal training is required. However, children with severe disabilities may need someone to encourage them to respond to sounds and voices before they start doing it on their own.

How to Get Your Child to Respond to Voices

1. Hearing Evaluation

One of the first things you need to do when your child isn’t responding to sound is to have his hearing checked. This is not one that you can do at home, you will need to take your child to a professional. Your child’s pediatrician may be able to check his hearing in the office but if your child doesn’t respond well, then they will probably refer you on to an audiologist for a more formal testing. An audiologist is a medical provider who specializes in ears and hearing. If your child is not able to participate in a hearing test (by indicating when he hears the sound), they have special equipment that can monitor your child’s brain-stem response to sounds to see if your child is registering those sounds. This is non-invasive and only involves placing electrode stickers on your child’s skin. It is not harmful at all. They may also want to take your child into a sound-proof booth and play sounds behind your child to see if he turns toward the sound. However, if you’re reading this page then your child probably isn’t responding to sounds in that way.

While you’re waiting for your appointment to have your child’s hearing tested, you can try a few information tests at home that will provide the audiologist a little more information about how he’s hearing at home. Try making a noise behind your child when he doesn’t expect it and see if he responds. You can play a loud noise to see if he startles or play a quiet sound that represents something he loves to see if he looks around for it. For example, if your child loves a particular toy that makes noise, activate the toy behind your child’s back when he can’t see it. Or, if you typically warm your child’s bottles in the microwave, face your child away from the microwave and then turn it on. When it beeps does your child start looking around for his bottle? Write down what you find and bring it to your appointment.

2. Responding to Sound In His Line of Vision

If the audiologist finds that your child’s hearing is normal, then his lack of response to sounds is based on the fact that he doesn’t know he should be attending to that stimulus. In other words, he doesn’t know that sound is important. You can teach him by rewarding his efforts to respond.

Stand or sit where your child can see you. Make sure your child is awake and alert when you try this. Start making lots of noise. You can do this by clapping stomping, banging, shaking a rattle, talking loudly, etc. I also encourage you to call your child’s name while you do this to promote his understanding of his name as well. Keep doing this until your child looks over at you. When he does, find a way to reward him. You will know best what your child responds to best. If your child responds to smiles, hugs, tickles, etc., go with that first. However, if your child doesn’t enjoy that type of stimulation, try something more tangible like a favorite toy, a sip from the bottle, or a small piece of his favorite food. If your child never looks at you, you can move yourself into his line of vision so that he accidentally looks at you. Then, reward him just as described. Wait a moment or two and move to a slightly different position that is still in your baby’s line of sight. Then, start making all the commotion again. Once again, reward your baby for looking at you.

3. Respond to Sound Out of His Vision

Now that your child is able to respond when you make a loud sound in his line of vision, we want him to start responding when he can’t immediately see the source of the noise.

You can start this activity at the edge of your child’s line of vision. Start in a position where he can probably just barely see you out of the corner of his eye. Make your noise and commotion and call his name just like you did in the last step. If he looks over, reward him just like the last step. If not, keep moving yourself farther into his line of vision until he does look at you and then reward him. Each time you do this and he is successful at looking at you, move slightly farther out of his line of vision. Once you are completely out of his line of vision, you will want to reward him when he turns his head to look for you. For example, if you are standing behind your baby and slightly to the right when you make your sound and he turns his head toward the right, immediately come around to the front of him again and reward him for turning. You can say things like “there’s Mommy!” and “you found Mommy!” to reinforce him as well. Keep using the tangible rewards though if he needs them (like a toy, milk, or food). Make sure to practice this on both sides of your baby so he’s not always turning toward the same side to find you.

4. Responding to Voices

Now that your child will respond when you make a big noise and commotion, we want your child to respond just as well to your voice.

Start off back in front of your child where he can see you. Call your child’s name like you did before but this time don’t clap, bang, or make any other noise, just use your voice. You can say things like “Look at Mommy”, “Where’s Mommy?”, “Oh _____(child’s name), where are you?”. If your child looks at you, reward him just like in the other steps. If not, move into his line of vision until he accidently looks at you and reward him again. Keep doing this until he is consistently looking toward your voice. Then, start moving farther and farther outside of his line of vision. Keep rewarding any time he turns toward your voice. You should also be rewarding him any time you see him turn toward your voice throughout the day. You don’t have to be specifically working on it at the time.