Social Skills for Brains that are Wired Differently

Although we all have unique brains, some of ours are wired differently so they process information in a way that not everyone will be able to understand. This should never be framed negatively – it’s just different and I assure you, these brains are amazing in their own rights! I have assessed and support so many young people with brains that are wired differently and it has been the most wonderful experience to be so fortunate to have a glimpse at the world from a different perspective. This difference in wiring refers to neurodevelopmental disorders. Effectively, this means a physical difference in the brain that is going to persist throughout the lifetime and change the course of a person’s development.


Neurodevelopmental disorders include (but are not limited to) Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ADHD, and Non-Verbal Learning Disorder (NVLD). They are all related to, or characterised by, difficulties with social, behavioural and/or communication skills.

For example:

  • Kids with ADHD may have trouble socialising due to difficulty with impulse control leading to frequent interruptions, difficulty taking turns and constantly moving around.
  • Kids with NVLD tend to struggle to understand non-spoken communication and miss social cues, tones of voice, and body language.
  • A lack of intuitive social ability is seen as the hallmark of ASD, which we discuss in detail below.

Here’s some more detail about ASD (We’ll discuss NVLD and ADHD in more detail at a later date):

autism spectrum disorder (asd)

Children with ASD have difficulties with social interaction and communication because of their ability to understand, receive and express this information. As such, children with ASD often don’t have much of an interest or find much enjoyment in social interactions. The technical term for this difficulty with understanding is impairment of theory of mind.

Theory of Mind (ToM) refers to the ability to understand that other people have beliefs to and then of course, be able to think about other people’s thoughts and belied. As you can imagine, if you don’t have ToM, it’s super hard to see the perspective of others. This means that kids with ASD have difficulties interacting in ways that would generally be considered appropriate in social contexts.

According to Kershaw (2011), many people with ASD notice differences in their social skills to others as a result of the above difficulties. Sometimes in the form of:

  • Trying to talk to people and saying the wrong thing
  • People finding them rude or inappropriate
  • Not knowing when to join in with groups
  • Not understanding what people’s facial expressions are conveying
  • Struggling to understand idiom or phrases
  • Failing to develop age-appropriate peer relationships

For all of these amazing brains, the best way to develop appropriate social skills is by teaching them social ‘rules’. Use if-then language and create straightforward rules such as the following:

  • If my arms are crossed, then my body is saying that I want to keep to myself. This is the same when other people’s arms are crossed.
  • If my shoulders are slumped, then my body is saying that I am sad or down. This is the same when other people’s shoulders are slumped.
  • If I am speaking loudly and my sentences are going up at the end, then I am excited. I might also open my eyes wide and smile. This will mean the same thing for other people.
  • If I am speaking loudly and my sentence are going down at the end, then I am angry. I might also clench my fists and lower my eyebrows. This will mean the same thing for other people.
  • If I am in an unfamiliar situation and I don’t know what to do, then I can use my senses to investigate what others are doing to make sense of it and decide how I would like to fit in. I can use my eyes to see who I might know, my ears can be open and ready to listen, I can check for familiar smells or look for new smells, discretely, and I can check in with how I am feeling – am I nervous, excited or calm?


We recommend this book for helping children with Autism to develop their social skills.

This highly visual social skills book uses computer metaphors and visual diagrams to help children on the autism spectrum to understand how their words and actions can affect other people. Easily identifiable computing and social networking metaphors are used to explain how memories are saved in the brain, like files in computer folders, and how, just as files can be shared and downloaded on the internet, people learn about you by sharing their positive and negative impressions with each other. This book also features photocopiable worksheets to reinforce the guidance and lessons offered in the book.

Get Your Copy at Booktopia


  • Bishop-Fitzpatrick, L., Mazefsky, C., Eack, S., & Minshew, N. (2017). Correlates of social functioning in autism spectrum disorder: The role of social cognition. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 35, 25-34. doi:10.1016/j.rasd.2016.11.013
  • Clements, John, 1946 Dec. 1. (2005). People with autism behaving badly: Helping people with ASD move on from behavioral and emotional challenges. London;Philadelphia;: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
  • Katz, E., & Girolametto, L. (2013). Peer-mediated intervention for preschoolers with ASD implemented in early childhood education settings. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 33(3), 133-143. doi:10.1177/0271121413484972
  • Kershaw, P. (2011). The ASD workbook: Understanding your autism spectrum disorder. GB: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

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