Rules of Engagement

A Q&A with Susan Diamond


Susan Diamond

Pat Mazzera

Parents from across the Bay Area bring their children with autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to Susan Diamond’s cozy cottage in Alameda to work on social skills. Author of Social Rules for Kids: The Top 100 Social Rules Kids Need to Succeed, Diamond is a licensed speech-language pathologist who diagnoses and treats communication disorders, including autism. In addition to providing individual and group therapy, Diamond speaks at schools, conferences, and appears on TV as an expert on social skills.

Have you noticed an increase in autism over the years?

There definitely are more kids with autism, Tourette’s, ADHD, etc. I started out 25 years ago in the public schools and there were not so many who had it. Today it’s something like 1 in 88.

Why do parents first bring their kids to you?

Parents will say, “My child is having a hard time making friends.”

How do kids respond to Social Rules?

They love it. Kids with autism are very rule-bound. That’s why the book works so well. At school, kids miss social cues, like someone’s tone of voice. Or they miss the facial expressions. Kids with autism have difficulty with sarcasm; they take everything literally. I [add] structure to social [behavior]. Then it is a matter of practice.

Can these social behaviors become second nature?

That’s the question. I teach them to read body language and gestures. Ultimately they cue themselves: “When I’m meeting someone, I’m going to give eye contact.”

What do you consider the top social rule for kids?

Rule No. 74: “Be grateful for who you are.”

Good advice, but how?

I tell them to choose three words that describe their good traits, like smart, funny, and kind. When they are feeling socially awkward, they can say those words over and over and know that they’re great.

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