The Far Side of Emotion

The best lessons to teach are the ones you've learned​ yourself. One of my favorite things to do growing up was to pour over my books of The Far Side comics by Gary Larson. A scientist by trade, Larson drew what he knew best. Science, animals, and anxiety related to the pranks his older brother would play on him growing up, and his awareness of the randomness of life and death. 

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Building and Maintaining Friendships in Middle School

​The school year is upon us. For teens and adolescents on the Autism Spectrum, the most stressful factor besides a new routine is forming new friendships and renegotiating the terms of existing relationships after a summer break in which a lot of growth and change has occurred. Here are some conversation starters that will help you to get your teen thinking about the important factors in building and maintaining relationships with peers.

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5 Anger Management Tools for Teenagers on the Autism Spectrum

As my friend and co-host of the Therapy and Rockets podcast says, we all get angry. As adults we get frustrated with our kids, and they get frustrated and angry with us, their friends and themselves. Short of finding inner peace, the best thing to do is to help your teenager identify a few strategies that work, and practice them when emotional tension is low so that they become second nature.

Here are five tools that Nathan recommends from his own work as a teen crisis counselor: 

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Autism Spectrum and the Philosophy of Paradox

F. Scott Fitzgerald said that "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function."  

Paradox is everywhere in the world of Autism.  It is embedded in the name Autism Spectrum itself. A diagnosis, autism, coupled to spectrum, a fierce rejection of the very idea that a diagnosis can define or describe.

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Helping Your Child on the Autism Spectrum to Understand Humor

Exchanging jokes is an important part of building and maintaining peer relationships but understanding the ritualism and timing involved in the telling of a joke can be challenging for a child on the autism spectrum.

The process of telling a joke can be broken down into a series of steps that can be practiced:

1. making eye contact

2. physical contact if appropriate (hand shake, fist bump, hand on a shoulder)

3. verbal greeting

4. invitation to hear a joke

5. telling the joke

6. closing the interaction

Autism Social Skills: Understanding Humor

Intention Detective

Our reactions in the context of social interactions are based on a series of lighting quick decisions based on our perception of the intent of the other person. Was that name mix up an accident, or a deliberate attempt to upset me? 

For children on the autism spectrum, the ingredients of intuiting intent, reading facial expression, interpreting tone of voice, synthesizing contextual factors, may not come naturally. In the Kids Cooperate social skills group this week, we used this flow chart based on Relationship Development Intervention to play "Intention Detective".

I created this visual representation of the decision tree of intuiting intent.

Autism social skills groups: understanding intention

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN AN AUTISM SOCIAL SKILLS GROUP

My autism social skills groups program is based on a set of simple principles. First, that each person is capable of growth and development. Second, that each person has preferences and dreams. And third, that these wishes should be honored by the person's support network. Person centered. Strengths based. Emergent.

Quality Autism social skills groups

Quality Autism social skills groups

Learning to Lose

When you play a board game with your family, do you find yourself getting a sinking feeling if it looks like your child is not going to win? Learning to lose is a critical aspect of resiliency. For some people, gracious losing comes naturally, and for others, its a skill that must be learned, practiced, and internalized. ​

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GIVE TO GET

Whether you call it the golden rule, the law of attraction, humanism, or any other number of names, it is well accepted fact that when it comes to kindness, you receive directly in the proportion to what you give.

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TOO CLOSE! TEACHING BOUNDARIES IN AUTISM SOCIAL SKILLS GROUPS

This activity can be used in autism social skills to teach about personal space and non verbal cues. It helps children to develop a "theory of mind" by encouraging them to put themselves in another person's place. Some autism spectrum researchers identify a lack of theory of mind as the main difference between neuro typical children and children on the autism spectrum making it a key intervention point.

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MOUSE! TUNING IN TO FACIAL EXPRESSION IN AUTISM SOCIAL SKILLS GROUPS

One of my very favorite ways to help kids tune in to non-verbal cues from facial expressions (and a favorite of the kids) is a game called Mouse. I came across this in Autism, Play, and Social Interaction (Gammeltoft & Nordenhof, 2007)

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AUTISM SOCIAL SKILLS GROUPS: ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

One of the critical skills that can be taught through a well planned social skills curriculum for children with autism and PDD is asking appropriate questions and acknowledging the response.

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A SYMPHONY OF SMALL VICTORIES: RESULTS MANAGEMENT MODEL OF AUTISM SOCIAL SKILLS PLANNING

Social skills groups cross the line from fun to effective when there is the correct blend of art and science. The art is the flexibility, creativity, and carefully nurtured group dynamic. The science comes from a cycle of planning, observation, and adjustment.

