Supporting Social Development

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Transforming Behaviour Webinar Series - Supporting Social Development


Hello and welcome. Today we are going
to be talking about. Supporting social
development. How we can move past
our teaching, things like masking. How we
can expand our understanding of what it
means to support and to develop
social capacity for our kids who are
autistic and you know, our our teens who
identify as neurodivergent and folks with
disability more broadly.

This webinar is being recorded
so. If you would like to. Keep your
camera off. Be private. Um, I
totally understand. Let me just start
sharing my screen and we can get
started, alright?

Sorry. As we begin, I would like to acknowledge
the Cadigal people of the, ER, nation, on
whose lands I live and work, and from
where this webinar is being broadcast
today, and I’d also like to honour any
Indigenous or First Nations people
present with us today.

Right. So this is what we’re going to,
uh, cover today.

Um, There’s lots of space and time for questions,
engagement and adding in your
wisdom and understanding. So please feel
free to pop it in the chat. You can take
yourself off mute. That is no problemo.
Sorry. What we’re going to be
chatting about today is.

You’re gonna be talking about autism in
the social context, so. Just bear with me one moment.
Autism in the social context and how that
story has changed over time.

The understandings of what autism means,
what autistic people, what their, you
know, strengths and weaknesses can look
like, and the individuality of what that
looks like. We’re going to be talking
about the social challenges that autistic
people have identified as
things that they have struggled with.

And again, that’s a very individual thing
we’re going to be talking about.

Embracing authenticity and
talking about how we can.
Support somebody who’s looking to
develop their social capacity, but in an
authentic way, and developing
past the idea of rote learning social
skills, or that there’s a right or wrong
way to interact with people. We’re
going to be chatting through some
strategies about how we can support
autistic folks who are looking to build
their social capacity, and we’ll also be
talking through a case study. So before we start,
I’ll just introduce myself.

My name’s Ella. I’m the
Chief Clinical Officer here at Transform
Life. I’ve been working with autistic
folks and their families and figuring out
personalised ways to help
autistic people connect with people in
their communities for about. Oh
gosh, I’d say about seven years,
something like that. And I always
feel like it’s really important to say
that I myself don’t identify as

These the strategies and tips that I’m giving
you here today are taken from not only
the research, but also from feedback
given by autistic individuals and their
families about the best and most
positive ways to support them in social
situations. So that’s me.

Umm. I think that’s everything
that I wanted to make you sure, make sure
that you knew up front. But other than
that, I just wanted to say we are on
Facebook, we are on Instagram and we
do give lots of. Tips, tricks, resources. Free.

For links to, uh, you know, important
research and that sort of thing. So if
you’re interested, check us out on

Instagram. We’re on Instagram
and Transform Life on Facebook

All right. So let’s talk about.
Understanding autism in the social
context. I guess what’s important
for for for us to understand is that.
Autism, obviously is a very broad
spectrum of experience. Autism doesn’t
look one way. Autism doesn’t present
present in a specific
way that can be.

Easily identified or quantified. So I
think it’s important for us to
think in this context of autism as a social
communication difference, think of
autism as an information processing
difference, and to look at the
misconceptions that.

That people have around what it looks
like for an autistic person to socialise
or what their social capacity of an
autistic person looks like. And I think
there’s some stereotypes and
misconceptions like that there’s a lack
of empathy around other people.

That autistic people have a lack of
interest in, you know, the social world
in other people, or that there is a lack
of understanding on the part of autistic
people around what is important
in terms of social development. And I
think that all these things are
misconceptions based on a really
stereotyped understanding of what autism
looks like and that these things are
beingd deconstructed by the most
up-to-date research, and also
by autistic people, autistic adults
who are informing what it looks like to truly
understand social capacity for autistic people.

So when we think about autism as a social
communication difference, autistic folks
have shaken up the understanding of what
it means to socially communicate. I think
before there was a lot of understanding
around. Um. Around autism, there was a kind
of rigid, potentially understanding of what social
communication should look like, or what
social skills entailed, or of what.

Or what correct socialisation looks
like And I think that autism and autistic
folks have really come in and started to shake up that
understanding, really question the
why behind those social norms.

And that’s because autism
can look like a difference in social
communication and it can look
like not taking the things that
we neurotypical folks
are take for granted in terms of what.
Social interactions look like what
language means what, how you can read
facial expressions. All these things are
given a real shaker when it comes to
autistic socialisation, and that
can be really refreshing. But it could
also be challenging for people who aren’t
willing to accept that there might be a
difference or value in difference of
shaking up those social understandings.

