What are Social Skills?

Social Skills are the skills we use everyday to interact and communicate with others. They include verbal and non-verbal communication, such as speech, gesture, facial expression and body language. Children with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Pervasive Developmental Disorder (Not Otherwise Specified), Social Communication Disorder, PDD-NOS, ADHD, Mixed Receptive-Expressive Language Disorder, social anxiety, head injury, etc.  have difficulties with social skills.


Social skills are vital in enabling an individual to have and maintain positive interactions with others. Many of these skills are crucial in making and sustaining friendships. Social interactions do not always run smoothly and an individual needs to be able to implement appropriate strategies, such as conflict resolution when difficulties in interactions arise. It is also important for individuals to have ’empathy’ (i.e. being able to put yourself into someone else’s shoes and recognise their feelings) as it allows them to respond in an understanding and caring way to how others are feeling.


Communication skills

To be able to communicate well with others we thought these skills were important:

  • active listeninggood manners
  • active listening
  • gestures and eye contact
  • listening with understanding and empathy (putting yourself in the place of the other person)
  • thinking before you speak
  • speaking clearly and not shouting
  • having a sense of humour.

Respecting yourself and others

Respecting yourself and others needs these skills according to the group:

  • using good manners
  • cooperating
  • sharing and taking turns
  • being assertive
  • being patient
  • following directions and staying on task
  • accepting differences and acknowledging rights
  • no bullying, teasing or putdowns
  • respecting all property
  • no gossip or spreading rumours
  • being kind in what you say and do
  • treating people equally
  • trying to make everyone feel special and happy
  • being open to your and others' feelings.


Participating (joining in) can be very difficult for some people but if you work on these skills it could get easier and a whole lot more fun:

  • being active
  • taking part and having a go even if you are feeling shy
  • having fun - you don't have to be the best at anything to do this
  • resilience - keep trying and don't give up too easily
  • focusing and concentrating on what you need to do
  • practising skills (like ball skills)
  • working together and making sure you do your part as well as you can
  • including everyone
  • building your confidence
  • staying on track

Friendship skills

Everyone needs friends but some people have problems making and keeping friends. We decided that the following skills were needed:

  • be a good friendinteraction skills like smiling, eye contact, listening
  • cooperation and sharing
  • respecting confidences (things that others have asked you not to tell to anyone else, unless it is not a safe secret), rights and property
  • keeping your word
  • praising others, no put downs
  • acknowledging when you make a mistake
  • being open to new friendships
  • being loyal
  • being kind
  • having a sense of humour, especially being able to laugh at yourself.

Resolving conflict

Everyone has problems with others sometimes. The trick is to sort them out as quickly as possible. These skills will help:

  • accept - respecttalking it out
  • practising active listening
  • staying calm
  • being open to other ideas
  • controlling anger
  • compromising
  • persisting - never leave a problem unresolved
  • standing up for yourself without bullying or shouting
  • dealing with the present, what actually happened
  • getting to the point and being clear about what you want
  • staying focused - don't drag others into it or bring up past conflicts
  • learning to forgive – forgive yourself as well as others.

What are the building blocks necessary to develop social skills?

  • Attention and concentration:Sustained effort, doing activities without distraction and being able to hold that effort long enough to get the task done.
  • Receptive (understanding) language: Comprehension of language.
  • Expressive (using) language: The use of language through speech, sign or alternative forms of communication to communicate wants, needs, thoughts and ideas.
  • Play skills:Voluntary engagement in self motivated activities that are normally associated with pleasure and enjoyment where the activities may be, but are not necessarily, goal oriented.
  • Pre-language skills:The ways in which we communicate without using words and include things such as gestures, facial expressions, imitation, joint attention and eye-contact.
  • Self regulation:The ability to obtain, maintain and change one’s emotion, behaviour, attention and activity level appropriate for a task or situation in a socially acceptable manner.
  • Executive functioning: Higher order reasoning and thinking skills.
  • Planning and sequencing:The sequential multi-step task or activity performance to achieve a well-defined result.

How can you tell if my child has problems with social skills?