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A Strengths Based Approach to Social Skills Programming

Many autism interventions are built on a deficit model that begins by identifying the behaviors that are causing the most social difficulty, and then designing a curriculum to address problems. For example, according to Bellini (2006), the six major areas of impairment in social functioning include:

  1. Nonverbal communication
  2. Social initiation
  3. Reciprocity and terminating interactions
  4. Social cognition
  5. Behaviors associated with perspective taking and self-awareness
  6. Social anxiety and social withdrawal

These concerns are real, tangible, and difficult to cope with. The impulse as a parent or educator is to ameliorate problem areas by targeting deficits as quickly and effectively as possible. In the rush to target valuable energy and resources to solve problems, your child's innate strengths and capabilities can be forgotten.

As a pracitioner offering social skills groups in the greater Hartford region, I feel that it is critical to design interventions using a strengths based approach. I propose the following six inherent strengths of children with autism spectrum disorder and ADHD. 

  1. Elasticity: the ability to adapt 
  2. Desire to make social connections
  3. Inherent ability for growth
  4. Individuality: each child has individual interests and motivations
  5. Natural supports: family, faith community, and anyone invested in the child's success
  6. Resiliency: the ability to recover from setbacks

A strengths based approach can be reflected in the language used by the constellation of professionals and informal caregivers supporting your child, and this learned optimism will begin to transform the way that you and your child view growth and progress. A study by Shirvani (2007) found that positive teacher communication improved both students performance and parents attitudes. The growth you are working towards can be scaffolded by acceptance, support, and an unwaivering belief in your child's innate capabilities.

Aaron Weintraub, MS runs child-centered social skills groups with a focus on children and teenagers withPervasive Developmental DisorderAsperger Syndrome, High Functioning Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Shyness. Strengths-based approach in a community based setting. Groups available in Tolland, Mansfield, Willimantic, Hartford, Vernon and Coventry Connecticut. 

http://kidscooperate.com

860-576-9506

Teaching Social Skills: Polite vs Pragmatic

As parents and professionals caring for children with ADHD or on the autism spectrum, we should be aware of the difference between "social success" and "good behavior".  When parents or educators seek out a social skills group for a child, It is often out of the unspoken desire to foster polite behaviors, but the skills that are considered innapropriate by adults can be functional in peer to peer interactions (Bellini, 2006). 

I remember a child that I worked with who was diagnosed with ADHD. His disruptive behaviors in the classroom were being punished by the teacher, but rewarded by his peers in the form of laughter and attention. The challenge was to redirect his behaviors to be successful in one domain (academics) without diminishing the equally important success he was having in another domain (peer interaction). 

For a child without well developed instinct for social behaviors, stumbling upon an action that provokes a positive response from their peers can trigger a repetitive cycle. One way to interrupt this is to inject a moment of reflection into the cycle of repetition. Encourage your child to take a breath, and a moment to "see into the future" to anticipate the results of their choices for a next action. These are called "choice points". 

If we stretch our own comfort levels, we can encourage children for their social success in a way that redirects impolite behaviors. We should take care not penalize them for the sometimes conflicting goals neccessary to navigate a complicated  and contradictory social landscape.

Aaron Weintraub, MS runs child-centered social skills groups with a focus on children and teenagers withPervasive Developmental DisorderAsperger Syndrome, High Functioning Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Shyness. Strengths-based approach in a community based setting. Groups available in Tolland, Mansfield, Willimantic, Hartford, Vernon and Coventry Connecticut. 
http://kidscooperate.com
860-576-9506

5 Things to Know About Autism Social Skills Groups

Parents of children with difficult social behaviors know that participation in a social skills group is an important factor in helping their child learn the skills to build and nurture successful friendships through their life. With so many providers, it can be difficult to choose who to trust to guide your child's social-emotional development.

As a provider of social skills groups for people with autism spectrum disorder, I subscribe to the 5 tenets of social skills programming laid out by Dr. Scott Bellini in his Building Social Relationships curriculum. In my experience, these principles represent a positive foundation on which to build a strengths based and reality focused program to teach pragmatic social skills to children with an ASD or ADHD diagnosis. 