Uh, so. And when we think about autism as
an information processing difference, I
think it’s important to conceptualise
that. When it comes to interacting with
the world around us, our brain is a
little black box. It doesn’t have its own
access to the outside world. Everything
that we’re taking in comes from
our sensory processing systems. So
our eyes, our ears, our
taste, our smell, our touch.

And those things can look different for
autistic people. The messages that get
sent from our sensory
apparatus into our brain. Which, as I
say, is a little black box. Our brain
doesn’t have its own access to the
outside world. It relies on that
information. And if there’s a difference
between the way that the sensory
apparatus is sending information into the
brain, the fundamental understanding of
the way that the world works is going to
look really different.

And that’s not bad. It’s just different. And
what’s really refreshing about thinking
about autistic folks as
challenging underlying. Understandings of

What information processing looks like is
that it can be a really
refreshing to strip assumptions away
and really communicate around. OK, well,
what does listening to somebody talk
again, that’s the sensory apparatus of
your ears sending that message back to
your brain.

What does listening to somebody talk feel like for you?
What does listening to or watching somebody’s
facial expression? How does that meaning
get conveyed from your eyes? Back into
your brain. All of that is information
processing and none of that can to be
taken for granted as having a typical
response for autistic people. And that
can be really refreshing. That doesn’t
have to be bad, it just it’s just
different. So being aware that these
things are why autism in the
social context can take some
renegotiating, I think is
important. And that kind
of leads us to why autistic folks
can, you know, in the past have had.

I guess difficulties, challenges around
around the social world. I think
when you go into a situation
that everybody is using the same unspoken
rules, when everybody is using the same
set of social guidelines that you don’t
have access to because potentially your
brain processes information in a
different way or you
have a different form of motivation in
regards to social interaction, that can
be really confusing. I’ve heard what this
sick folks describe
social interactions, especially when in
the teenage years, as trying to play a
game of soccer with no rule book.

People are kicking the ball back and
forth, but you keep getting troubled. The
referee keeps blowing the whistle, but
because you don’t have the rules, you
don’t know what’s going on. You can see
that again is happening, but you don’t
understand how to play and you keep being
penalised. Another element that can get. In the
way of of, you know, social success for
autistic folks is sensory sensitivities.

And again, it’s all about that
processing. So when you are, for example,
using your ears, you’re assuming that the
way that you’re receiving
auditory information is going to be the
same as it is for everybody around you.

And that just may not be the case for
autistic people. So you can imagine if
somebody’s going into a highly
social situation where there’s lots of
movement and noise. There might be
background noise. Imagine a cafe. You
know the baristas clinking their
their equipment. There’s lots of, you
know, stimulation and sensory
information. If people are
assuming that you are.

Processing that sensory information in
the same way as you as they are.
They may not be able to understand why
you’re struggling in that situation,
because they aren’t. But for autistic
folks, sensory sensitivities to things
like noise, motion, visual
inputs are tactile inputs, can make sense, can
make social capacity really different,
and really can be quite difficult, you
know, for example. If somebody has tactile
sensory processing dysfunction and isn’t
able to process the feeling of touch
without pain, and somebody comes up to
them and tries to hug them without
warning, imagine that
person trying to navigate that social
situation when they’re in pain
and and that the other person doesn’t
understand why. Understandably, this can
lead to a lot of social anxiety for
autistic people, especially when they
feel. As though everybody else has a set
of rules that they don’t have access to
when they feel like it’s unexpected
what’s going to come up in the
environment that might cause sensory
sensitivities to flare up or also.

I guess people’s misconceptions about what their social
reactions might mean, miscommunication, language
processing, it can all be really
confusing and overwhelming. And I think
that’s why we see this
phenomenon that’s called masking. So
masking is something that’s been
identified by autistic people as
what they do to get through social
situations when they feel like they can’t
be their authentic selves. So they put up
this mask of what it. Of what
people expect them to do, to engage
successfully in social situations.

In the full awareness that that’s not
their authentic selves, that’s not who
they really are. It’s just who’s society
expects them to be. And they’re able
to do that for a little while, but then
they need to go home and take off the
mask and have a bit of a flop. And I
think, you know, lots of autistic people
have identified that experience as
something that’s really difficult and
challenging for them to maintain. But
that’s, you know, they found it necessary
to function in a social world that
doesn’t understand their the difficulties
that they have or the social
processing struggles that they’re having.

So we’re going to talk a little bit about
what it looks like to embrace
authenticity and to move on from
masking, I think.
In the traditional approach to what it
looks like to support
somebody with a disability, to
engage socially, it’s really been about
the idea that you can.

