Arranging valuable social skills activities is one of the most critical challenges parents face as their teenager with Aspergers (AS) or High-Functioning Autism (HFA) enters adulthood. Skills like these are important in fostering a sense of independence in the young adult, and a feeling of lasting security for his family members.
The capacity of young adults with Aspergers to care for themselves reflects the need-based education and services they receive as kids and adolescents. With a rich educational background focused on proper behaviors and social responses, many Aspergers grown-ups go on to become contributing members of society with families, social lives, and careers.
Here are some tips for adults with Aspergers and HFA who want to cultivate a few important social skills:
1. Although it is typically your first instinct to talk first, listening can actually be an advantage. A primary benefit of listening is the amount that can be learned. If you spend most of your time talking, then how can you learn anything? One of the best ways to be viewed as more likable is to be a good listener. It’s not always easy, but listening tells others that you are genuinely interested in them as a person.
2. Appropriate social interactions for young adults with Aspergers provide benefits in areas of development that extend beyond building social skills. Group activities improve the capacity for relationships, promote communication, and build solid life skills. These peer-based activities can take place (a) in a setting that is structured for optimal learning, or (b) in a setting that is relaxed and casual for having fun and learning to successfully cope with others.
3. Classes of all kinds provide well-rounded social skills activities for Aspergers adults while teaching them useful abilities that will last a lifetime. Examples of group-based classes include: (a) acting and drama classes; (b) art classes in mediums such as painting, sculpture, or digital design; (c) music lessons that focus on group cooperation; (d) singing, choir, and other ensemble voice classes.
4. In many communities, there seems to be a greater focus on activities for Aspergers kids rather than grown-ups, but there are valuable services for all age groups with Aspergers. If you're looking for suitable activities for an adult with Aspergers or HFA in your life, try speaking with your doctor or local hospital. You can also get out the yellow pages and search for local nonprofit agencies that provide Aspergers services (e.g., parks and recreation services, group-based respite care, employment services that focus on social interaction, Aspergers day programs or camps that feature social activities, etc.).
5. Physical activities provide adults with Aspergers valuable opportunities to exercise. When engaging in group recreational events, these individuals reap many social benefits from exercise and sports activities. For example, (a) gymnastics improve flexibility and muscle tone in a safe, fun, and social environment with adults of similar interests and backgrounds; (b) martial arts help improve motor skills and muscle tone while teaching Aspies how to build lasting social relationships with others; (c) soccer and basketball benefits these young people by teaching them how to cooperate with others in order to reach a specific goal, and it heightens appropriate feelings of social camaraderie and pride; and (d) swimming is a safe and enjoyable social activity suitable for most young Aspergers adults.
6. Recent research examined the effectiveness of the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relationship Skills (PEERS) for young people ages 18 to 23 with Aspergers and HFA. The researchers utilized a randomized controlled study design. The study group utilized the PEERS program administered by parents. Results were measured via self-assessment and caregiver-assessment. The researchers found that young people who participated in the PEERS program reported “improved knowledge in social skills” and also reported “feeling lonely less frequently.” Parents reported observing “significant improvements in empathy, social responsiveness, social skills, and spending more time with peers.” The researchers state that the findings suggest that the PEERS social skills training program is an effective instrument in helping young adults with Aspergers develop social skills.
7. Sometimes, the best social opportunities arise from networking. Get together with other families that have older teens and young adults with Aspergers and coordinate activities (e.g., acting or singing competitions, cooking lessons, game night, matinees, park picnics, storytelling, etc.). While it's important to provide structure, it's also a good idea to allow Aspies to relax and enjoy themselves freely.
8. There are plenty of opportunities to show cooperation and teamwork in all areas of life. Whether you are in a crowded store or heavy traffic, cooperation will make the experience more manageable. If you are driving a bit slower than some, move to the slow lane and allow others to pass. If you are grocery shopping, don’t leave your cart in the middle of the isle. By being aware of those around you and showing consideration, you will be more likable.
9. When a young adult with Aspergers reaches the age of 22 in the U.S., the public school system's responsibility for his education and welfare comes to an end. This means that parents and friends must try to discover which social skills activities will most benefit the “Aspie” and fill the vacancy that forms after his education ends. Like kids with Aspergers, adults with Aspergers benefit from a constant reinforcement of the social skills they learned earlier in their lives. To leave this area of life skills unattended may lead to regression, depression, or even health problems.
10. While there are many therapies that are appropriate for young adults with Aspergers, treatment really depends on the Aspie’s response to the diagnosis – and responses can run the gamut from joy to anger and everything in between. Some adults are overjoyed, because finally everything makes sense to them (e.g., why they can't hold a job, keep a relationship, etc.). They have blamed themselves all their lives, but now they have a framework in which to understand their difficulties and their strengths.