Developing Social Skills Programming: Changing Barriers into Strategies and Tactics (page 5)
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!”
Strategies and Tactics
Why differentiate between a strategy and a tactic? A strategy is a long-term plan. For example, we may develop a strategy to increase the number of social interactions that a person with autism engages in throughout the day, and a comprehensive program will include a number of tactics for fulfilling that long-term plan. A few years ago we attended training on a matrix developed by Shawn Henry, executive director of the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence (OCALI). Henry’s matrix is the Comprehensive Autism Planning System (CAPS; Henry & Myles, 2007). By using CAPS, our teams have been able to identify prospective daily activities that provide naturally occurring opportunities for the student to apply social skills that we have targeted. Generalizing the skills learned into other environments and activities also is part of the long-term plan. Thus, the long-term plan is to increase social interaction skills. The tactics we use may include the following:
We used scripting (Goldstein, Schneider & Thiemann, 2007) for responding to routine questions such as attendance, lunch count and joint action routines (JARS). In the community, we established scripts for ordering desired food items, requesting assistance from store clerks and participating in church services. So many times throughout the day, we literally run on “autopilot”; those are times that scripting can be an effective tool for students with ASD.
Social Stories™ (Gray, 2000) have been a valuable tool for the students with whom we have worked. We have used Social Stories consistently as part of our long-term strategy to develop social competence. Our goal is to use this tactic as a preventative measure; Social Stories forces the interventionist to think ahead, to consider relevant social cues, and to take into account the perspective of people with ASD and help them understand the perspective of others.
We used social autopsies as a wrap-up to the events that we had primed using Social Stories. Frequently, we supported social autopsies with cartooning, because many of our students learned more quickly when we could incorporate a visual component into our lessons. A social autopsy is a tactic by which social interactions are analyzed, errors are identified, feedback is offered, plans for correction are discussed and practice is provided. By the same token, we need to analyze successful social interactions as well. Frequently we fail to acknowledge the successes, but by doing so, we can create a feeling of ability and success rather than feelings of disability and failure. Learning disabilities consultant Rick Lavoie says, “The success of the autopsy approach is linked to the fact that it provides the child with the three things that special-needs students require in order to develop and learn: (a) practice or drill, (b) immediate feedback and (c) positive reinforcement” (cited in Bieber, 1994).
Video review has been an extremely effective tool for those students who enjoy watching television or video programs. We did not use this format with students who did not like television or videos. We used video review in a myriad of ways. Two examples follow:
1. We videotaped social settings (without the student in the setting) and conducted an autopsy of what we had seen, followed by a second viewing of the tape and a second autopsy. We tried to use this tactic when transitioning students into a new setting. It allowed them not only to hear about the expectations of the environment, but to actually see the environment.
2. One team recorded the TV show “Beverly Hills 90210” and then completed a social autopsy on a single scene. The purpose in doing so was two-fold; first, it gave the students someone else to critique, and second, it gave them something in common with the other students at school who had watched the show. Soon, quite a few typically developing students were requesting permission to join the class where the autopsy was performed. Developing shared interests was an unplanned benefit to the activity, but, it since has become an integral part of activity development.
Role playing was a tactic we used with students who had the ability to imitate and pretend. For students who had not yet developed those skills, we taught role playing, but did not use it as an instructional tool; rather, it alone was the outcome. For those with whom we used it as a tactic to develop social skills, we included it in the “instructional chain,” which usually consisted of a Social Story, scripting, role playing, application in the real world and social autopsy. However, we made modifications as needed since no one size fits all. Role playing is more than just scripting; it is scripting with emotion, action and movement. It is an opportunity to provide immediate feedback.
Linda Hodgdon (1995) created this innovative tactic. A People Page includes a picture of a person and some facts about them, such as name, age and interests. The student with ASD uses these pages to learn about that person. A script can be developed that prompts the student with ASD to interact with the other person based upon his interests, rather than the interests of the person with ASD. We’ve used this tactic successfully with many students. Supports, such as People Pages, are not just effective for young children or people with learning differences; in fact, they are similar to what you might see if you were to log into an online dating services.
Brenda Smith Myles, chief of programs and development for OCALI, describes breaches of the hidden curriculum as those events that make us think, “I shouldn’t have to tell Michael not to …” However, for students with ASD, we do have to tell them. Moreover, we have to teach them. Two of the biggest mistakes we make in working with people with ASD are (1) we assume too much, and (2) we expect that they will bring to any given situation prior knowledge that they not only can access but also can apply. These mistakes can and often lead not only to social blunders, but, also social isolation. The hidden curriculum is where even the most well-educated, bright, socially trained person with ASD will exhibit his ASD. The hidden curriculum is the connective tissue; it is the part that allows everything else we teach to work together and provide stability to the social being.
Through the development of a comprehensive plan that focuses on and values the role of social skills instruction and programming, we can accomplish many of these goals. Often, futures, happiness, employment, and quality of life are not dependent upon how well someone can read, write or complete a task, but how well he or she can get along with others and relate to and share experiences, feelings and emotions in a manner that respects the comfort zone of others. People with ASD have an incredible capacity to learn. In fact, we’ve come to believe that the only issue they have is our limited capacity to teach.
About the Authors
Lee Stickle, M.S., is co-director of the Kansas Instructional Support Network.
Jane Goetz, M.S., is autism training coordinator of the Kansas Instructional Support Network.
Aspy, R., & Grossman, B.G. (2007). The Ziggurat model: A framework for designing comprehensive interventions for individuals with high-functioning autism and Asperger syndrome. Shawnee Mission, Kan.: Autism Asperger Publishing Co.
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, Kan.: Autism Asperger Publishing Co.
Bieber, J. (1994). Learning disabilities and social skills with Richard LaVoie: Last one picked... first one picked on. Washington, DC: Public Broadcasting Service.
Goldstein, H., Schneider, N., & Thiemann, K. (2007). Peermediated social communication intervention: When clinical expertise informs treatment development and evaluation. Topics in Language Disorders, 27, 182-199.
Gray, C. (2000). Writing social stories with Carol Gray. Arlington, Texas: Future Horizons.
Henry, S.A., & Myles, B.S. (2007). The Comprehensive Autism Planning Systems (CAPS) for individuals with Asperger Syndrome, autism and related disabilities: Integrating best practices throughout the student’s day. Shawnee Mission, Kan.: Autism Asperger Publishing Co.
Hodgdon, L.A. (1995). Visual strategies for improving communication: Practical supports for school and home. Troy, Mich.: Quirk Roberts.
Myles, B.S., & Duncan, M. (2008). The hidden curriculum calendar. Shawnee Mission, Kan.: Autism Asperger Publishing Co. Autism
Reprinted with the permission of the Autism Society.
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