Teachers and Social Skills

September 14, 2014

By Dan Coulter

A while back, I wrote an article about having your first experience teaching a student with Asperger Syndrome.  With so many teachers encountering students who have Asperger Syndrome (or autism spectrum disorder - level 1), I decided it’s time for another chapter.

To illustrate both the positive aspects and challenges of Asperger Syndrome behaviors, I’ll share an encounter that my son, Drew, had in high school. He was outside the school building in a sea of students waiting for his ride, when he saw a guy he didn’t know smoking a cigarette, standing with two other guys.

Drew, who had seen a news report on smoking the night before, impulsively said, “You know, those things cause impotence.”

The smoker responded, “I don’t give a F---!”

Drew, in full Asperger mode, instantly observed, “Of course not, you won’t be able to.”

This left the smoker speechless as his two companions collapsed in laughter.

While this sounds like a verbal triumph for Drew, it also demonstrated his inability to see that making a negative comment to a stranger was probably going to generate hostility.  While he displayed his quick wit, what he said was not likely to make him any friends.  It might even create an enemy, if the target for his humor felt the need to retaliate.

Still, it was a great comeback.

And it demonstrates how smart and funny a student with Asperger Syndrome might be.

Or not.

Two students with Asperger Syndrome can be as different from each other as any two other randomly selected students in your class.  The thing they are most likely to have in common is difficulty understanding how to “read” others and interact as their peers do.

So one of the most important things a teacher can do for a student with AS is not academic, it’s social.  Helping these students develop their social skills is like giving someone with squeaking, sticking bicycle wheels a can of oil. Think of social skills as a human interaction lubricant that can help them succeed in the real world.

Academic success was never Drew’s problem.  His SAT scores would widen your eyes.  But he was lonely early in high school because he couldn’t seem to connect with classmates.

Then one of his teachers invited him to an after school Dungeons and Dragons game group where he met others with similar interests.  Voila!  He made friends.  He’s had a way to connect with others ever since.  And success breeds success. The more a student with Asperger Syndrome learns to interact with a few friends, the more capable and confident he’s likely to be in dealing with other classmates. I think this teacher’s influence played a role in Drew successfully asking a girl to his senior prom.

In college, Drew joined a D&D group and made new friends.  After graduation, he took the initiative to form a group in our town that plays D&D and other games.  The members of this group share other activities.

Drew is now an independent adult.  He's now much better at weighing the possible impact of his words before he speaks.  Being able to interact in expected ways has been an important factor in his past and current jobs.

If you’re a teacher, you know that academics are important.  But the things you do to help a student with Asperger Syndrome develop socially may be an even bigger life-success factor.

Oh, and avoiding cigarettes couldn’t hurt either.

* * *

ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Dan Coulter is the producer of the video, “Manners for the Real World: Basic Social Skills.”  You can find more information and articles on his website: coultervideo.com. Copyright 2008 Dan Coulter (Revised 2014)   Used By Permission   All Rights Reserved

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