Social Skills Intervention: Bringing it all Together (page 2)
The prevalence of Asperger Syndrome (AS) and other autism spectrum disorders has been on the rise. To support individuals with AS, it is crucial that families and professionals understand one of the key aspects of this complex disorder—social impairments. Gresham and Elliot (1984) describe social skills as “socially acceptable learned behaviors that enable a person to interact effectively with others and avoid socially unacceptable responses.” It is important to recognize that the word “learned” means that social skills can indeed be taught.
Problems with Perspective
Children with AS have a difficult time understanding the social behavior of others, in part due to their limited perspective-taking abilities (Winner, 2002). A child’s limited perspective-taking ability can manifest in a variety of ways. For example, children may have a challenging time thinking about another person’s ideas or feelings. They may have difficulty recognizing and understanding their own emotions as well. In addition, they struggle to understand trickery and deception, and often fail to recognize false beliefs. They also have difficulty planning their own behavior in response to their environment. Remember, autism is a spectrum disorder, and each child’s individual social needs must be recognized so that appropriate and effective interventions can be provided.
Components of a Social Skills Program
In order to teach social skills to a child with AS, parents and professionals must determine the best course of action. There are a number of social skills programs now available for purchase. In fact, it is the growing number of social skill programs that makes remediation somewhat confusing and disjointed. The components of an inclusive social skills program should include the following:
- A structured and systematic “rule” system applied to abstract and unstructured social scenarios
- Personalized stories that address the individual deficits and needs of each child
- Motivating and fun activities that children can “buy” into
- Perspective-taking components that are identified and discussed
- Visual aids and transition supports
- A detailed look at emotions and empathy to help interpret the confusion associated with non-verbal interactions
- Opportunities to practice skills with typical peers
- Parent involvement to aid in generalization
Types of Social Skills Programs
There are a number of ways in which structure and rules can be applied to social scenarios. In fact, one of the original social skills programs by Jeannette McAfee (2002), Navigating the Social World, attempts to do just that. Also, The Hidden Curriculum (Myles et al., 2004) provides guidance in creating a structured social skills program. The Super Skills program (Coucouvanis, 2005) provides social “steps to success” for over 60 possible social interactions (e.g., teasing, giving compliments, winning and losing, etc.). In addition, Super Skills provides role-play ideas so children can practice the skills they are learning. Role play provides a good opportunity to evaluate the social skills to determine what is working and what doesn’t appear to be working so that problem solving can occur in a safe, structured setting.
Now that some type of rule-based structure can be given to various social events, it is important to construct personalized stories to make the structure more meaningful for each child. Personalized stories can be used in conjunction with each individual set of “rules” or “steps” that children have been discussing in their social groups. Personalized stories, also known as social stories (Gray, 2000), are a way to provide children with the information they need to make good decisions about new situations. Children experience greater success when they have personal stories that apply specifically to their situation. When writing personalized stories, there are detailed guidelines that can be helpful (Gray, 2003). In general, however, the stories need to describe the situation and then give the child a suggested response or direction on how to handle it. It is also imperative that a perspective-taking piece be included in the story to describe the possible internal thoughts, feelings and beliefs of the child and others involved in the social scenario.
The perspective-taking piece of any social skills program is a vital component. Teaching perspective-taking skills is a hugely important yet daunting task. The work of Winner (2000, 2002, & 2008) has been beneficial to educators and families alike as they look for effective ways to teach a variety of perspective-taking skills to their children. The activities in her books are very visual, practical and easy to follow. They help abstract concepts to become more manageable and concrete. Another helpful tool, Building Social Relationships (Bellini, 2006), offers a specific five-step model to support social skills development. This book guides parents and professionals as they integrate their child’s needs with available resources.
To further support social skills development and perspective taking, it is important to help children identify how they feel. In Let’s Talk Emotions (Cardon, 2004), specific, easy-to-use activities that assist children in identifying their own emotions and the emotions of others are readily available. Strategies include activities such as emotional collages, wheels of emotions and emotional thermometers. Similarly, the Incredible 5-Point Scale (Buron, 2003) gives children a visual way to describe how they feel in social situations by breaking their emotional responses down into 5-points on a scale.
The need for effective social skills training has increased as the prevalence of autism has risen. Families and professionals need to feel empowered in their role as social skills support providers. By gaining a thorough understanding of the resources that are available to them, families and professionals alike can create motivating and meaningful social skills intervention programs.
Bellini, S. (2006). Building Social Relationships: A Systematic Approach to Teaching Social Interaction Skills to Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Other Social Difficulties. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing Company.
Cardon, T. (2004). Let’s Talk Emotions: Helping Children with Social Cognitive Deficits, Including AS, HFA, and NVLD, Learn to Understand and Express Empathy and Emotions. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing Company.
Coucouvanis, J. (2005). Super Skills: A Social Skills Group Program for Children with Asperger Syndrome, High-Functioning Autism and Related Challenges. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing Company.
Dunn Buron, K. (2003). The Incredible 5-Point Scale–Assisting Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders in Understanding Social Interactions and Controlling Their Emotional Responses. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing Company.
Gray, C. (2000). New Social Stories Book: Illustrated Edition. Arlington, TX: Future Horizons.
Gray, C. (2003). Social StoriesTM 10.0. Arlington, TX: Future Horizons.
Gresham, F.M., & Elliott, S.N. (1984). Assessment and classification of children's social skills. A review of methods and issues. School Psychology Review, 13 (3): 292-301.
McAfee, J. (2002). Navigating the Social World: A Curriculum for Individuals with Asperger's Syndrome, High Functioning Autism and Related Disorders. Arlington, TX: Future Horizons.
Myles, B., Trautman, M., & Schelvan, R. (2004). The Hidden Curriculum: Practical Solutions for Understanding Unstated Rules in Social Situations. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing Company.
Winner, M.G. (2000). Inside Out: What Makes a Person with Social Cognitive Deficits Tick? San Jose, CA: Think Social Publishing.
Winner, M.G. (2002). Thinking About YOU Thinking About ME (2nd Edition). San Jose, CA: Think Social Publishing.
Winner, M.G. (2008). Worksheets! for Teaching Social Thinking and Related Skills. San Jose, CA: Think Social Publishing.
Teresa Cardon, M.A., CCC-SLP, has worked with individuals on the autism spectrum for over 16 years. Teresa has worked in a variety of settings and has assisted thousands of families and their children as they strive to improve their social communication skills. Teresa provides interactive and motivating workshops on a variety of topics internationally. She is currently a doctoral candidate at Arizona State University, completing her PhD. in Speech & Hearing Science with an emphasis in autism. Teresa works as a Faculty Research Associate at the university and oversees the autism practica for graduate students in Speech & Hearing Science. She has written many articles on communication strategies and is the author of Top Ten Tips: A Survival Guide for Families of Children with ASD (2008), Initiations and Interactions (2006) and Let's Talk Emotions (2004). She can be reached at Teresa.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted with the permission of the Autism Society.
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