Social Skills

There is no one method to teach social skills that works for all students, all the time.  However, evidence shows that many approaches can be effective.  3 approaches to teaching social skills include:
  1. Behavioral Approaches:  This approach focuses on altering observable events in the environment (antecedents and consequences) in order to increase certain behaviors and decrease undesirable behaviors. Strategies include modeling, prompting, reinforcement (token economy), video modeling, and social stories have been shown to be effective in teaching a variety of social skills, including attention/eye contact, appropriate content and initiation of conversation, play skills, and frequency and duration of interactions.
  2. Cognitive Behavioral Approaches: This approach considers how an individual interprets or perceives what happens in the environment and the individuals' thoughts and perceptions become the focus in understanding how they will behave.
  3. Relationship-Based Approaches: This approach believes that developing a trusting relationship is a primary factor in influencing the development of new skills.  Through following the lead of the child and respecting his or her preferences, trust and motivation develop so that learning can occur.
Key Concepts to Effective Social Skills Training
  1. Assessment:  Prioritize relevant skill goals based on input from key stakeholders (e.g., the student, parents and teachers). Typically no more than 3-4 skills.  Considerations include:
    • What does the student do too much of that might interfere with social functioning in a desired setting?
    • What does the student not do enough of that might interfere with social functioning in a desired setting?
  2. Motivation:  Establish motivation to learn and use skills across settings.  Remember, just because we identify skill goals does not mean a student is motivated to learn those skills.
  3. Initial Skill Acquisition:  Teach skills using strategies that match the student’s language, cognitive and attention abilities. There are two considerations in deciding how to teach skills to students.
    1. The type of strategy (modeling, visuals, cognitive behavioral approaches) to be used. This depends on the student's language and cognitive abilities.
    2. Where to teach the skills: in a group, classroom or individually.
  4. Generalization:  Coach students to use the skills in natural settings and capitalize on interests and preferences.  Coaching/teaching in natural situations is often a missing ingredient in social skills training efforts and it is crucial to create written reminders (cue cards, behavior charts or skill lesson sheets) to use as prompts for those parents and teachers working with students in a natural setting.
  5. Peer Sensitivity Training:  Target typical peers as necessary to increase generalization, reduce isolation, increase opportunities for friendship and decrease bullying.  Peers can be taught to be “helpers” or coaches to students with autism during play or class time.  They can also be taught to be good “bystanders” by taking a protective role when their disabled peers are teased or bullied. In addition, they can participate in social skills groups with their peers with autism to provide opportunities to interact in conversation and play.
The problems with many social skills interventions in schools include:
  • Failure to match targeted goals to the child’s needs.
  • Lack of generalization of skills into natural settings. 
  • Short duration of interventions.
  • Failure to motivate skill performance.

Strategies:
  • Power Cards:  Power Card Strategy involves including special interests with visual aids to teach and reinforce academic, behavioral and social skills to individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Since many children with Asperger Syndrome and autism tend to have highly developed special interests, this strategy is especially beneficial for this population. By using their special interest, the individual is motivated to use the strategy presented in the scenario and on the Power Card. It’s a positive strategy that is often entertaining as well as inexpensive and simple to develop. 
  • 5 Point Scale*: The behavioral support known as the Incredible 5-Point Scale, created by Kari Dunn Buron and Mitzi Curtis (2003), provides a visual representation of social behaviors, emotions, and abstract ideas. It is a simple scale used to teach social understanding.  This simple strategy involves breaking down behaviors into concrete parts in order to help a child more easily understand their own responses and feelings. By rating their behavior on a visual scale, children can learn to identify and label their own feelings and ultimately learn to manage their behavior. This technique can be very effective with a wide range of children and can be used to target any behavior. Additionally, 5-point scales create a non judgmental language that can be shared by parents, students and caregivers to help regulate behavior and minimize power struggles.

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