Social skills strategies

Explore when and why evidence-based positive behaviour supports may be particularly helpful for some students


Students vary in the ways they process, respond to and initiate both verbal and non-verbal communication, which can impact their understanding of, and interactions within, social settings. 
S tudents who may not identify and correctly interpret non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions, body language and tone of voice, may misunderstand the meaning or context of verbal communication. 
Students who are blind or have low vision for example, may need to rely on tone of voice only, and students on the autism spectrum, with intellectual disability, or other non-verbal learning disability may find it difficult to interpret these cues. 
Similarly, students with communication and language disorders or who are non-verbal, and students who are Deaf/deaf and hard of hearing, may rely on alternative modes of communication, which (in the absence of inclusive practices to facilitate full social participation) can limit opportunities to develop social skills. Peer mediated intervention, and the below strategies, have been found to help.


Some students may ‘zone out’ during conversations if their attention wanders, while others may find it hard to maintain concentration or follow fast or rapid conversations. 
Some students, such as students on the autism spectrum or with learning difficulty, may find conversations involving abstract concepts challenging, or may misunderstand jokes. Peer mediated intervention, and the below strategies, can help.


Challenges with self-regulation in a number of areas can impact a student’s ability to make and keep friends. Some students may be impulsive or hyperactive, and may interrupt conversations or engage in behaviours that upsets others or draws unwanted attention.
Students who experience difficulties in regulating their emotions may express these emotions in ways that cause peers to withdraw (for example, emotional meltdowns). 
Similarly, peers may withdraw from students who experience difficulties in regulating their behaviour (for example, who engage in defiant or hostile behaviour). 
Supporting peers to understand different disabilities may help peers be more understanding of a student’s behaviour, in addition to the strategies below.

Acquisition of social ‘norms’ or ’expectations’

Social expectations or norms can be hard for some students to understand and learn. They are not written down and not always explicitly taught. 
As a result, some students, such as students on the autism spectrum or with intellectual disability, may misinterpret social situations or engage in behaviours that don’t comply with these ‘expectations’. 
All of the strategies presented below are relevant, particularly explicit teaching, modelling and providing opportunities to practice social skills.