Social Skill Goals for Students with Autism

Developing strong social skills is essential for all students, but it is even more important to make it a priority for students with autism. Social skills are the foundation for building meaningful relationships, which is something we all need in life. However, students with autism often face unique challenges in understanding and practicing these skills. This can make social interactions stressful and confusing for them, leading to feelings of isolation or frustration. It is important to remember that these skills as just as important as academic achievement. 

Setting specific, achievable social skill goals helps the entire IEP team to have a set target or goal to work on with these students. By doing so, we can help students gain these skills quicker and easier. With neurotypical students, they can learn through observations of others. However, with Autistic students you need to explicitly and directly teach these skills.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the importance of social skills for students with autism, outline practical and effective social skill goals, and share strategies for achieving these goals. Whether you’re an educator looking to enhance your classroom practices or a parent seeking ways to support your child, this guide will provide valuable insights and actionable steps to help students with autism develop the social skills they need to succeed.

Why is it important to target social skills on an IEP?

Enhances Communication and Interaction

Students with autism often face challenges in communication. Including social skill goals on an IEP requires the team to provide structured opportunities and specific interventions to improve these abilities, leading to better peer relationships and more effective classroom participation.

Promotes Inclusion

Stronger social skills help students with autism be more included by peers, reducing isolation and fostering a sense of belonging, contributing to a more inclusive school environment. Students will be better able to navigate social situations to develop strong friendships.

Supports Emotional Regulation

Improved social skills help in managing emotions and reducing frustration from misunderstandings, leading to better emotional and behavioral regulation.

Enhances Quality of Life

Developing social skills improves self-esteem, relationships, and independence, contributing to the overall well-being and long-term success of students with autism.

Setting Effective Goals

Before you can write goals, we need to chat briefly about what makes a good social skills goal in the first place. I love the acronym SMART. You probably have heard this with writing really any educational goals in education these days. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. It is important to have goals be SMART so you can be laser focused on instruction and then know when you achieve the goal to be able to move on to the next one.

Creating SMART goals will make data collection easier and less of a headache. For me, when I write measurable goals that have easy ways to collect data- I get excited to see the data each week and watch my students develop the skills. It is important to write achievable goals, because if you never celebrate achieving the goal, this can wear on you and cause you not to make working on these goals a priority.

You will also want to be thinking of goals in terms of short-term vs. long-term goals. You want to be able to write appropriate goals so they are achievable. For example, if you have a student who is unable to even greet others right now, it may be a long term goal to have a goal around holding a conversation. You will need to write a short term goal with stepping stones of skills in order to get to that long term goal.

Here are some example of short and long term goals:

  • Short-term: Making eye contact during greetings, asking for help when needed
  • Long-term: Developing friendships, participating in group activities

Examples of Social Skills Goals

Communication Goals/ Conversation Skills

When writing these goals, it is imperative to work with your SLP. They are going to have some great ideas around how and when to approach these skills. These can include self-help skills as well as just having a conversation.

1. When engaged in a conversation with a peer, student will stay on topic for _____ minutes.

2. When presented with a question, student will respond on topic and appropriately 4 out of 5 trials.

3. Student will independently ask for help when they do not know what to do on 4 out of 5 trials. This could look like using a help card, using their device or raising their hand for help. Trials could be watching the student for times when you can see them becoming confused.

4. Student will answer “wh” questions with 70% accuracy. Use visuals to support this goal if needed. I like using these adapted books and using the pieces that come with them to support asking WH questions.

5. When engaging in a conversation, student will remain at an appropriate voice volume for 80% of the time.

6. When asked a question, student will respond appropriately without getting upset on 4 out of 5 instances.

7. When posed with something student does not like, they will use appropriate and polite wording to express their dislike on 4 out of 5 instances. This goal is a good one for working with students on thinking something or saying something. This task box has that exact skill in it to work on.

8. Student will request their lunch meals with one adult prompt.

9. When posed with a problem, student will identify two possible solutions with minimal adult support.

10. When posed with a challenging situation, student will use an I statement to convey their feelings on 4 out of 5 trials. This is a great practice tool. There are scenarios and students need to match the I statements. This makes progress monitoring very easy as well!

11. When engaged in a conversation, student will remain 2 ft away from their conversation partner for 80% of the time.

12. During play, student will engage in cooperative play for 5 minutes.

Emotional Regulation Goals

These are great for working on with the entire class, because many students can work on developing an appropriate response to when they are feeling dsyregulated and how they can return to baseline.

1. When student feels overwhelmed or angry, they will engage with a coping skill with 1 prompt from an adult.

2. When asking for a break, student will calmly use their break card, take their break, and return to work within 15 minutes. If you need some break cards for this task, along with some data sheets click here for it!

3. Student will correctly identify emotions they are experiencing on 4 out of 5 trials. This can be done through verbal communication or through nonverbal. There are many examples that can be used in this task box set. There are also some scenarios that help teach students about certain emotions that can help support this goal as well.

4. Student will correctly recognize and identify emotions in others on 4 out of 5 trials. This task box set is a great place to get materials to support this goal.

5. Student will identify between good and poor behavior in school in 8 out of 10 trials. This task box set has this exact goal inside.

