Social Skills Development for Kids with Autism During COVID-19

Social Skills Development for Kids with Autism During COVID-19 460 306 bh360

little girl making thumbs up in front of a monitor with video call

Social Skills Development for Kids with Autism During COVID-19

August 10, 2020 | By Melina Barragan, MS, BCBA and Lilian Hernandez, MS, BCBA

Social distancing has become a new reality for us all as we adjust and respond to the COVID-19 public health crisis. As a result, our day-to-day social interactions have become more limited. For children, reducing opportunities to face different social scenarios translates into reduced learning opportunities, and impacts social-emotional development. The effect on kids with autism and other developmental disabilities is even more significant because these kids often need extra help cultivating the skills they need to create and maintain positive interactions with others in social situations.

Cultivating Social Skills

Through everyday social interactions, kids learn skills such as:

  • Initiating and maintaining interactions with others
  • Identifying and responding to social cues
  • Sharing
  • Playing appropriately with peers
  • Understanding different perspectives
  • Responding to others’ feelings

The development of social skills is essential for individuals to establish and maintain healthy social relationships. Friendships not only improve an individual’s sense of belonging but can also enhance mental health, improve self-confidence and help reduce stress and anxiety.

For children with autism and other developmental disabilities, social interactions can be difficult. One of the biggest misconceptions about individuals with autism is that they are not interested in other people or that they prefer to play independently. However, the truth is that there are barriers related to their condition that impact their ability to engage with others effectively. Many simply do not know how to approach their peers or how to respond in social situations. This can contribute to social isolation.

There are numerous strategies used to teach social skills that are based on the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA). One of the interventions widely used are social skills groups. These groups provide opportunities for kids to practice social skills with their peers on a regular basis. Groups are typically organized based on age and interests, and are often offered for kids, preteens, teens and young adults.

Social Skills Groups Via Telehealth

Social skills groups are typically conducted face-to-face, however, during the COVID-19 crisis, conducting social skills groups in person presents many challenges. Luckily, telehealth has evolved as a new platform for kids to come together virtually to continue to practice their social skills development.

Participating in a social skills group via telehealth is easy. Kids can join a group via any electronic device from the comfort of their own home. Led by board-certified behavior analysts (BCBAs) and other skilled clinicians, these groups give kids the chance to see their peers and engage in turn-taking games, sharing, conversations and other activities that help them build friendships through a virtual platform. Without the social interactions kids typically get while in school or through in-person social skills groups, participating in a social skills group virtually provides a safe and supportive environment where they can continue to learn the skills they need to start and maintain friendships.

With telehealth, social skills groups can be conducted using the same interventions used in person such as:

  • Video modeling
  • Role play scenarios
  • Modeling
  • Peer modeling
  • Social stories
  • Behavioral scripts
  • Following social rules
  • Visual aides

Interactive activities via telehealth can also be incorporated into the groups depending on the age and functioning level of the kids in the group. Examples include Drawful, Connect 4, Tic Tac Toe, Kahoot, Jeopardy, and scavenger hunts. The engagement between peers during these interactive activities allows them to share a positive emotional experience. For example, watching an amusing YouTube video – like a favorite amusement park ride, clip from tv show, or superheroes – can lead to laughter and discussion about the video just watched. Engaging in an interactive activity such as playing Jeopardy allows them to experience different interactions that can lead to finding common interests.

To learn more about how a telehealth-based social skills group could help your child continue to practice and develop the social skills needed to create friendships and interact with others, we invite you to Request a Consult with us. During this complimentary 30-minute phone consultation, we’ll be happy to discuss our social skills groups with you in detail, help you identify a group that is most appropriate for your child, and assist you in completing the steps needed to get your child enrolled.

About the Author

Melina Barragan has been practicing in the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA) for the past 9 years. She earned her master’s degree in counseling with an emphasis in applied behavior analysis in 2016.

Shortly after completing her Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) credential, Melina joined California Psychcare as a Clinical Supervisor. During her tenure with California Psychcare, she has continued to grow and develop her abilities as a skilled clinician in the field of ABA. In her current position as Associate Director of Clinical Services based in our California Psychcare office in Inglewood, Melina supervises the delivery of ABA services to her clients. She also shares her skills and expertise with her teammates as she supervises, trains, and mentors them. Melina’s main areas of interest include social skills groups and functional behavioral assessments.

Outside of work, Melina enjoys spending time with her family and friends. She also enjoys running, water sports, theme parks, and shopping at antique stores.

Melina Barragan, MS, BCBA

Associate Director of Clinical Services
California Psychcare – Inglewood

About the Author

Lilian Hernandez is a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who has been working in the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA) since 2016. Lilian earned her Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation Services from California State University of Los Angeles in 2016. She then went on to pursue her Master of Science Degree in Applied Behavior Analysis, which she completed in 2019.

In her current role as a Clinical Supervisor for California Psychcare in Inglewood, Lilian conducts social skills and Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS) groups with her clients. She is dedicated to using her passion in the ABA field to make a difference in the lives of others through treatments that focus on evidence-based, proven techniques.

Lillian headshot
Lilian Hernandez, MS, BCBA

Clinical Supervisor
California Psychcare – Inglewood

For more articles, visit our Stay Informed page.

Red Flags for Autism

Roxana Rabadi, PsyD, LCP

There is no greater joy than watching your baby develop as a little person, hearing them laugh and babble, and seeing them explore their surroundings. Some babies take a little longer than others to achieve expected milestones, from crawling to feeding themselves, and that’s not necessarily a problem; children develop at their own pace. But there are specific behaviors that can be indicative of a developmental disability such as autism.

Read More
Help for Families with Kids with Autism as School Resumes

September 11, 2020 | David Yim, MA and Junxiang (Mark) Hao, BA

Many parents of children with autism are struggling to manage their own work or other responsibilities while their child is attending school virtually. Various services are available, including state-funded services available through local regional centers. Communicating with the service coordinator is key to accessing services.

Read More
Social Skills Development for Kids with Autism During COVID-19

August 10, 2020 | Melina Barragan, MS, BCBA and Lilian Hernandez, MS, BCBA

Socials skills are essential to establish and maintain healthy social relationships. Kids with autism sometimes struggle with their social skills. Dealing with social distancing during COVID-19 is making social skills development more challenging. Telehealth has evolved as a new platform to help kids advance their social skills development.

Read More