Skill-building activities can occur within the context of formal therapy as well as reinforced through daily interactions with parents, teachers, and other caregivers. It is very important to work on these skills across environments and people, as the individual with Asperger’s syndrome is prone to associating specific behaviors with specific situations and not generalizing, or realizing that the same behavior may be appropriate in numerous situations.
Social skills training is a remediation process that helps the person with Asperger’s syndrome learn the “rules” of interpersonal situations that, by definition, are not intuitively obvious to him/her. In the general population, individuals acquire the necessary social competence through a combination of observation, imitation and direct teaching from caregivers. Acquisition of increasingly complex social knowledge requires the appropriate neurological tools and often occurs without conscious effort. Unfortunately, individuals with Asperger’s syndrome do not have adequate neurological tools with which to process and benefit from observation and imitation. The majority of their social knowledge must be very discretely taught and consciously processed. In essence, complex social information must be reduced to a number of formulaic “rules” that are more user-friendly to the individual with Asperger’s syndrome. Two important components to this kind of training include the teaching of both concrete social skills AND more abstract social understanding or “social cognition” (i.e., the understanding of how to recognize when, where, and with whom to use social skills).
Encouragement and modeling of appropriate expressive communication skills is paramount to facilitating the interpersonal and adaptive success of the person with Asperger’s syndrome. Often times it is useful for caregivers to reinforce the strategies identified in formal Speech/Language therapy. Therefore, consultation with the appropriate therapist can be very helpful. Even if an individual is not engaged in formal therapy, there often remains the need to assist him/her with the appropriate verbal and nonverbal means of obtaining attention or assistance, sharing thoughts or emotions, and initiating or structuring a social conversation. Appropriate sequences of verbal or nonverbal communication can be role-modeled and shaped by caregivers, and learned sequences can be prompted through the use of individualized cues. The ability to effectively interact with the environment is strongly mediated by communication skills, highlighting the need for continual training and review of related abilities.
Training in the use of appropriate coping skills requires components of the aforementioned skills (social and communication), as well as emphasis on the appropriate recognition, labeling and sharing of emotions. Individuals with Asperger’s syndrome frequently have difficulty with identifying the bodily sensations connected with emotions, recognizing and labeling the nature of the emotions, and then communicating emotional needs to others. In addition to mastering emotion recognition, individuals need to learn appropriate verbalizations and/or behaviors that will facilitate coping, and therefore improve adaptation and reduce stigmatization. A related skill is that of problem-solving. Given the characteristic rigidity with which an individual with Asperger’s syndrome might approach a situation, it is particularly important to also teach the steps to more flexible and productive problem-solving.
In order to promote independence and reduce stress, individuals with Asperger’s syndrome must be taught organizational skills on both global (i.e., the environmental) and specific (i.e., task-oriented) levels. Task acquisition strategies were described earlier and emphasize the identification of a clear series of steps by which an individual can be assisted to learn a task. In a more broad sense, individuals with Asperger’s syndrome need to make sense out of their environment, which often seems confusing, overwhelming and unpredictable. An individual can be taught how to develop various routines and use recommended visual cues (e.g., labels, schedule, calendar) so that s/he can better understand, predict and “control” events.