Types of Social Skills Deficits
Researchers have broken down social skills deficits into the categories of skill, performance, and fluency deficits.7 Identifying the type of deficit that exists in specific situations is important because this will guide decisions regarding the type of instruction and instructional settings that are most effective for correcting these deficits.
Students with skill deficits don't know how to perform the skill or have difficulty discriminating which skills to use in what situation. This can be exceedingly challenging because social rules are complex and vary greatly based on context. That is, a specific social behavior can be appropriate in one environment and inappropriate in another. Skill deficits are often referred to as a "can't do" and can be addressed in large group, small group, and/or individual settings. Intervention is focused on breaking the skills into steps, directly teaching each step, and practicing each step through role playing its appropriate use in appropriate situations.
Performance deficits exist when the student knows how to perform the skill and can discriminate which skills to use in what situations but fails to do so at acceptable levels for a variety of reasons. Performance skills deficits are often referred to as a "won't do"; however, it is important to be extremely careful that we do not automatically assume this is because the student is being stubborn or oppositional (although this is sometimes the case). Often there are interfering and/or competing factors or behaviors that need to be addressed. Sometimes internalizing factors such as anxiety or depression or externalizing problems such as impulsivity interfere with the student's ability to access these skills when needed. In other cases, the student may have a more developed competing behavior that is easier to perform and leads to more immediate and reliable reinforcement. A common example is a student calling out rather than raising her hand when she has something to share. Many times calling out is a much easier and quicker way to get the teacher's attention than raising one's hand and waiting patiently for a turn. Another example of this appears in the "Jodie Says" box in this section. Whatever the interfering and/or competing factors and behaviors are, the result is that the skill is there, but the student has difficulty accessing it. Intervention is most effective when it is individualized to meet the needs of the specific student and focused on both decreasing the reliability and efficiency of competing behaviors and increasing the reliability and efficiency of desired social skills or replacement behaviors (see Figure 3.2).
Fluency deficits exist when the student knows how to perform the skill and performs it at acceptable levels but is awkward and unpolished when exhibiting the skill. This can be compared to students who are able to decode and comprehend reading passages but are slow and choppy when reading aloud. Many students on the autism spectrum have mastered skills and are able to perform them, but they are so awkward that their performance leads to problematic outcomes, such as peer rejection. A classic example of this is learning the "steps" to greeting peers, but going about it in an overly formal and robotic (and possibly not age-appropriate way) that actually makes peers uncomfortable.
Fluency deficits are difficult to address, and intervention needs to happen through immersing students in environments where they have appropriatemodels, there are plenty of opportunities to practice, and they are reinforced consistently and at a high rate. It is extremely important that peers are educated and involved when a classmate is attempting to improve his or her fluency deficits. Table 3.2 summarizes the three types of social skills deficits and the most effective instructional approaches for each.