6. When student becomes ______ (name an emotion), they will ________(specific a replacement behavior) 4 out of 5 times. For the replacement behavior, you need to be sure it matches the same function as the problem behavior. If you need more information on why behavior occurs (of the function) read this blog post.

7. Student will identify how different emotions feel in their body.

8. When presented with different scenarios, student will respond appropriately ___ out of ___ times.

9. When given an emotion, student will list different triggers that evoke that emotion for them. For example, I feel sad when….. 

10. When presented with a problem, student will identify the size of the problem and an appropriate way to handle it. These task boxes have this skill right inside!

Problem-Solving Goals/ Conflict Resolution

We know that problem solving and conflict resolution can be challenging even for adults. That is why working on these goals are really life skills!

1. When given scenarios of social problems, student will first identify the problem and then come up with two solutions in 8 out of 10 scenarios. This is a great resource to teach and collect data on this goal.

2. When told no, student will respond appropriately, remain calm and accept the answer on 4 out of 5 instances.

3. When engaged in a peer conflict, student will use appropriate skills to work through the problem or tell a teacher.

4. After a student engages in a problem behavior, they will identify the emotion that lead them to that behavior. These think sheets are a great way to do that and use visuals to support learners that may have difficult coming up with the words themselves.

5. When student has a conflict with a peer, they will use their words instead of their hands to convey their feelings.

6. When given a scenario, student will identify the cause of conflict in 4 out of 5 trials.

7. During recess, student will walk away when he has a conflict with a peer at least 3 times per week.

8. After a conflict with a peer, student will talk with them to identify a better way to have handled the situation.

9. Student will acknowledge feelings in peers and responding appropriately to those feelings of classmates.

10. When given a sarcastic statement, student will understand the true meaning behind it on 4 out of 5 trials. These task boxes have many sarcasm examples and can be a great way to explicitly teach this IEP goal.

Strategies to to Teach Social Skills

Now that you have the goal, you need different ways to teach these goals. Here are some examples of necessary tools you will need to help teach your students new skills.

1. Role-Playing and Social Narratives

Using a social narrative or social story is great for students with Autism to learn different communication skills for specific social interactions. They are perfect for targeting one skill and making it black and white what is expected and what is not. If you want to get your hands on some free ones, you can try out these. There are five different social narratives there for you.

Even though having some to grab and go are great, creating personalized social stories can be even more impactful for students. You can add in the unique needs your students have to help them gain an even better understanding of how they should be acting.

2. Visual Supports

Visual supports are a great way to support students using nonverbal communication. There are an endless number of ways you can use these. For example, you can use visual cues to simply and discreetly show your students what they should be doing. These can go right on your lanyard and you can show the student the visual image of what you expect. This helps support them without drawing attention to them!

Additional visual aids you can use are: visual schedules, visual expectations, and contingency maps

My favorite though are using task boxes. I have used these task boxes for years with students and they are helpful for so many reasons.

-They are grab and go, so if I need to refresh a student’s skill, I can easily grab the task box and get to work.

-They are hands on. This means that students learn necessary skills quicker than if they were told orally.

-They focus on specific skills so you can target the specific needs of a group or just one student.

-They work for younger or older students. There are many real life images, because again they make learning appropriate social skills easier and more concrete.

-Students find them fun!

& I could go on and on for the reasons I love these task boxes. I use them in my daily activities with the students, even if it is the start of a reading group! 

3. Peer Modeling

Inclusion is the perfect place for peer modeling to occur. You can teach these skills whole group, and you will have all of your students working on similar skills. Being in an inclusive environment just lends itself to encouraging interactions with peers. This means once you teach a skill, students can immediately practice it!

4. Reinforcement and Positive Feedback

Now do not forget that in order to make sure these skills stay, you need to reinforce them! This may be through a token economy, praise, or a classroom wide behavior management system.  You can get some brand new token economies right here. These are great because they can travel with the student from the classroom to speech therapy to the lunch room for consistency. This means that in all these various areas they can engage in social situations, they can also be reinforced for their behavior!

Considerations When Writing Social Skills Goals

When writing specific goals, it is important to be sure the student themselves want to achieve the skill. For example, many neurotypical people value maintaining eye contact. However, many times if you were to ask an Autistic individual, this is not something they would care to achieve. 

It is also important to write these goals collaboratively. Writing a social skills goal with speech therapists is a great way to target the same skill in a variety of ways and settings. You can also work with occupational therapists, physical therapists, and anyone else who works with the student. When we are all able to target one goal, the student will achieve the goal faster.

Lastly, it is important to collaborate with parents. Sometimes there are skills that families value that you may not realize are important to their family culture. This collaborative approach with service providers and families are key to having students achieve success with these social emotional iep goals.

Targeting social skills on an IEP is a vital component of supporting students with autism and their overall development. By focusing on specific, individualized goals, educators and parents can provide the structured guidance these students need to navigate social interactions more effectively. Together you can create a school setting that is not just focused on academic success, but the success of the person as a social being as well.

Improved social emotional learning will not only enhance communication and peer relationships but also promote inclusion, emotional regulation, and independence, preparing students for success both in school and in life. By working collaboratively and consistently reinforcing these skills, we can significantly enhance the overall quality of life and future opportunities for students with autism. Investing in their social development is an investment in their happiness and long-term well-being.

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