Developing Social Skills Programming: Changing Barriers into Strategies and Tactics
People with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) frequently exhibit social skill problems that impact their imediate quality of life and, to a large extent , determine their overal quality of life . Yet , as interventionists , we often struggle with the teaching of social skils as much as those with ASD grapple with becoming fluent in the aplication of them . This article will discuss (a) the barriers associated with learning and teaching social skils , (b) deciding what to teach, (c) evidence-based practices and (d) the difference between creating a skill and teaching a strategy.
We face many barriers in teaching and learning social situations because social situations are, by definition, dynamic. They require making multiple, simultaneous assessments of the people involved in the situation, the environment and context in which the exchange occurs. At the same time, communicative partners attempt to determine the motivation of others involved in the exchange. Social interaction is a quagmire of gray; the rules are soft, the expectations high and the opportunity for success varies tremendously. The complexity of the subject is vast; we realize that each step or skill, while important, is of far less value than the sum of the whole. The bottom-line: In social skill intervention, things don’t add up. For those with ASD, it can be frustrating, often infuriating, to have each of their questions about how and why things should be done responded to in the same way: “It depends.”
So Many Variables, So Little Time
Social interactions are time-sensitive opportunities that provide little chance for a “do-over.” How can we be effective in skill development? We first need to inventory the skills of those we plan to teach. We need to determine if we’re striving to shape attempts at social interaction or trying to replace “inappropriate behavior.” There are a number of sound informal assessments that we have found particularly helpful. Bellini (2006) has included informal interviews, including the Autism Social Skill Profile in his book Building Social Relationships (winner of the 2007 Autism Society of America’s Literary Work of the Year Award). These instruments provide a starting point for the information-gathering process.
Simply looking at the skills a child has will not yield a program that is comprehensive. Rather, we need to take into account the underlying characteristics of ASD students to more appropriately address their needs. Ruth Aspy and Barry Grossman’s (2007) Ziggurat Model framework is an excellent resource to help put it all together. Interventionists need to remember that it is not the instruction of a skill in isolation that will prove meaningful in creating a quality-of-life change for people with ASD; rather, it is the creation of the understanding of the skill that ultimately will make the difference.
Field-tested, Student-proven Interventions
Is there such a thing as tested, proven interventions? The real question is: “What determines success?” Success is determined by our commitment to finding an intervention that matches the student’s needs and strengths. As you look through some of the interventions below, it is acceptable and even preferable to discard those that you think will not work for a particular student. By the same token, if you get to the bottom of the list and have eliminated all of the suggestions, step back and ask yourself, “Did I eliminate these ideas based on student need or is it that I just don’t want to work to bring about change?” Thomas Edison said that most of us do not recognize opportunity because “it is usually dressed in overalls and looks a whole lot like work!”
Reprinted with the permission of the Autism Society.
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