Social Skills for Autism: Greetings

Today I want to talk about greetings. Last year I had this student who had the ability to say hello, but just never did it. Every day I would say hello to him and every day he would just look at me blankly or he would just ignore me and look away. Sometimes I would prompt him to say hello to me, but he still never did it. Sometimes I would get really dramatic and say “WHY WON’T YOU SAY HI TO ME??!!??” and he would just laugh and think I was silly.

These past few weeks I have returned to his classroom to work with him on greetings for one of my school projects (yes, I decided to go back to school once again…learning is good, right?). So after a year of trying to get him to say hello to me, I wasn’t expecting this to be extremely easy, but guess what…it was. Part of it was probably maturity, but part of it was also technique. I’m not saying that it’s going to be easy with any kid you work with, it just happened to be easy this time.

The general prompting in the natural environment didn’t work, we saw that, so I decided to combine a few techniques. I’m sharing this in hopes that it may give you some ideas of what you can do, not just for greetings, but maybe for some other goals you might be working on. Some of you may read this and think, duh why didn’t you do that in the first place, and I’m ok with that.  That’s really what I was thinking once I started doing it.

First, baseline data was 0% for 3 consecutive days. He did not respond to one greeting he was given. The definition of greeting in this instance is responding to a greeting by saying “hello”, “hi”, or waving one hand towards the person being greeted.  After baseline was taken, here’s what I did.


In a one on one setting I said something like “when someone says “hello” or “hi” to you, they are being nice and would like you to respond back to them.  You can say “hello”, “hi”, or you can wave your hand in their direction.  If you know their name, you can say “hello” and then say their name. If you don’t know their name, or you don’t remember their name, it’s ok to just say “hello”, “hi”, or wave back to them.”

Why did I not think of this before? What may seem obvious to us is not always obvious to kids struggling with autism. So this technique of explaining things actually has an official title, it’s called the Tell Procedure. You simply state the rules.

Next we used some video modeling. I don’t know that it was true video modeling because the people in my videos were just saying hi to the kid (we’ll call him Junior). I had filmed about 10 people before I met with him and they all said “Hi, Junior.” Easy to do with an iPad. So they modeled how to greet him, but I also used it as the antecedent to the target behavior (greeting). So we practiced. First I would ask if he knew that person while it was on a screenshot of them, if he did then I would model some things he could say. For example if it was me on the screen, he could say “Hi, Joy” or “Hello, Joy.” Then we would press play, the person would say “Hi, Junior.” and Junior would say “Hi” back. Pretty simple. Luckily he was compliant and was having fun with seeing who would be next on the screen.

We used some positive reinforcement giving a lot of praise and showing a lot of excitement every time he did it correctly. The nice thing about a goal like this is that there’s a lot of natural positive reinforcement…when you say “hi” to people, they generally will smile or get excited to start talking to you (especially if you’ve never said hi to them before and now you are).

After going through all the videos, we went into the hallway to practice. Luckily the staff were all great and would naturally say hello to Junior, and even some peers did as well. Being in the natural environment and interacting with a variety of people will help with generalization skills.  The progress that Junior made in those 10-15 minutes were pretty great.  Junior went from a 0% response to 60%, and continued averaging about a 70% response rate over the next 3 sessions.

While we would practice in the natural environment, I used a minimum-to-maximum prompting procedure. I would allow Junior to first respond independently, if he didn’t respond then I would give a verbal prompt (i.e., “She just said hello, what do you say?”), if that didn’t work then I would give a model (i.e., “Say hi”), then if that didn’t work then I would give a physical prompt to wave his hand. He only ever ended up needing a verbal prompt (which never worked last year).

There are a lot of different techniques out there, sometimes it can work to your benefit to find ones that can be used effectively together, and you may have greater success.

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