If a child has difficulties with social skills they might:

  • Use fleeting eye contact, does not consistently use eye contact or stares at you fixedly.
  • Not be able to take turns when talking to their communication partner.
  • Struggle with using appropriate body language (e.g. stands too close/far to another person).
  • Fail to use polite forms of communication (e.g. saying: please, thank-you, hello and good-bye).
  • Be unable to start and end conversations appropriately.
  • Interrupt others frequently.
  • Be unable to maintain a topic of conversation and provides irrelevant comments during a conversation.
  • Talk ‘at you’ in a conversation as opposed to engaging in a two way conversation ‘with’ you.
  • Not ask appropriate questions.
  • Repeat information in conversation and tend to talk about topics of their own interest (e.g. trains, a favourite TV show/person).
  • Show little or no interest in what the other person has to say.
  • Fail to understand jokes and language, such as sarcasm, idioms and non-literal information (e.g. ‘This place is a pig sty!’).
  • Interpret what you say in a very literal way (e.g. when you say “Can you open the door?” the child “yes” without moving to actually open the door).
  • Talk with unusual speed, stress, rhythm, intonation, pitch and/or tone of voice.
  • Be unable to understand different tones of voice or read facial cues.
  • Fail to ask for clarification if they are confused or if the situation is unclear to them.
  • Struggle to respond appropriately when asked to change their actions.
  • Tend to disclose (excessively) personal information to unfamiliar people or strangers.
  • Appear unaware of others and fail to read other people’s feelings based on their verbal and non-verbal cues.
  • Be unable to respond to teasing, anger, failure and disappointment appropriately.
  • Be unable to adjust or modify their language appropriately according to the communication situation.
  • Lack empathy (i.e. is not able to imagine what it is like to be somebody else or in their situation).
  • Lack imagination.
  • Appear self-centred.
  • Fail to understand the consequences of their actions.

What other problems can occur when a child has social skill difficulties?

When a child has social skill difficulties, they might also have difficulties with:

  • Behaviour:The child’s actions, usually in relation to their environment (e.g. a child may engage in behaviour, such as refusing to go to social events including birthday parties or engage in inappropriate behaviour, such as tugging on a peer’s hair or yelling at someone to get their attention).
  • Sensory processing:The child may have trouble attending or focusing and have difficulty interpreting information they receive from the environment.
  • Completing academic work(e.g. the child may misinterpret verbal or written instructions for tasks and/or struggle with imaginative writing).
  • Receptive (understanding) language:Comprehension of language.
  • Expressive (using) language:The use of language through speech, sign or alternative forms of communication to communicate wants, needs, thoughts and ideas.
  • Articulation:Clarity of speech sounds and spoken language.
  • Fluency:The smoothness or flow with which sounds, syllables, words and phrases are produced when talking.
  • Voice:The sound that we hear when someone talks which is unique to each person.
  • Self regulation:The ability to obtain, maintain and change one’s emotion, behaviour, attention and activity level appropriate for a task or situation in a socially acceptable manner.
  • Executive functioning:Higher order reasoning and thinking skills.

Why should I seek therapy if I notice difficulties with social skills in my child?

Therapeutic intervention to help a child with social skills difficulties is important to:

  • Help a child to engage appropriately with others during play, conversation and in interactions.
  • Help a child to develop friendships at school and when accessing out of school activities.
  • Help a child maintain friendships with peers.
  • Help a child to behave appropriately during interactions with familiar people and unfamiliar individuals.
  • Assist a child in developing their awareness of social norms and to master specific social skills
  • Develop appropriate social stories to help teach the child about how to respond in specific social situations.
  • Some children require explicit teaching about how to interact and communicate with others as these skills do not come naturally to them.

 What type of therapy is recommended for social skills difficulties?

If your child has difficulties with social skills, it is recommended to consult a Speech Therapist.

What can be done to improve social skills?

  • Social skill groups: These are groups run with the express purpose of mastering social interaction with others.
  • Play with your child to help develop joint attention, turn-taking, shared interests, cooperation and appropriate play with toys.
  • Emotions:Help the child to understand and display their own emotions and to recognise these emotions in other people.
  • Empathy:Help the child to understand and recognise how other people are feeling in particular situations.
  • Social stories:These are stories which are used to teach children specific social skills that they may find difficult to understand or are confusing. The goal of the story is to increase the child’s understanding by describing in detail a specific situation and suggesting an appropriate social response.


Small-group treatment engages children in guided play experiences with peers to develop expressive, receptive, and social-pragmatic language skills.

Evgenia Stefanaki, SLP, OM, has the private practice "All for Speech Center" and is a nationally certified and licensed Speech & Language Pathologist. She is also PROMPT© trained and holds specialization in orofacial myofunctional therapy. She writes on the blog about speech & language disorders and orofacial disorders.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us!

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