People with Asperger Syndrome inherently have few (if any) social skills.They need to learn these skills. They may never really understand why they need to have certain skills, but they can learn to follow the social "rules" once they are clearly defined to them. Because the lack of social skills is one of the defining characteristics of Asperger Syndrome and is the most immediately evident trait, people with Asperger Syndrome are often times viewed as "odd" or "eccentric". Asperger Syndrome has been referred to as the "nerd" or "geek" syndrome (Time magazine May 6, 2002) :
Hotwire archives "Geek Syndrome"
In early childhood classes, it is important to teach social skills that are at the same developmental level as the other students. People with Asperger Syndrome learn much by rote and not so much by example. They may copy the actions of those around them, but not necessarily the proper ones. They are usually unable to "read" body language. They often lack in empathy, and appear not to understand that others feel the same emotions they do. At the earliest possible age, "feelings" should be taught and the child with Asperger Syndrome helped to realize that others feel sad, hurt, happy, angry etc. also. This can be done in group sessions or individually, using role playing or puppets or guessing games. One effective group activity is to have one person leave the room and the rest of the group decide on an emotion to portray. The person returning to the room will try to guess what the others are feeling based on their facial expressions and body language. In this way the child with Asperger Syndrome can "learn" to interpret body language.
The use of "Social Stories" (Registered Trademark Carol Gray) has proven effective in helping people with Asperger Syndrome develop a "plan" for certain everyday situations. These stories will present a scenario that is common to people every day and give the person with Asperger Syndrome options with possible outcomes. A "Social Story" (TM) does not tell the person what to do, but tells them what they can "try" to do if they want a positive outcome. The stories will usually also tell them what might happen if they do not follow the "plan".
Here is a sample "Social Story" (TM) created by the author of this website (Shelley Bereman-Benevides) for actual use with a student with Asperger Syndrome. Feel free to copy and use if you feel it may be beneficial.
Changes: sometimes things are not the same as they were before. there may be a change in my schedule at school or home. There might be a change in where the furniture or desks are placed. There might be a different person someplace or someone I don't know there.
Sometimes people don't have time to tell me about the changes before they happen. Changes are O.K.
I can try to be O.K. with the changes without getting upset. I can ask someone what to do next. I can tell someone if the changes make me feel upset. It's O.K. to tell people I am feeling upset about the change.
People can help me be O.K. with the change if they know I am upset. If I am O.K. with the change I can go ahead and do my work or sit in a different place or meet the new person
Carol Gray is the creator and trademark holder of "Social Stories" (see trademark information below) She has several different formats including comic strip and picture stores for the pre-reader. More information about Carol Gray and her social stories can be found by clicking on the link below
Carol Gray's Social Stories
Carol Gray's "Social Stories" Trademark information
Although social skills do not come naturally for the person with Asperger Syndrome, they do learn quickly how to respond in social situations. Often they will want to do what is "polite" even though they do not understand just exactly what "polite" is. What is often hard to convey though is the fact that not everyone shares their interest in certain subjects. The person with Asperger Syndrome may have a very narrow range of interest and want to talk about only that subject in social settings. This can often make it difficult for people with Asperger Syndrome to develop relationships based on their limited interests. For this reason they are often "loners" and do not develop many friendships even though they would like to. Educators can help them by giving them social "cue cards". These can be literal cards they can carry with them and refer to as needed or they can be "mental cue cards" which could come from social stories as mentioned above. Often the limited interest of a person with Asperger Syndrome develops into a specialized career later in life. As educators we need to be aware that it is not our "right" to extinquish this interest, but is rather our "responsibility" to help them develop socially acceptable practices to aleviate the social isolation they may often find themselves in.
As strange as it may seem, even "slang" may need to be taught to persons with Asperger Syndrome. They often take words very litteraly when they first hear them. Once explained to them however they may begin to use (and sometimes overuse) the popular phrases themselves in proper context. Educators particularly need to be careful in this respect as much confusion can result from certain things being taken literally. We should never "assume" that our directives are understood. When a student with Asperger Syndrome seems to be off on a "tangent" in following instructions, we may need to carefully examine exactly what it was we told them to do and rephrase if necessary. It would also be useful for educators and parents to keep up with the latest slang the other kids are using and explain the meaning to ensure that the student with Asperger Syndrome does not further alienate himself from his peers. Games and role playing to increase communication skills are helpful in this area.
An excellent source of materials for information on teaching social skills can be found at the Online Asperger Syndrome Information and Support( O.A.S.I.S. ) website link below.