With mental health and educational resources reaching critical levels, children with autism spectrum
disorder (ASD) are becoming increasingly isolated without the support and social learning that they
need. As a result, these children are falling through the social gap, stuck in a world they don’t fully
But it doesn’t need to be this way. Social understanding can be taught to children with ASD in the same
way neurotypical children learn Maths. At Bridges, we’ve created a curriculum that enables
parents and educators to teach children the skills they need to live happier, social lives.
At the root of many social challenges faced by children with ASD is a lack of social understanding
which underpins the development of social skills. For example, working out what a teacher or
classmate may be thinking requires perspective and understanding expected class behaviours
requires self-other awareness. These two skills don’t come naturally to children with ASD.
Without a social road map and without the right social skills, trying to navigate what’s going on with
people and events in daily situations at school leads to heightened anxiety and stress.Left unaddressed,
this anxiety and stress can result in significant mental health issues in the late primary and early
secondary school years.
But schools, under resourced and under pressure, aren’t able to provide children with ASD with the social
learning that they need. This is why we created Bridges. Our online curriculum has been designed
to help parents and educators teach children with ASD the social skills and understanding they
need to thrive at school, at home and in the future. We provide long-lasting support and
educational resources to help children with autism navigate this social world.
Bridges was created by our team speech and language therapists who could see that the current approach
to helping children with ASD develop their social skills wasn’t working.
In the past, helping children learn these skills meant intervening when specific needs were identified
with clinical strategies. This intervention was typically short-term, and while behaviour
changes were achieved, we rarely saw these skills being applied to other situations.
We realised that this approach, dealing with isolated social situations rather than the fundamental
social understanding, wasn’t creating lasting learning. It expected children with limited social
intuition to piece together the complex elements of social scenarios and work out how
they all fit into a bigger picture.
There needed to be a cognitive framework where children could make sense of the information; where
they could recognize key principles and identify how to use these social skills in other
situations. This is where the Bridges curriculum began.
For children with ASD, social understanding is cognitively acquired, like Maths. Maths teachers
don’t wait until they see a ‘need’ for fractions to teach them; nor would they teach fractions before
addition. They use a curriculum that’s proactive, sequential and long term to create learning
So, thinking less like clinicians and more like educators, we transferred our theoretical knowledge of ASD
into a proactive and progressive cognitive framework. Through a process of development, implementation,
evaluation and revision, we learnt how to teach social understanding and create a curriculum for
social learning across the school years.
Our curriculum begins with the fundamental understanding of how people think and then teaches
social concepts and skills in a sequential order, based on prerequisite lessons.
Our students responded well to this systematic and logical approach to social learning. The depth
and breadth of our lessons mean that skills were better established and the children demonstrated
better applications of social skills over time.
Within our curriculum, every level of teaching is underpinned with specific strategies to facilitate what the
children need to learn and remember. For example, Video-Modelling, an effective method in improving
independence in social functioning, was integrated as a teaching method. Role-Play practice was
also introduced to provide opportunities for students to walk through scenarios
which would otherwise be hypothetical.
Consistent emphasis was placed on why ‘do this and say this’ to motivate the children to ‘buy in’ to
helping themselves. Strategies for knowing themselves (self-awareness) and others (perspective-taking),
as well as context awareness, had a positive impact on generalising skills.
To give students a better understanding of how each social lesson connects with another, our teaching
framework makes explicit links between individual concepts and skills. At every level of
the curriculum, the children can clearly see how each element builds
on and connects with one another.
By creating a sequential and interconnected framework for social learning, our students begin
to work out for themselves how the information fitted into the bigger picture of social functioning.
They bought in to ‘what’s in it for me’ and continued to use our curriculum as they matured
We’re in a unique position to witness first-hand how our students have grown using the Bridges curriculum.
While our observations are not robust from a research perspective, our students have gone on to independently
establish positive relationships with friends and peers; and exhibit resilience and emotional
well-being despite ongoing challenges.
With the current crisis in children’s mental health, there is a need now more than ever to adopt a proactive
approach in helping children with ASD learn the social skills they need. At Bridges, we’re dedicated
to helping children develop their social understanding and giving teachers and parents the right
resources to help their children. Our online curriculum can be accessed at any time and has
helpful resources for parents and teachers on how to guide children throughout our lessons.
Together, we can create a brighter future for children with ASD.
Catherine Pownall and Mary Yong Specialist Speech-Language Therapists
If you are interested in the Bridges curriculum or starting a 14-day free trial, please contact us at www.bridgessocial.com