How do I handle my emotions in school?

teaching children with autismWhether it is during transition times, a conflict with a teacher or peer or just general disappointments that come with each school day, students’ social and emotional education needs to be addressed to create a healthier school climate and greater academic achievement.

Many classrooms are affected by the following situation:

  • If a student cannot manage emotions properly, it is difficult for him or her to focus on learning.
  • If a student does not empathize with others, he or she may act out in unhealthy and potentially harmful ways.
  • If a student is unable to follow rules, he or she may detract from the healthy functioning of a classroom and/or school environment.
  • If a student is unable to solve problems cooperatively, he or she may create conflict in the classroom, playground, or anywhere students congregate.
  • If a student is unable to work well with others, this can create disharmony and undermine the collective learning environment.
  • If a student is unable to act responsibly or respectfully, he or she may not build the healthy relationships necessary for school — and life — success.

    Social skills, just like academic skills, often must be taught explicitly–especially to children who struggle with them. Here are some ideas.

    Problem Solving and Discussion

    You can use typical problem-solving steps to help children with become more socially competent. The following is one sequence, but the steps may be ordered differently depending on the circumstances.

    teaching children with autism1. Get to the root of the problem. Watch kids in a variety of social situations (classrooms, team practices, club meetings, free play, birthday parties, family events or interactions with adults and peers) using Social Skill Builder software series and other video supports.

    2. As you observe, be sure to notice their social strengths as well as weaknesses. Even if you notice something positive only once, remember to mention it to them.

3. Begin a conversation with them. A good way to start talking is to say, “Let’s see if we can figure out (why that happened, why he said that, why you got so angry).” As you talk to them, try hard not to respond judgmentally or angrily. Ask questions that show you value their perception of the problem. Listen to them and make sure you understand their side of things and acknowledge painful, angry or sad feelings.

4. Decide together on one alternative way to handle a similar situation in the future.

5. Invite them to practice the alternative behavior with you. If they’re receptive, try role- playing. While this can’t equal the emotional intensity of a real encounter, it does allow them to practice thoughtful responses to difficult real-life situations.

6. After they have a chance to discuss the alternative behavior in a real situation with peers, discuss what happened. Did the situation end better this time If not, what else could they try?

Teach With Signals

Once you’ve discussed what social situations are challenging for them, try designing a simple signal to use (in situations where you’re around) to let them know that a behavior should stop or change. For example, if you’re working on understanding when to stop talking about a subject because the listener is showing disinterest, quietly get their attention and touch your nose with your index finger or cross your arms. When they stop talking on their own, give them a thumbs-up.

Watching your student develop better social skills and relationships and the rewards that come with them can be one of the most gratifying experiences of a teacher. When kids have dysfunction in this area, it can make your job as a teacher and management of the classroom more challenging. But since social skills affect nearly every aspect of life, the time and effort you spend to help your student is a gift that will last a lifetime.

How does Executive Functioning Play a Role During Social Interaction?

Organization-for-SchoolExecutive functioning might be a new word to many of us focusing on social interaction with a child with special needs. However, the understanding of this word could mean the difference between successful social moments and the utter dread of interactions in the future for many students.

Executive functioning includes the abilities to focus attention,organize, plan, mediate emotion, use working memory, manage time, resist distraction, and monitor actions. Its name really says it all, it is what an “executive” of any successful business does. When a child has executive “dysfunction”, everyday tasks like sharing, taking turns, picking up on subtle social cues and staying attentive in class can be very difficult. And when children and teens falter in these basic social interactions, it can hurt them socially–isolating them from peers and making it difficult for them to make and keep friends.

To better understand how various executive functions play out in a child’s daily life, below are examples from Thomas Brown Ph.D., assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine and associate director of the Yale Clinic for Attention and Related Disorders, of common childhood tasks and situations. The tables below list some of the executive functions required in specific situations* – and what difficulties result when the necessary executive functions are dysfunctional.

