Visual strategies for autism social skills training, Part 2: Using magnets

I will show how to use two magnets in social skills training to help children with autism to better understand what kinds of behaviors "attract" and "repel" others

This is Part 2 of a multi-part series on how to use hands-on visuals when teaching and counseling children with Asperger’s and other autism spectrum disorders.

To review our basic premises:  First, children with ASD usually need lots of help with “theory of mind.” They might not understand that other people think differently than themselves.  This affects their ability to relate others socially,  communicate with them and predict how their own words and actions might affect others.  Second, children with autism often are “visual learners” who are able to learn better when meaningful and appealing visuals are provided for them.

Magnets provide a very useful hands-on visual for social skills teaching.  A colleague of mine conceived of this clever social skills teaching strategy and has been using it with small groups of children with Asperger’s.

How to do it:

1.  Get some magnets that both attract and repel each other depending on how they are positioned. Allow the kids to hold them and demonstrate how the magnets “attract” and “push away.”

2.  Say something like this:  “The things we do and say affect other people like magnets affect other magnets.  Some things we do and say “attract” other people.  That means that other people like it.  When they like it they want to be around us. Some things we do and say can push away other people, just the way one magnet can push away another magnet.”

3.  If everything goes well, at this point you have engaged the kid(s) in your social skills teaching activity with a meaningful and engaging hands-on visual.

4.  It is good to review personal space at this point.  Your young clients on the autism spectrum might take this lesson literally and decide that they need to stick close to others like magnets.   This prior blog post covers this and includes a visual for personal space:

5.  Optional:  Use the worksheets at the bottom of this blog.  Some kids really like worksheets.  Try these and see how it works.  Click on them, wait till they open in another window, enlarge them on your document, print. Or just click, cut and paste them.

I hope this provides an enjoyable social skills activity for your young students and clients with autism.  Kindly get back to this blog to leave comments and to learn about other useful visual social skills strategies.

Joel Shaul, LCSW





Many young people on the autism spectrum like social skills worksheets. Here is one to try.Here is another social skills worksheet incorporating the magnet visual. If your kids are not into worksheets, just skip it.



Here is another social skills worksheet incorporating the magnet visual. If your kids are not into worksheets, just skip it.





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