Social Skills "Frontwards"
by Dan Coulter, Coulter Video, 2004
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Why do we tend
to teach manners backwards? Instead of consistently teaching our
kids social skills, many of us wait until they do something
wrong and then correct them.
Imagine using this approach in a driver's education class.
They'd put you in a manual transmission car with no training.
Then they'd turn on the engine and shove the car into the
street, expecting you to learn to drive from the helpful
suggestions yelled at you by other drivers.
Anybody think that's an optimal learning situation?
To give us parents the benefit of the doubt, we don't use poor
teaching tools on purpose. We do what seems obvious at the time.
But, looking back, I'm sort of amazed that I kept trying the
same thing for so long when it wasn't getting results.
Even though I knew my son had Asperger Syndrome and that he had
trouble learning social skills intuitively, for years I still
tried to teach him by "correcting" him after the fact. Or
rather, instead of teaching him, I corrected him. And got
exasperated when he committed the same transgressions over and
Well, I finally learned that if a door is locked, you have to
try another one. In this case, the other door is explaining and
demonstrating a social skill and having your kids practice it
before they need it. And it pays off.
A little while back, I introduced my 20-year-old son to another
adult. My son said, "How do you do?" He made eye contact and
listened to what the person said -- and never once mentioned
Star Wars. He even said, "It was nice to meet you," before he
left. I thought back to ten years ago...when this conversation
seemed like an impossible goal. But who was it impossible for?
Once I tried the right door, the skill came through.
People with Asperger Syndrome can learn manners and social
skills. Of course, how much they learn depends partly on their
individual challenges and abilities. But it also depends on how
we teach the lessons we want them to absorb.
I have a friend who tells a story about her son using a "script"
he'd learned in social skills class when he happened to be
seated next to a younger child on an airplane. As the mother of
a child with AS, my friend was understandably nervous about how
this would work out. It worked out great, because her son asked
the other child a series of questions --and listened to the
Hi, what's your name? What grade are you in? What's your
favorite subject? Etc.
My friend knew this was a prepared script, but for the other
child, it worked as a natural conversation. It helped the child
with Asperger Syndrome interact in a comfortable way with
another person - and it hopefully was a step toward helping the
son learn more about conversation and preparing him to depart
from the script.
Many of the manners and social skills we want our kids with
Asperger Syndrome to learn can be taught, but we need to teach
and practice these skills "frontwards," before they're needed.
And practice is a key to success. A little regular practice time
can help embed social skills so they become second nature to our
There's no adequate way to describe how you feel when you see
your son or daughter demonstrate good manners in the real world
with no prompting from you.
Sometimes things are only temporarily impossible.
Dan Coulter is the writer/producer of the video, "MANNERS FOR
THE REAL WORLD - Basic Social Skills." His website is:
Copyright 2004 Dan Coulter
Check out the
our of the video:
the Real World: Basic Social Skills - "We produced this video to
show students from upper elementary through high school how to act
during some of the most common interactions between people. It
features clear, straightforward demonstrations of appropriate and
inappropriate behavior -- and we added a dash of fun to keep those
adolescent attention spans engaged."
Reviews of other
Coulter Videos can be found at
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