Teach and wrote, learn this concept of
social skills and that that’s going to be
what helps somebody to connect with
others, to form relationships and form
friendships. So traditionally we’ve
really focused a lot on things like
social skill groups, on teaching things
like back and forth conversation in a
really structured way, reinforcing
social engagement in a

In a in a structured way, creating
external reinforcement, so something
outside that person’s intrinsic
motivation system to prompt them to
engage in social situations. And

I think we’re at the stage as as
a community and as an industry where we
can move past that. You know, we’ve done
this. We’ve figured out, OK, can autistic
people learn to socilise in a away that.

Looks acceptable to the outside world.
Yes, they can. Um, is that something
that’s helpful for them? Why is
Why is authenticity in?
Social interactions important for
people and I think the reason is
that. I think the reason is that that’s something
that when it’s challenged can be really,
um, tricky for autistic people, You know,
that’s something that is
exhausting when they can’t be their
authentic selves. And it means that,
you know, they’re receiving this message
from the outside world that unfortunately
you know who who you are and the way
you socialise, the way you want to
connect with people, that’s not OK. And
so that’s something that autistic people
are explaining to us.

Um, is is damaging for their mental health, is
damaging for their ability
to have genuine interactions with
others, to have people understand
their true selves.

So that’s something
that we’re working as a community and as
an industry to move past and to
do better so that we can
understand how important it is
for autistic individuals to be able to
connect with people authentically. You
know, we’re moving past. The idea of
Rockland social scripts um and
and supporting them in a way that means
that they can authentically.

Connect with the people around them and
that’s what we’re gonna talk about now.
So what does authentic support look
like? I think one of the biggest changes
that’s come out of the research is the
need to create an
environment in which autistic folk can be
supported to.

Authentically connect with others and
that means education for
non autistic folks. That means that
we need to understand, OK, we can’t
necessarily make the same assumptions
about information processing or language
processing when we’re in
community with, you know, neurodivergent
folk more broadly. And it really
means. Fostering genuine connection around special
interests. Topics like Minecraft,
topics like trains, any of
those things that are of real interest to
your child or to you know, other
autistic people, you know.

Genuine connection over those interests
can be really important. And it’s not bad
to have a friendship that’s based on this
one particular interest, like Minecraft
for example. So we’re going to be
building supportive environment.

Sensory considerations. So when we’re
wanting to support somebody in a social
situation, are we setting them up for
success by ensuring
that we’ve done all that we can do
to? Create a sensory
environment that’s helpful for them. Have
we made sure that their environment is
not too noisy or done what we can do
to make sure that they have the support
that they need? They might need earmarks,
they might want sunglasses. Just
little things that can make
their stress levels a little bit lower
and make them better able to connect
with others in that environment. Clear
communication. I think it’s easy when
we’re talking. About social issues, to
use a lot of euphemisms to use
unclear language to be um.

Not literal in the way that we are
communicating and that all of those
things can make it more difficult for
autistic people to know what we’re doing,
know what we’re talking about, be clear
about the messages that we’re giving to
them. So clear communication, Please
don’t stand so close to me. It makes me
uncomfortable. Is something that.
You know, we’ve been taught, for example,
is is rude to say to somebody. But for an
autistic person, at least they can
understand. OK, that’s fine, At least at
least they know, you know, and all of
those things are positive.

So encouraging self advocacy and self awareness,
I think the idea that an autistic
child can stand up for themselves and
be aware of when they are struggling, be
aware of when they are in need of support
is one of the the most important
factors of supporting,
especially a child or or a young teen
who’s struggling with. Social interaction
and so making sure that they know that
they can ask for help. Identifying safe
people in their environment who can
support them appropriately. Making
making a plan for them, you know if they
if you are for example going
into a busy kids playground and you know OK,
my kiddo struggles when it comes to.

Lots of movement and noise.
Beforehand, making a plan OK
when we’re feeling overwhelmed, we can
go and take some time out.

Over by the trees. Or we can come back to
the picnic mat and have a crunchy snack.

Talking that through with them so that
they know that you’ve understood that
they’ve got stuff going on and you’re
actively supporting them and that there
are options for when they’re feeling.

Like everything is too much. And those
options aren’t just. Leaving,
you know that they can take a break and
that’s not bad, and then they can
re-engage if and when they’re feeling
ready. The only other
things that I would certainly that I
would certainly mention are things like
self regulation techniques. Now everybody
has access to, you know, the same self regulation
techniques, but some are going to be more
effective for others. So I think.

