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Elisabeth Andrews
Indiana University Media Relations

Last modified: Thursday, July 13, 2006

New book offers social skills solutions for children with autism spectrum disorders

July 13, 2006

Scott Bellini's new book outlines a process for parents, educators and clinicians to create individualized social skills training for children with autism spectrum disorders.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- As a growing number of parents know, the most heartbreaking aspect of autism spectrum disorder is the difficulty children have in building and maintaining social relationships. A lifelong neurological disorder affecting social interaction, communication and stereotypical (repetitive) behaviors, autism has become increasingly prevalent over the past 15 years, affecting as many as one in 166 individuals. Children with autism often become isolated from their peers, maintaining few, if any, of the friendships that are the hallmarks of childhood for most people.

In Building Social Relationships (Autism Asperger Publishing Company), released today in conjunction with the Autism Society of America's annual conference, Indiana University researcher Scott Bellini demonstrates that children with autism not only want to develop social relationships, but are indeed able to build meaningful friendships with peers once they have received effective social skills training.

Bellini is the assistant director of the Indiana Resource Center for Autism, part of the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community at IU Bloomington. He is also a licensed psychologist specializing in autism spectrum disorder among children and adolescents. His research at the IRCA formed a foundation for the social skills model presented in the text.

"We have long undervalued social skills training in our schools and clinics and we have underestimated the potential of individuals with autism to make and to keep friends," Bellini said. "The types of social skills that are typically taught are the sort of things that please adults: etiquette and manners. But what we need to do is teach children how to be successful with peers in real-world environments."

In his private practice, which he now operates in Bloomington, Ind., Bellini has seen children with autism experience both the pain of social rejection and the happiness and increased self-esteem that come from learning how to build and maintain relationships with other children. While children with autism may never be social butterflies, they can still make incredible transformations, he said.

"Most children have a few distinct areas in which they need help, like standing too close or too far away from another person, maintaining eye contact, understanding the thoughts or feelings of others, or interpreting body language. Though many of us take these things for granted, these skills make all the difference in being able to establish and maintain successful relationships," Bellini said.

Building Social Relationships outlines a strategic process for recognizing and addressing social skills deficits based on the most current research on individuals with autism. Using real-world examples, Bellini describes common areas of difficulty and effective methods of teaching these skills. He distinguishes between skills deficits (knowing how to do something) and performance deficits (applying the learned skill) and discusses ways to help children bridge the gap between ability and action. The book can be used by parents, educators and clinicians to design individualized plans as well as group training programs.

To speak with Bellini, contact Elisabeth Andrews, IU Media Relations, at 812-856-3717 or