top of page
  • Writer's pictureAlley Dezenhouse Kelner

Break it down; teaching social skills.

For many parents, or even teachers, supporting kids on the spectrum the need for social teaching is at the forefront of concern. In a diagnosis with a central deficit in social and communication ability, it is obvious why socialization can be tricky; it incorporates both social skills and the need to communicate effectively. And don't even get me started on teaching the social norms that our society has deemed universal; "no dear, you are supposed to give eye contact but if you look too long it's called staring and that's awkward.." (Hmm....)

So, where to begin when your child is struggling and you want to step in?

I can’t help but think back to my pre-MM day; MM was an idea in my head long before it came to fruition (years, and years). For a long time I wanted to call my emerging idea “Break it Down” only to later decide that the name sounded more like a hip hop album than a learning centre and therapy centre.

So onward I pushed, and eventually with the help of a colleague (co-Director at the time, shout out to Mrs. Lindsay Weinstock!) we decided on Magnificent Minds.

But the idea of ‘breaking it down’ was still at the core of our teaching practices and therapy programs. “Break it down” is so much more than just a hip-hop sounding adage; it provides insight into how you can help your spectrum kiddo to master the nuances of the social exchange. Let me break it down for you... ;)

So the risk of being a little cliché...I will ‘break down’ how to ‘break down’ a skill—particularly, social development.

1. Generate a list of desired goal; this will probably come from a list of your child’s needs, but try to put a positive spin on it—instead of listing every your child cannot do, list everything you want your child to do eventually. (It's all about how you spin it; are you half empty or half full?)

2. Choose a top three; after all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

3. Prioritize (rank) your top three and ideally, make the ranking reflect any consideration of prerequisite skills.

For instance, if you want your child to run you will want to start by teaching him or her to walk (or crawl). (Insert ancient proverb here.)

It may seem like a given, but remember to consider the most foundational skills first.

Once you have decided on your number 1 goal (for now); you begin to break it down. In ABA-speak we call this a task analysis. In a task analysis you break down a goal or skill into it’s compartmentalized components.

So, let’s say I narrow in on teaching my little monkey to initiate play; there are a multitude of ways you can break this down, but here is just one:

  • Locate a peer you’d like to play with

  • Decide what you are going to say to invite the peer into your play

  • Approach the peer

  • Get the peer’s attention by making eye contact, saying their name of giving them a pat on the shoulder

  • When you have their attention, look towards them and invite them into your play

  • Pause for them to answer, keep looking at them

  • Listen for their answer and react accordingly

Think of it as the pieces that make the puzzle.

Now obviously this task analysis is for you not the child (though some of your kids might benefit from seeing all the step written out, totally depends on the profile); if you are planning to use the task analysis itself as a teaching tool, choose language appropriate to your audience (I am writing for parents, so the task analysis reads that way).

You can use a variety of approaches to teach the skill itself; you can teach from the “bottom up”(do a quick Google search on backwards chaining or send me an email) or you can teach from the “top down”.The most successful teaching, in my humble opinion, includes multiple opportunities to make sense of the goal (or task).


  • social stories,

  • role play with scripts (eventually fade these out) and

  • multiple opportunities to practice

Presentations is really important in planning for skill transference. It may seem daunting to break down each goal into a million little pieces, but for your ASD kiddo this could mean the difference between thriving and struggling.

You can (and might like to) do this kind of task analysis for any skill you are trying to teach. In my class, I ‘break down’ everything from math concepts to literacy studies. When you scaffold, and slowly build on top of prior knowledge, the task can seem less overwhelming, more manageable and more attainable.

*Added March 12th* Just adding a link to this amazing visual I found surfing nice to see such a wide variety of tools available online...happy clicking!

Questions, comments, concerns? Hit me!


180 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page