The Secret Social Skills Ingredient

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By Dan Coulter

I love the story about a man who approached legendary pianist Arthur Rubinstein on the street in New York and asked, “Excuse me, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?” Rubinstein reportedly looked at the man and said, “Practice, practice, practice.”

This anecdote may be apocryphal, but it’s still a great story.

I think of practice as the missing ingredient in lots of potential social skills success stories. You can buy books or videos. You can hear a lecture or take a class. But for most people with Asperger Syndrome or a related condition, that alone is like hearing about learning to play the piano. If you have AS, you need to practice social skills to make them a part of the way you routinely interact with people.

One of the primary frustrations I see among parents and teachers of children with AS occurs when they’ve told their child or student how they want him or her to do something. Or how to react when something happens.

Their words don’t sink in, because the child’s brain isn’t wired to act or react in the way they want. It puzzles us when someone repeatedly does something that doesn’t make sense to us. It’s easier to understand when we realize that his actions and reactions make perfect sense to him. That she’s motivated by a different set of instructions provided by her brain. It takes practice to rewire those neural pathways.

It might help to approach learning social skills the way we’d approach learning to play the piano. I used to spend 30 minutes a day practicing the piano. Why not practice social skills for five to ten minutes a day? One skill at a time, until it’s a habit. Of course, a child can practice the piano by himself. You need at least one other person to practice social skills.

What if you and other family members became practice partners, taking turns providing help? You just need to find a resource to help you lay out a series of exercises to teach specific social skills. It’s best if a practice partner understands the skills your child is working toward and what to do to help him master those skills. But it’s also helpful if two children, who both need support, have some practice with each other. Everyone’s got to solo sometime.

Yes, it’s a commitment.

But if learning the piano is worth a half-hour’s commitment a day, think of what a few minutes a day learning crucial social skills is worth to a child who wants and needs other people, but just can’t seem to connect on his own.

Practicing social skills could be the secret ingredient that unlocks the path to your child’s own Carnegie Hall.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the producer of the DVD: "MANNERS FOR THE REAL WORLD: Basic Social Skills," which has just been revised and re-released with optional English and Spanish subtitles. You'll find more articles and information on his website at:

Copyright 2008 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved Used by Permission

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