Autism treatment and therapy cost lots of money. What’s a parent to do? Think outside the box of course! Social skills therapy is easy to do on your own making it an area you can easily save money. Let me rephrase that. It’s fairly easy to create opportunities and find places to practice social skills. It’s a ton of work to model skills for your child and help him successfully navigate situations. It will be time well spent working with your child on these skills. A child with autism that can successfully navigate social situations is going to have a much higher quality of life.
I remember having a child who couldn’t look at people and who ignored other children. I remember the boy who couldn’t attend library story time because it was too loud and chaotic. I remember not being able to go into any retail store as the hum of the flourescent lights bothered him. I remember the pain in my husband’s demeanor because my son could care less if he were around or not. I remember the exhaustion one simple outing would bring.
Over the years as an autism parent, I’ve learned that the best social skills therapy involves practicing in a variety of settings and group sizes after instruction. The more modeling and repetition (and patience), the better. Start small and always remember that progress is still progress no matter how slow. Autism is a marathon not a sprint.
9 places to find social skills therapy on the cheap
- Home – I think many professionals overlook the value of socialization in a child’s home. Home provides a safe place to learn new skills. Parents model appropriate social interaction and siblings are often far more patient than other children with the child with autism. It’s easy to set up small interactions to practice any skill your child needs as well as a phenomenal time to work on the master/apprentice relationship.
- Church –If you are fortunate enough to find a church that fits your child’s needs, it is a great place to learn as well as practice social skills. Logan had plenty of opportunities to interact with children and adults. Additionally, he could learn appropriate public behavior– like sitting still in an audience, keeping quiet during an event, and dressing according to an occasion as sensory needs permited. Be patient. Your child may have many challenges in the beginning. Baby steps are still steps!
- Library – Our local library played a huge part in Logan’s progress over the years. Again, you’ll be taking baby steps here. At first you may only be able to go in long enough to pick up a book you put on hold ahead of time. This sets your child up for sucess by knowing exactly what book he is getting. Consider telling your librarians about your child’s challenges. They may be willing to practice skills with your child. For example, they may be happy to help your child practice introducing himself to someone or telling his parent’s phone number to a grown up. Librarians are also great for chatting about obsessions with your child. Logan can bring up just about anything and our head librarian has something to add to the conversation.
- Post office – Here your child gets to learn how to wait in line without invading the personal space of others. He can learn appropriate voice level as well as how to interact with a clerk.
- Store – At a store, kids with autism can learn how to ask for information, how to purchase items they need, and how to appropriately deal with sensory challenges. If you use the AngelSense system, you can work up to having your child check out alone with you listening in to provide direction if needed. This is an extremely important skill to master from a safety standpoint. If Logan doesn’t need to depend on someone else to make a simple purchase , he will be less likely to be victimized by being robbed.
- Social Skills Group – Why not create your own social skills group? Find some other autism parents and decide the structure. Will it be just play? Focus on a certain skill each week? Be centered on a shared special interest? You could get really brave and take your group to some of these other places! Don’t overthink it though. There is a lot to be learned during unstructured play times as long as all the participants are in the same developmental range.
- Playgrounds/parks – In my experience, this is one of the toughest places for both Logan and me. The variable of other children in a more unpredictable environment increases the chances for awkward and tough situations. But isn’t that real life? While these situations are exhausting for both of us, they are important. Start with baby steps. You may not be able to stay long. You will need to do lots of monitoring. Make sure you have a system in place in case the child gets lost or wanders. Safety first! Logan always gets downtime after these outings to relax and regroup.
- Arranged play dates – You can arrange play dates with typical children and other children on the autism spectrum. Put up any favorite items if it’s occuring in your home. I wouldn’t expect Logan to navigate a social scenario while worrying that someone is touching his TRex. Keep it short to start. It is always better to end on a happy note than to experience a meltdown because you went too long.
- Museum/attraction – I remember in my early days as an autism parent I was reading an article about kids on the spectrum and their unexpected reaction to gifts. The author suggested asking for money from relatives/friends to be used towards memberships as an alternative. I latched onto this and we still do it. By having a museum or zoo membership, you have the opportunity to explore the resource at your child’s pace. You don’t need to feel like you wasted money if you can stay for only thirty minutes. Additionally, your child can learn many skills. You can teach them how to identify a safe adult should they get lost (name tag, certain type of clothing, etc.). They can learn how to ask questions and wait their turn to use something. Plus, when you frequently visit, you will discover your child may have opportunities for extra learning because the guides get to know you or you’re there as they pack up and offer extra information.
Social skills therapy for your child with autism is indeed hard work. Using these relatively inexpensive locations, social skills therapy is readily accessible to everyone. Your child will make progress and you will be amazed. Bonus that you will have a built in answer to that dreaded socializaton question every homeschooling family hates to hear.
Have you discovered a great place for social skills?