Executive function used Signs of executive dysfunction
Self-regulation She has a hard time waiting her turn and working cooperatively.
Managing frustration When frustrated with her peers, she may act out before trying to understand and manage the perceived conflict internally and/or through calm communication.
Playing a game with a group of her peers

 

Executive function used Signs of executive dysfunction
Organizing She can’t determine the steps for the project (or their sequence). She has trouble collecting resources and often misplaces what she does find. She struggles to put the pieces of the project together in an orderly or logical way.
Managing time She doesn’t set realistic task milestones to work through the project from start to finish.
Self-regulation She fails to monitor her progress.
Long-term projects

 

Executive function used Signs of executive dysfunction
Shifting attention She can’t “let go” of a task to attend to another project when instructed to. She gets “stuck” on a task or favorite pastime and can’t move her focus elsewhere when required.
Managing frustration She becomes angry or frustrated when she feels forced to switch gears.
Shifting between tasks

Other daily actions of children and teens whose executive skills are underdeveloped:

  • More likely than their peers to behave in socially unacceptable ways (like saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, running into things and people, talking rapidly and excessively or continuing to roughhouse after peers have stopped).
  • Less able to solve interpersonal problems.
  • Less likely to consider the consequences of their behavior.
  • Less likely to understand nonverbal communication, such as facial expression and tone of voice, or to interpret what others say.
  • Less adaptable to new social situations.
  • Less able to tolerate frustration and failure.

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If these examples look and sound familiar, consider Social Skill Builder’s video modeling software & apps. These learning tools were designed with these important skills in mind and incorporates them into every stage of learning. From Preschool to Middle/High mycommunitySchool, executive functions are targeted to help children and teens refine these critical skills and implement them in the real-life video situations they are presented.

Transition from Elementary to Middle School for Students on the Autism Spectrum-Use the Summer to Get Them Ready!

shutterstock_15812086-300x200Remember the saying the only thing that stays constant in life is change? Sometimes change can be new and exciting, however, when it comes to changing from elementary to middle school, parents with children on the autism spectrum feel anything but excited.

Being aware of the different domains where changes occur is the first step. Let’s look at some of these areas of concern.

Environment. The school environment is going to change. In most cases, the child will leave the safety, security, and familiarity of elementary school and experience a new building, perhaps in a new part of town, and everything new within it. Our students will face more movement from class to class, hallways that are less controlled, more sensory input, and in many cases, significantly more students.

Academics and Content. Academic expectations shift in middle school. More abstract concepts are being introduced; workloads mushroom and time pressures increase. Homework and class interaction become a serious part of the student’s grade. Accommodations and modifications will be necessary and yet, will be more difficult to put into place.

People. Adult contact expands. Unlike elementary school where a student had one teacher; instead there may be four or five teachers and other new adults making up the school day. For some of these teachers, your child may be their first experience with a student on the spectrum. Others may not be as accepting as we might wish. Add to this the pressures that teachers are under in today’s educational setting to get large groups of kids to perform up to standards while managing ever increasing amounts of paperwork, and we have some real-life challenges that can seriously interfere with teaching and learning.

Rules. In elementary school our student spent most of the day in one classroom and lived by that teacher’s set of rules. In middle school our student will have to learn to accommodate the rules of four to five educators. To make matters even more difficult, social rules become more nebulous and shift much more quickly in middle school. Teachers hold higher expectations that a student will exhibit sound social thinking, and situation-appropriate social skills. Middle school can be a daily minefield for many of our socially-challenged spectrum students.

Peers. Those supportive and understanding peers from elementary school may still be helpful, but they are experiencing major changes in their own development. Puberty has raised its confusing head. Social expectations of the unwritten kind change almost daily, keeping peers very busy and self-involved as they try to figure out their path through this stage of development. We may start to see some distancing from our student with ASD.

Schedules. Gone are the days of the predictable schedule that fits neatly on a visual chart. Our students will need to adjust to A weeks, B weeks, longer periods, different lunch schedules and an even busier and more socially demanding cafeteria. Specials will be on alternating weeks or even on alternating days. Shortened school days will run on yet another schedule with different lunch periods.

DSC_1146-1-e1403631968379-198x300The key to all these changes is plan ahead and practice. Summer is a great time to focus on this and allows the student the time to process the changes. Using technology, such as Social Skill Builder CD’s School Rules! & My Community this summer can boost confidence come the fall!

http://www.socialskillbuilder.com/software-cds/middle-high-school/

 

 

 

Environment. Learn what the environment is going to look like long before our student arrives at the new school, and then acclimate the student to it. This includes locations of classes, support and recreation areas. Identify and introduce staff, especially those who can provide support if needed. Take pictures and video to help the student play and re-play how to get to their classes and locker. Use a keen eye to discern parts of the environment that might be potential trouble spots, and plan extra supports. If middle school is in a new part of town or a separate building arrange one or more practice runs on the bus because that route and timetable will probably be different.

