Social Skills Activities for Adults with Developmental Disabilities

Instructor: Lori Sturdivant

Lori has a specialist's degree in Instructional Leadership/Mild Moderate and currently serves as the Lead Teacher for The University of Southern Mississippi's Autism Project.

Are you looking for fun and engaging activities for teaching social skills to adults with developmental disabilities? The lesson will define social skills and provide example activities that are engaging and age appropriate.

Social Skills and Developmental Disorders

Social skills are the skills we use to interact with each other. These interactions can be both verbal and non-verbal. For instance, we communicate with others through gestures, body language and our personal appearance. Examples of such non-verbal communication include:

  • Gestures: shoulder shrug, pat on the back, eye roll, thumbs up sign
  • Body language: arms crossed tightly across chest, turning body towards or away from someone
  • Appearance: combed hair, ironed clothing

We learn social skills through experiences with other people, our peers, parents, teachers, etc. While people with developmental disabilities often have difficulties with such verbal and non-verbal communication, they can still learn the social skills they need to for everyday life. Examples of social skills for adults with developmental disabilities include:

  • Greeting people
  • Initiating conversation
  • Understanding the listener
  • Empathizing
  • Reading social cues
  • Previewing or thinking before speaking
  • Problem-solving
  • Apologizing
  • Asking for assistance

Strategies and Activities for Teaching Social Skills

Social skills should be taught much like a teacher would instruct students about addition or identifying verbs--it should be addressed very often with direct instruction. Perhaps the best way to teach social skills is through modeling. Demonstrate the skills you want to see. Also, role-play the different skills, allowing the person the opportunity to be on both sides of all scenarios.

Now, let's look at different activities you might use to teach social skills to adults with developmental disabilities.

Introduction of Skills

When first introducing adults to a social skills group, it is a good idea to ensure they understand what social skills are and why social skills are important. As a starting activity, write down different skills you want to teach on separate slips of paper and put them in a jar. Have the learners arrange their chairs in a circle and pass around the jar, having each person draw a slip of paper.

  • Accommodation: You can break this activity into several lessons by working on only 2-3 social skills per activity.

When the learner draws the skill from the jar, ask them to say what the skill means to them. If they are struggling to articulate an answer, you can prompt a response by asking for examples. Keep in mind that the information you want to pull out during this activity is why the skill is important. This will help the learners understand why they need to practice the skill. Note: To demonstrate the activity, you may want to first play this game using skills the learners have already mastered.

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