  1. Individuals with asd want to establish meaningful social relationships.

  2. If we want children and adolescents with ASD to be successful socially we must teach them skills to be successful

  3. Successful social behaviors are not always appropriate social behaviors

  4. Social success is dependent upon our ability to adapt to our environment

  5. Social interaction skills are not the equivalent of academic skills


How will you recognize a social skills curriculum built on these tenets? Look for a facilitator with a philosophy which recognizes the inherent strengths in your child and supports the innate desire to make meaningful connections. The sessions should focus on pragmatic skills such as recognizing facial expressions and voice modulation. While the basic rules for social behavior can be generalized, children should not be forced into cookie cutter conformity. Every person has their own communication style that should be supported. Astute social skills will not always mean good behavior or academic performance. As parents we must prioritize and trust that success in all other areas of life follows positive social connection.

Aaron Weintraub, MS runs child-centered social skills groups with a focus on children and teenagers withPervasive Developmental DisorderAsperger Syndrome, High Functioning Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Shyness. Strengths-based approach in a community based setting. Groups available in Tolland, Mansfield, Willimantic, Hartford, Vernon and Coventry Connecticut. 
http://kidscooperate.com
860-576-9506

SOCIAL SKILLS GROUPS AND PERVASIVE DEVELOPMENTAL DISORDER (PPD)

Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) refers to five categories of disorders on the autism spectrum, but is commonly used to indicate the diagnosis of PPD-NOS. Children with a PDD-NOS diagnosis can have a difficult time connecting with peers and developing the social skills that will help them to be successful academically, socially, romantically and professionally.

Participation in social skills groups can help children with a PDD-NOS diagnosis by giving them a safe environment to develop, practice, and integrate new skills in a way that builds confidence for future interaction. Some of the supports necessary to create a well scaffolded social group include: The inclusion of neuro-typical children as peer mentors, interactive manipulatives, a well organized environment, consistent routine, adult scaffolding, and the inclusion of idiosyncratic interests

Aaron Weintraub, MS runs child-centered social skills groups with a focus on children and teenagers withPervasive Developmental DisorderAsperger Syndrome, High Functioning Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Shyness. Strengths-based approach in a community based setting. Groups available in Tolland, Mansfield, Willimantic, Hartford, Vernon and Coventry Connecticut. 

http://kidscooperate.com

860-576-9506

Why Use an "Emergent Curriculum" in Social Skills Groups?

An emergent curriculum is a best practice based on building a lesson plan on the shifting foundation of a child's interests and developmental needs. It requires flexibility, and the time it takes to get to know each child individually and listen deeply to their interests. 

An emergent curriculum is a natural organizing principle for social skills groups for children on the Autism Spectrum and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder because the work of learning social thinking happens most easily in the context of real world situations. 

Making the decision to commit to the principal of an emergent curriculum does not mean that you must abandon evidence based practice and tested methods of teaching social skills. A session may start out with a clear objective on the group facilitators end, and then evolve based on information and needs that the children bring to the dynamic. 

So what does an emergent curriculum look like? a group facilitator has taken the time to get to know each child and has a detailed social and recreational profile filled out at home by the child and their parent. The objective for the session is practice "putting yourself in someone else's shoes". The facilitator knows that two group members favor different baseball teams, and that they recently played each other. Rather than building the excercise around something abstract, the facilitator encourages they children to identify the other childs emotions in a context of something tangible and relevant.

The comittment to teach social skills using an emergent curriculum means more planning and requires thinking on ones feet, but the payoff in terms of connecting the skills that a child with Autism or ADHD need to develop to real world relevancy is immense.

Aaron Weintraub, MS runs child-centered social skills groups with a focus on children and teenagers withPervasive Developmental DisorderAsperger Syndrome, High Functioning Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Shyness. Strengths-based approach in a community based setting. Groups available in Tolland, Mansfield, Willimantic, Hartford, Vernon and Coventry Connecticut. 
http://kidscooperate.com
860-576-9506

Why are social skills important?

Each day contains a myriad of social interactions, large and small. These can occur face to face, or digitally using social media. Every encounter is a cascade of action and reaction. Whatever the outcome of the interaction, positive or negative, a flood of chemicals including serotonin and adrenaline are released into the body, coloring and influencing our ability to respond positively and with resilience to the next encounter. Some research (Cohen, 2004) even shows that positive social interaction can make us physically healthier and body immunity. Repeated negative experiences can compound into a "vicious circle" but, conversely, positive interactions can instead create what therapist Albert Ellis called a "delicious circle"!

Aaron Weintraub, MS runs child-centered social skills groups with a focus on children and teenagers withPervasive Developmental DisorderAsperger Syndrome, High Functioning Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Shyness. Strengths-based approach in a community based setting. Groups available in Tolland, Mansfield, Willimantic, Hartford, Vernon and Coventry Connecticut. 
http://kidscooperate.com
860-576-9506