The Summer of Social Skills

By Dan Coulter

Another summer is coming. How can you help your child use it to make things better for the next school year? If your child has Asperger Syndrome or autism, you might consider making it “the summer of social skills.”

I remember hearing a radio interview with Shari Lewis, the driving force behind sock puppets Lamp Chop, Hush Puppy and Charlie Horse. Shari said when she was young, her parents arranged for her to focus on learning one skill each summer.

Sadly, we lost Shari Lewis in 1998 at the age of 65. Her bio says that as she was growing up, she got instruction in performing stage magic, acrobatics, juggling, ice skating, baton twirling, piano, violin and ventriloquism. I wondered which of those skills she had worked on during her summers.

So I contacted Shari’s daughter, Mallory, who has become Lamp Chop’s new alter-ego, carrying on her mom’s performing legacy. In a phone visit, Mallory said she didn’t know exactly what her mom had studied during her summers, but that focused instruction was completely in keeping with her grandparent’s approach to learning -- and her mother's. Mallory recalled that when she expressed an interest in ping-pong to Shari, the next day a ping-pong table appeared in their house and she began getting instruction from one of the best ping-pong players in the country. To this day, Mallory declared, she can whip just about anybody in ping-pong.

While I was growing up, one of my challenges was making my handwriting legible. The summer before my freshman year of high school, I took a typing class every weekday morning for two months. Being able to type made completing high school homework assignments a lot easier. And when computers came along, I was keyboard-ready.

If there’s one thing I can think of that would make life better for most children who have Asperger Syndrome and similar forms of autism, it’s learning to decipher social interaction. As a parent, maybe you can find your child a social skills summer camp, or day classes. You could even make it a family project, and use books and videos as your curriculum.

Mallory mentioned that while her mother’s family saw the benefits of focused instruction, she doubted that meant excluding everything else from her mother’s summer. Focusing on something doesn’t have to mean excluding other things, just making one thing a priority. And that focus doesn’t have to be filled with pressure. If you can find a camp or class or books or videos that are fun, social skills instruction could be the highlight of your child’s summer day.

So think about how arranging a social skills summer could help your child break down the social walls that separate him or her from classmates. One summer doesn’t have to work magic, just help your child establish core skills to build on. Think about how the next school year could be better – and the next, and the next.

And think about a day in the future when your adult child, settled into a new job and getting along with coworkers, turns to you and says, “You know, one of the best things you ever did for me was that summer when…”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the author of the DVDs, "Manners for the Real World: Basic Social Skills" and “Asperger Syndrome at Work." You can find more articles on his website:

Copyright 2011 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved Used By Permission

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