Developing social skills: Part 1

By Kate Reid and Richard Bright, 31 July 2018 , Comments

For young people with autism or intellectual disability, one of the most important aspects of a successful job search is the development of social skills.

Northcott’s Vocational Skills Advisor Richard Bright explains the key to this skill development is building resilience and learning to understand social cues. This is achieved through modelling socially appropriate behaviour, and then supporting customers by giving them the tools they need to develop these skills.

In this two-part series Richard takes us through some of the most important social skills for different environments, starting with social skills for work places.

Social graces for work places

The aim is to give customers the skills they need to enter the work place, greet everyone appropriately, and then get to their work station and begin their tasks.

‘Hellos’ and ‘goodbyes’ in the workplace

We try to explain to our customers that when people ask how your weekend was or how you are, they are looking for a brief answer, e.g. ‘it was good, I went and saw the footy’ or ‘I’m good thanks, how are you?’ These are the little social niceties that grease the wheels of communication and make work life nicer. Often people with autism are very logical in their thinking, so when asked a question they will answer in an honest way that may not be appropriate in a work setting.

Team work and feedback

It’s important for job candidates to work on interactions with co-workers and be able to take constructive feedback. Often our customers have received feedback that was negative e.g. what you did wrong was x. The feedback needs to be constructive e.g. that was good, how about this time we try it this way. This also requires training for the employer on how to best work with customers.  Employers get a great employee if they put in a little effort upfront. Most customers respond well to structure, so setting guidelines is helpful.

Dealing with customers

The two main issues that Vocational Skills job candidates mention when it comes to dealing with customers, is that the customer has distracted me from my task, or I’m anxious and I’m worried that I don’t know the answer to their question. The way to deal with this is to learn key phrases or techniques. For example they might say something like ‘Hi, I’m here on work experience; let me find someone who can help you.’ We advise them not to just say ‘I don’t know’ and go back to the task; and not to get irritated or annoyed if a customer has moved stock. After all, if they didn’t do that our customers wouldn’t have the job of tidying up the shelves.

Another thing that our job candidates tend to want to do is to talk too much to customers when they should be working. Some of our Voc skills customers love to have a chat, which is just their gregarious nature, so it’s important they understand that in these situations a short polite interaction is all that’s required.

Managing change

Our Voc skills customers often crave routine and structure so change can be disconcerting e.g. being placed in a different section of the workplace. The big issue here is dealing with the anxiety that comes from the changes. The strategies to employ include recognising what the anxiety is, uncovering techniques to manage the anxiety, preparation and planning where possible, and building resilience.

Resilience is something we really focus on with our customers – many of them wear their hearts on their sleeves and can be easily offended. So building resilience is a really important social skill because it allows our customers to do things like have a joke with a co-worker without taking it too personally. Some customers aren’t great with humour, particularly sarcasm, because they don’t pick up on social cues. It’s just a case of improving their social awareness.

One of the best ways to build resilience is to role play. It may seem a bit silly sometimes, but it gives customers the chance to practice a scenario so they feel more confident when it comes to real life situations.

Addressing appropriate physical contact

Many of our customers don’t like physical contact because it’s sensory and they are very aware of their personal space. So it’s important to practice things like hand shaking and greetings. We also look at cultural differences e.g. in some cultures it’s not common to shake hands.

When it comes to physical contact we aim to teach our customers skills to manage if they don’t want to shake hands e.g. don’t be rude, just politely say something like ‘I’m sorry, I don’t feel comfortable shaking hands’.

Again, role playing is great in this situation as it creates a safe environment to learn these skills.

Related Content

Find out how our Skills 4 Life program uses practical skills to build confidence in teenagers.

Read about how Northcott is supporting young people to thrive in the workforce.


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