* Focus Areas for Intervention

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Social Competence and Autism


Social deficits are a hallmark trait of individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Individuals with ASD require direct instruction in the area of social competence as they do not readily understand or identify appropriate social behaviors and rules within their environments. It is important to use interventions that demonstrate the ability to generalize across experiences and assist the individual in building a toolbox of social skills from which they can draw upon as needed.

Evidence-based Practices to Increase Social Competence

Evidence-based practices (EBPs) are interventions that have shown to be effective.  As social skills deficits are a key characteristic of ASD there is a wide variety of researched interventions available to use with students. Some interventions include:

Differential Reinforcement         

Self Management

Discrete Trial Training

Social Narratives

Naturalistic Interventions                 

Social Skills Groups                        

Peer Mediated Instruction

Video Modeling

Pivotal Response Training

Visual Supports

For more information about the EBPs as well as other interventions you can visit the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders or the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence.

Some other common strategies for increasing social skills for students with ASD include cognitive scripts, social narratives (a.k.a. Social Stories™, power cards, cartooning, and social decision making strategies.


Cognitive Scripts

Scripts have been demonstrated as an effective method for enhancing the ability of a person with ASD to interact with their environments through direct teaching or teaching the strategy to a peer to solicit and maintain interactions with people with ASD. The presentation of scripts through modeling allows for the student to learn conversational speech, alternatives to undesirable behavior, sympathetic comments, and verbal initiations and elaborations. Scripts utilize rote memory skills which are often strengths for individuals with ASD. Scripts also help create a predictable environment for the individual. Scripts can be easily created and should be useable in multiple settings, match current jargon of other peers, and meet needs for social interactions.

Social Stories™

“A Social Story describes a situation, skill, or concept in terms of relevant social cues, perspectives, and common responses in a specifically defined style and format.” Social Stories can be used to describe a situation with appropriate responses and social cues, personalizing social skills instruction, teaching routines, teaching academic material in a naturalistic setting, and addressing a myriad of behaviors. Social stories are designed to be used prior to a task or event to aid in successful completion.

There are four components of a social story: descriptive sentences, directive statements, perspective sentences, and control statements. The components are strategically balanced throughout the story using the recommended ratio of two to five descriptive, perspective, and/or control sentences for every directive sentence. It is also important to avoid using inflexible language like “always” or “I will”. This inflexible language potentially sets the student up for failure.

For more information please refer to Carol Gray’s website

Here are some examples of social stories™.

Power Card

Power Cards are a visually based method that connects an individual’s special interest to an appropriate behavior or social skill. Power cards capitalize on the frequently narrow and obsessive interests of people with ASD. The strategy consists of a personalized script and a Power Card. The Power Card is typically the size of a small note card or business card. It is small enough to be carried by the person in their pocket or in a notebook that is easily accessible across multiple settings that serves as a visual prompt for the child to use the new behavioral strategy. The script is read prior to an event that has been identified as problematic for the child.

The Power Card provides a brief scenario written on the child’s comprehension level that uses the child’s hero or special interest and the troubling situation. Pictures of the special interest are usually included on the card. The script contains a brief scenario about the child’s special interest. In this scenario the special interest/hero models a solution to a problem similar to the problem currently experienced by the child. A rationale for why a positive behavior is needed for the special interest or hero is provided. A brief strategy of 3-5 steps is then presented as a way to solve the special interest/hero’s problem. The script delineates on the successful experience of the special interest/hero when the strategy is used. The child is then encouraged to try the new behavior using the special interest/ hero as a model.

Here are some examples of power cards.


Cartooning is a type of visual support that helps explains social events that are often employed in a one to one setting. It uses visual symbols to enhance the understanding of social behavior by changing abstract events into something tangible and static that can be reflected upon. Two examples of cartooning are Comic Strip Conversations and Mind Reading. The use of visually based interventions have been supported as an effective medium for teaching social and academic skills to ASD.

Here is an example of cartooning.

Social Decision Making Strategies

Due to lack of ability to understand social situations and rule students with ASD often react inappropriately. Students therefore benefit from the use of social problem solving strategies. The child is assisted in recognizing the mistake, generating alternatives, understanding consequences, and arriving at a way to fix the problem. 3 social decision making strategies are Social Autopsies, Situation-Options- Consequences-Choices-Strategies-Simulation (SOCCSS) and Stop, Observe, Deliberate, and Act (SODA).

Social Autopsies
Social Autopsies are a positive and nonjudgmental verbal 4 step method of analyzing social problems after they occur typically in a one to one setting. The student is guided by an adult through the steps and helped to understand the cause-effect relationship between the social behaviors demonstrated and the reaction of others. When using social autopsies you might ask the student questions like, “What do you think you did wrong? What was your mistake?” This strategy relies on the structure of practice, immediate feedback, and positive reinforcement.
Situation-Options-Consequences-Choices-Strategies-Simulation (SOCCSS)
SOCCSS assists students in understanding social situations and developing problem- solving skills by putting the issues into a sequential form. It is a strategy that may be used across ages, environments, and different social issues.
  • Situation: Identify who, what, when, where, and why the situation occurred.
  • Options: Brainstorm different behavioral options that could have been chosen.
  • Consequences: possible consequences are listed for each behavioral option chosen above.
  • Choices: Prioritize the options and consequences then the student selects the option he/she thinks they can do and will get his/her needs met.
  • Strategies: develop a plan to carry out the option in that situation. The plan should be generated by the student with teacher assistance.
  • Simulation: practice the strategy using imagery, talking with someone else about the plan, writing down the plan, or role playing.
Stop, Observe, Deliberate, and Act (SODA)
SODA is multipurpose, visual strategies that can be used to help people with ASD understand social situations. It is designed to help people with ASD become active decision makers in new environments. The individual is taught to
  • Stop: Assess the environment, the arrangement, where events are taking place.
  • Observe: Look at what everyone is doing and saying. How long are they doing things or talking.
  • Deliberate: What would the person like to do. What do they say?
  • Act: Approach a person, ask a question, and listen to the response. Be alert to cues that the conversation is over.

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