Be engaging as much as possible
in open communication around OK, well,
when you’re not feeling OK, what are some
options that you might that we might be
able to practise together to be ableto
bring you back into a sense of safety, at
least to the extent that you can, and so
the obviously the most popular one is
breathing techniques. Is our kiddo going
to be able to access breathing
techniques when they’re feeling?Uh, when
they’re feeling overwhelmed, Maybe, maybe
not. But talk to them about it. See if
you can observe their behaviour after
you’ve engaged with those sorts of

Next up, I wanted to, um, kind of
finish off with a case study with
a kiddo that I worked with
who is just having the most awesome
social success. They will
call her.

Emma. We’ll call her Emma. So when I
first started working with Emma, I’d say
she was maybe 13. Something
like that. And she was having a lot of
social isolation. She was really
struggling to understand the social
rules of, you know, an added
complexity of social interactions
that high school was bringing. She was
coming home from school every day feeling
absolutely exhausted, cheery,
all those things and I think. One of
the main things that helped her start to
feel more connected to her peers was the
understanding that.

It’s OK to have different reasons to be
friends with different people. Not
everybody is gonna provide you with the
whole package of friendship supports, and
that’s OK. Everybody doesn’t have to, you
know. You can connect with different
people at different levels and about
different things. So some of the the
areas of friendship that she started to
cultivate were with her soccer team.

So she had really understood
a lack of connection between herself and
the people in her soccer team because
they didn’t share the same special
interests. So her special interest is
celebrities and movies and that’s,
that’s one of her big passions. So she
loves pop culture. Yeah, as I say, movies, the
celebrities and actors who are in movies.

That’s her big thing, and she didn’t
think that the people in her soccer team
would be able to understand that and
connect with her. So she had sort of.
Written them off as a way of.
Trying to organise those social
connections, like are these my friends?

Are they not my friends? Yes or no, black
or white? We started talking to Emma
about, OK, well, what would it what
do you like about them? What do you
share? What are some things that you can
have conversations with them about? Is
there any anything that she was genuinely
interested in that she also shared with
them? And of course the answer is soccer.

You know, that is something that she
loves. It’s something that she has a lot
of passion about. And I think
her understanding that they didn’t have
to also like.

Movies that didn’t also also have the
like celebrities and actors and
that just talking about
things like soccer or the Matildas or
what what games they were going to go
watch was enough to create a connection.

They didn’t have to love all the same
things that she loved. It was OK to just
connect on that level.

And consider that a way of.
Of having a meaningful connection. Umm,
so kind of expanding her understanding
and also expanding what her definitions
of friendship were and how she understood
what friendships could be and mean and
all those things look different.

Interestingly, she also she
also had this very kind of.

Um. She used to scoff.

I would. I would definitely use the word
scoff about understanding,
about liking, kind of pop music
and those kinds of things. But
she realised what shekind of developed a
deep love for Taylor Swift. This was
something that her older brothers used to
tease her mercilessly about, but she
loved. She ended up absolutely loving
Taylor Swift and once
she had made enough of
enough of a connection with some of her
soccer friends to. Start talking about
different things. She realised that, oh,
we actually also did this love of Taylor
Swift. And recently we just.

We just waited online for six
hours so that they could all get Taylor
Swift tickets to go together, which is
such a social win, you know, just feeling
connected to your peer group, doing
something that you love together. So
we’re in the process of figuring out, OK,
what sensory supports will she need to be
able to go to that, feel
successful and have fun. Considering
that, I think it will be quite a busy
situation. Um, so I just want
to share that with you that, um, you
know, reframing of information and
reconceptualizing what
success looks like, what connection looks
like, was just such a win for her.

So I guess um in summary.
The main the main points that I wanted to
to chat about today are understanding
autism in the social context, what it
means to to to process language differently,
what it means to have sensory differences that
might make social situations really
challenging. What it looks
like to embrace authenticity, what it
looks like to stop rote learning and
wrote teaching social skills
that kind of foster a really inauthentic
way of connecting people. And also
those strategies for support, Are you
clearly communicating expectations and
boundaries? Are you creating a safe
environment?In terms of
sensory to for your child or young person to
have the best chance of success with
socialisation, are you teaching them
self advocacy skills, self
regulation skills as much as
possible?Alright, let me stop

Awesome. OK,

yeah, thank you so much for listening.
It’s been wonderful getting to chat
through these thoughts. Um. And
we will be back next fortnight with
another topic on
transforming behaviour and how we can
support our artistic kids and kids with
disabilities to connect
with the people around them and really
live their best lives.


Transform Life is an Australian owned provider specialising in evidence based therapeutic support including Positive Behaviour Support, Occupational Therapy, Psychology, Speech Therapy and Behavioural Interventions helping transform lives and families across Australia.

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