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Social skills deficits

Children use a wide range of social skills to understand, communicate, interact and develop relationships with their peers. Social skills are socially acceptable, learned behaviours that help children to have positive interactions with people. Young people aren’t born with these skills; they develop them by observing and modelling the behaviour of their parents, carers and peers and by learning through active instruction from their parents, carers and peers. Social skills include verbal and non-verbal behaviours, the process of initiation and response in a social interaction and an individual’s emotional understanding and regulation skills.

Helping your child develop social skills

Here are some practical tips to assist you in teaching your children social skills.

  • Identify your children’s social deficits.
  • If relevant and appropriate, talk with your child about what you have noticed and explain that you are going to help them learn a new skill to help them when it happens again.
  • Create a situation at home so that you can model the social skill you want them to learn (e.g., show them how they could communicate and behave more appropriately).
  • Have your children role-play with you. Act out the social skill in a play situation. This gives your children the opportunity to practise the new social skill that you want them to learn.
  • Take your children to a park or play centre and watch other children playing. Point out how the other children are modelling the social skill that they have been learning.
  • Organise a play-date with someone your children know well and have your children practise the new skill with the familiar child.
  • Help your children to transfer their new skill in novel environments and with new children.

Examples of social skills deficits

When young people don’t have appropriate social skills, we say that they have social skills deficits. We have listed some concerning social skills behaviours below to help you to determine if your child may have social skills deficits.

Verbal and non-verbal communication and behaviours

  • Doesn’t respond to his/her name
  • Avoids looking at people when talking
  • Speaks using an inappropriate tone or volume of voice
  • Has a limited number of facial expressions

Initiating and responding in conversations

  • Doesn’t respond well when others start a conversation or play
  • Has trouble initiating play or conversations with others
  • Has trouble taking turns in conversations
  • Uses little to no nonverbal gestures when talking (e.g., nodding/shaking head, waving ‘hello’/’goodbye’, smiling, frowning, etc.)
  • Doesn’t say ‘please’ or ‘thank you’

Emotion recognition, understanding, regulation and response

  • Finds it difficult to express his/her feelings, thoughts or needs
  • Has trouble asking for help
  • Finds it difficult to remain calm when feeling upset, being teased, having a disagreement or being bothered by others
  • Acts without thinking
  • Isn’t aware of others’ thoughts, feelings or needs
  • Responds inappropriately when others are upset or hurt


  • Doesn’t share in others’ interests
  • Finds it difficult to compromise
  • Finds it difficult to make new friends
  • Finds it difficult to maintain friendships

Underlying concerns associated with social skills deficits

When young people lack appropriate social skills, they often have concerns that aren’t being addressed or have needs that aren’t being met. Children with significant social skills deficits may have Autism Spectrum Disorder. However, a number of other concerns could be related to your child’s social skills deficits such as:







Trauma/stress related disorder



Self esteem

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Oppositional Defiant Disorder


Intellectual disability

Reading disorder

Maths disorder


Friendship concerns



Autism spectrum disorder

Tic disorders

Gender and sexual identity



Young people with inappropriate social skills experience negative relationships. This means that they can find it difficult to develop and maintain social relationships, which can impact their daily functioning at home, at school and in recreational activities. For example, they often experience negative school experiences and school outcomes. Research suggests that without appropriate intervention, social skills deficits will persist into adulthood and will impair daily functioning.


During your first session we meet with you and your child to conduct a clinical interview to identify your child’s underlying social concerns. If we believe that your child might have a diagnosable disorder, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, we will suggest that your child undertake an assessment, such as an Autism Spectrum Disorder assessment. Following these investigations, we develop a personalised, evidence-based treatment plan to help your child and your family.


The aim of social skills intervention is to develop and refine your child’s social skills and improve your child’s social functioning at school and home. We accomplish this by helping you to understand the nature and cause of your child’s social skills deficits. We provide your child and family with strategies and skills that promote social skills development and increase your child’s confidence in social situations by: increasing your child’s capacity to read social cues, helping your child to understand their own and others’ thoughts, emotions and interests, and helping your child to engage appropriately with peers.

We use evidence-based cognitive behaviour therapy to treat social skills deficits. We use a range of cognitive behaviour therapy techniques, depending on your individual child’s needs, such as:

  • Social skills training
  • Thought-challenging training
  • Emotion regulation training
  • Problem solving training
  • Behavioural intervention

We also use the following evidence-based therapy techniques:

  • Social skills group programs

For more detailed information on what to expect in your sessions with us, please visit our Appointments page.

If you would like help in understanding and managing your child’s social skills deficits, please contact us to schedule an appointment.