Some people wonder about what makes an autism support group different from a social skills group for teens and adults on the autism spectrum. There are similarities and differences between these types of groups.
Similarities between Autistic Support Groups and Social Skills Groups for Adults & Teens
I’m a psychologist, and I specialize in working with teens and adults who consider themselves autistic, aspie, neurodiverse, or on the autism spectrum. More often than not, new clients tell me they feel lonely and want to build friendships.
Support Groups and Social Skills Groups provide opportunities for people on the autism spectrum to develop social communication skills. These skills then help them make friends and improving their relationships at work, school, home, and other settings. Such groups also help them gain a sense of community with peers who understand and accept them.
Owning YOUR Identity
Both support groups and social skills groups allow a person to safely explore their own autistic identity. Listening to other people on the autism spectrum share their personal experiences can be life-changing. All those quirks you thought were unique to you and all those behaviors people called “odd”, you suddenly hear others with autism describe as they recount their own life experiences. It can be validating to hear their stories and realize you’re not alone in the universe. You are not the odd person out. You begin to feel more comfortable being yourself as you hang out with a group of people who get you!
Socialize with Others, Safely
Both Support Groups and Social Skills Groups also provide you with opportunities to practice socializing with others. Maybe it’s hard for you to start conversations. In fact, you might be hit by a host of self-critical thoughts, such as “They’re not going to like me” or “I’m bad at starting conversations.” These negative thoughts may prevent you from initiating a conversation. Support Groups and Social Skills Groups can be a safe place in which to practice your social communication skills and overcome some of these fears and self-critical thoughts.
Advantages of Autistic Support Groups Vs. Social Skills Groups
Support Groups for Teens & Adults with Autism
Support groups are sometimes run by an Autistic self-advocate. This is someone who is on the autism spectrum or another community member who has a loved one with autism. Because of their first-hand experience with autism, they have the knowledge and inherent motivation to help others on the spectrum. These support groups offer opportunities to connect with others on the autism spectrum while talking about issues that many autistic people face.
Social Skills Groups for Teens & Adults with Autism
Social Skills Groups tend to have more structure than Autistic Support Groups. These groups usually cover specific topics and are lead by a professional with autism training. Experts who lead these groups may be psychologists, speech-language therapists, or licensed clinical social workers. These professionals can offer education and support to empower individuals with autism. Enabling Aspie adults to lead lives they find truly meaningful.
How Does This Help?
Social skills groups provide training and guidance in communication strategies. Strategies may include topics like how to initiate or maintain a conversation or how to actively listen. This is done in order to increase one’s ability to develop friendships, improve their communication with family, teachers, co-workers, or supervisors.
- psychoeducation (providing education and information to support a person’s mental health and wellbeing)
- modeling (a staff member models social behavior)
- role-plays (give the group members a social scenario and they practice acting out how to handle it using the skills they have learned in group)
- experiential practice (for example, group members pair up and engage in a conversation while implementing social-communication strategies they’ve been learning in group)
Social Skills Groups Can Benefit Neurodiverse Adults & Teens
The focus of autism research and treatment has been on childhood development. However, emerging research I have conducted in collaboration with Dr. Solomon at the UC Davis MIND Institute shows that adults with autism can benefit from social skills groups. Therefore, I have spent my career developing social skills groups for adults on the autism spectrum, and adults who identify as Neurodiverse–or, high in autism traits. I am passionate about my work and would love to tell you more about it.
Please read my next blog post to learn more about my specific social skills groups, and the unique strategies we’re employing to support and empower older teens and adults on the autism spectrum!
Stay Connected With Open Doors Therapy
Thanks for reading about the benefits and differences regarding groups for adults and teens with autism. If you liked this topic, I would love for you to be an active member of our community. Here are three ways to stay connected with Open Doors Therapy:
- Contact Open Doors Therapy to schedule a free 30-minute phone consultation.
- Connect with me on Facebook for more helpful information.
- Sign up for my newsletter for autism news and tips!
Other Autism Services at Open Doors Therapy
Our Palo Alto/Bay Area mental health clinic serves individuals with autistic traits (Aspergers, high functioning autism, undiagnosed autism traits, etc) and their families. Specifically, our autism therapy services include individual counseling, parent counseling and group therapy. Our support and educational groups include college students with autistic traits, neurodiverse adults, women who identify as neurodiverse, and neurodiverse youth & caregivers. We believe in the power of groups to help autistic youth and adults develop and practice new skills. Furthermore, we’ve found groups to be a powerful way to help people with autistic traits begin to feel less alone and more connected to others. If you would like to learn about any of these services, please reach out today!
About the Author
Dr. Tasha Oswald is a trained developmental and clinical psychologist. She is the founder and director of Open Doors Therapy, a private practice in Palo Alto, near San Francisco, CA. She specializes in leading socials skills groups for neurodiverse adults and teens on the autism spectrum. Dr. Oswald wants to help people with autistic traits live meaningful lives where they feel connected to others.