One of the components we need to look into is social appeal. Simply put, it is one’s ‘social attractiveness’. It is natural that we look at how a person looks, dresses, speaks, interacts with others and form some kind of idea about that person before we have our first interaction with him/her. Of course, biases and prejudices can be formed if we only look at the ‘outside’. Nevertheless, a positive impression can make us more socially desirable which allows more social opportunities.
Given the deficits of individuals with ASD, it is not hard to imagine being socially attractive could be a bit of a challenge for them. The truth is, many of us might also experience some kind of social difficulty at some point in our lives. So this is not to say we need to groom our children to be Mr. or Ms. Popular nor to claim that social appeal resolves all social issues. The point is, if we help our children become more socially attractive, they might have a better chance to develop and sustain enjoyable social relationships with others.
Repetitive and Restricted Behaviors
Repetitive and restricted patterns of behavior, interests, or activities, such as stereotyped speech and motor movements, excessive resistance to change, high sensitivity to sensory input, and highly fixated and narrow interests etc., are often manifested by the ASD population. While these behaviors are problematic and hinder learning, they also make being in natural learning environments hard and make our children seem socially out of place. Thus, reducing inappropriate behaviors and teaching suitable replacement skills allow our children to blend in the social world and increase their social appeal.
Play and Interest
As mentioned, children with ASD often have highly restricted and fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity. Although some of them possess some amazing knowledge and skills in their areas of interest, it also means that they might have limited common interests with other children which makes them less socially appealing. Teaching our students different types of play, introducing the trendy toys, movies, and cartoons to them, and exposing them to various sports activities can help them fit in and provide them a meaningful platform to interact with their peers.
Be an Expert
Social appeal can be developed through being good at something in which it goes hand in hand with play and interest. Whether it is soccer, computer programing, drawing, or video games, as long as it allows our children to show their talents and contribute to a group, their social attractiveness will be increased and they will probably have a higher chance to relate to others who share similar interests.
At first glance self-help has little to do with socialization. Nonetheless, how a person might be perceived if he/she requires others to deal with his/her day-to-day things like tying shoelaces, wiping mouth, or coming out from the bathroom without washing hands? Surely many typically developing children are still learning these skills even in their primary school years. However, learning age-appropriate self-help skills not only increases independence and autonomy, but also decreases unnecessary attention from others and susceptibility to negative social situations.
Some children with ASD might display inflexibilities in clothing (I know someone who insisted to wear short-sleeved even when it was 10 degrees Celsius). Sometimes their excessive interests are shown in the way they dress. It does not seem to be a big deal, and in fact quite common, for a young girl to wear princess dress for special occasions. But it certainly seems inappropriate and attracts unwanted attention, which in turn creates social stigma, if she is 15 years old. Teaching our children to be flexible in different ways and increasing their awareness on how their peers dress can make them more socially attractive.
Without a doubt, successful socialization takes more than just social appeal. Establishing relatedness to others and gearing them up with various social skills are extremely important. However, it is also worth noting social appeal during the above processes as it can make socialization more successful and enjoyable for our children.
Information provided by Autism Partnership
Autism Partnership (AP) is one of the most established Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) service providers for Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in the world. Formed in 1994 in the United States, AP is run by professional clinicians and specializes in providing one-on-one therapy, group interventions and overseas consultation for children with ASD and their families.
Autism Partnership （AP）於1994年在美國成立，是全球最具規模為自閉症患者提供『應用行為分析』(ABA) 治療的專業機構。AP是由多位專業臨床心理學家、應用行為分析治療顧問及治療師管理，為患有自閉症譜系障礙（ASD）的兒童及其家庭提供一對一治療、行為干預小組訓練及海外諮詢服務。