Starting a Social Skills Group for Individuals on the Autism Spectrum

by Laura Ferguson, M.Ed., BCBA


Individuals on the autism spectrum often find it difficult to form social relationships. Friendships that often form early in life for other individuals do not occur for individuals with autism. Parents, teachers and other professionals need to explicitly teach skills that are critical for social development.

Social development skills can be effectively taught through participation in social skills groups. These groups pair individuals on the autism spectrum with peers. Lesson plans and activities are set up to focus on specific skills that individuals need to acquire in order to form and maintain social relationships.

Let’s take a look at how social skills groups can be developed.  The first steps when attempting to start a social skills group are:

  1. Identify and assess areas of need for all participants. Decide what are the main areas of need and the outcome goals for each participant.
  2. Select appropriate intervention strategies. For example, if you choose video modeling for teaching initiation make sure the intervention is understood by all individuals facilitating the group.


Needs Assessment

A profile may be a good tool to use to get information from parents and professionals when identifying and assessing needs.  The Autism Social Skills Profile developed by Scott Bellini (2006) is a great tool used to provide a comprehensive measure of the social functioning for students with ASD.

When selecting the appropriate intervention strategy you need to make sure to:

Examine various curriculum
Make sure that you have a consistent plan, curriculum, and teaching procedure. When all participants and teachers involved understand prompt and fading procedures, precision teaching, and outcome goal the skill taught is more likely to generalize to the natural environment.

Consider the age and grade level of the participants of those involved.
Make sure the activities and lesson plans are appropriate for their age group. Appropriate age group activities will lead to more generalization of skills taught at group.

Make sure all activities and lessons have goals for social language development.

When looking at group dynamics make sure you are pairing individuals based upon needs. This way all participants benefit from the social skills group.


A sample lesson plan for social skills groups should include:

  • The layout and goal of that lesson
  • How to introduce the new skill. This should include prompt and fading procedures
  • Include ways to practice the new skill. This should include role- play
  • The skill should then be generalized through a game or activity
  • Lots of positive reinforcement
  • Some way to monitor progress for each participant involved.


Social skills are critical for individuals on the autism spectrum. This will be critical for employment and participating daily with peers. It is imperative that we teach these skills at a young age and continue to work on them throughout their life.  To learn more about how to start a social skills group view the webinar "Starting an Effective Social Skills Group".

Laura Ferguson is a certified behavior analyst and a Field Training Coordinator for the KY Autism Training Center. She provides direct training and technical assistance to education staff, social and community personnel, counselors, job coaches and families.

KY Autism Training Center Summer 2012 Newsletter August 2012