Academics and Content. Ramped-up academic demands mean students are expected to work harder and smarter. Some of our kids will get swallowed up quickly and fall seriously behind. This transition merits that educators and parents ask some serious questions. How large is the learning gap? If the content gap between the child with ASD and typical classmates is more than two to three years, any teacher is going to have a hard time modifying content effectively. Are all the academic classes beneficial for this student, or should more emphasis be given to teaching life skills that will be needed after high school? Can tests be adjusted so the student can be successful and get a legitimate grade? If the student requires para support, is the para properly trained in ASD? Does the para understand how to do simple and approved accommodations and modifications? If the student still requires 1:1 support for tests, homework, and discussion, what advance planning needs to happen for this to occur? How much and what type of contact is needed between the regular ed and spec ed teachers to accommodate the student’s learning needs? This can be difficult sometimes, but a communication network is the mark of a good team.

People. It’s a fact of life that our students will need to learn to effectively interface with many more people starting in middle school, and continuing into high school and beyond. Plan ahead to help the student be successful. Arrange for the student to meet the teachers before the first day of school. Ensure that teachers have been given information about the child’s strengths and challenges, learning style, and what strategies work well with the student. This is an administrative responsibility. Teachers cannot be expected to learn on the run. It is unfair to them and the student, and starts the year out on a bad note. In every school where we have had the opportunity to do this ahead of time we have seen better results for our students, higher interest from teachers, and better communication.

Make sure there are at least four to five adults willing to be “safe” stations for our students when problems occur.

Rules. This is an extremely challenging part of the middle school transition for many of our students. Ease them into it slowly. Use Social Skill Builder curriculum, especially School Rules! to talk about different teacher’s rules and expectations is very helpful. Some of these skills take months or years to learn, and a social skills session once a week is not going to be enough. Impress on those who work with the student that the entire day is a series of social learning opportunities. Passing in the hallway, using the locker room, waiting for class to start, hanging out between classes… these are all opportunities for teaching social thinking and social acting skills. Set weekly targets for learning social skills with the You Are a Social Detective CD. With our students, direct teaching is a must; these skills won’t happen by osmosis alone.

Peers. In middle school, it is a great time to join the band, chorus or drama. In addition to the studies that show that kids who participate in a music/drama program do better academically, children on the spectrum often get a chance to participate in a structured group activity, generalize social skills they may have learned and create friendships/acquaintances based on a shared interest.

Sometimes it is not just developing close friendships but, learning how to work well within a large or small group, valuable life skills.

Also, think outside of school. Chess Club? Science Club? Ski Club? FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes)? Video Game Club? Art club Why is this important ? At the end of the day, kids need a place where they can do something fun, that they enjoy. It also gives them an opportunity to create friendships and relationships based on a shared interest.

For example, if your student has trouble initiating a conversation, but put him in video club perhaps, and he can talk about video games, animae and YouTube videos until the sun comes down. The most important thing about after school activities, in my opinion, though, is that the student gets to do something fun at school, creating a positive experience at school where he has the opportunity to naturally interact with peers.

Schedules. Schedules build independence. If the student is not already used to carrying and using a schedule or planning book, start immediately! Set up a specific time each day to review the schedule and add items to it. Make sure the format is age appropriate as the student moves to middle school. For instance, if the student still requires full visuals and icons try moving them into a foldable binder that is more appropriate. Choose a binder that looks like a day planner instead of a “therapy” item. Capitalize on teen technology! Consider teaching the student to use an electronic device to hold a schedule, or use scheduling apps or reminders via an iPad or iPhone. Reduce “check your schedule” language. As long as you are willing to keep reminding her, there is no need for the student to take responsibility. A great trick is to play “dumb.” When the student shows confusion just point to the schedule or hand it to him without saying anything. Put a problem solving routine in place: First I look at my schedule. If I’m still confused I ask a peer. If that doesn’t work I can then ask an adult.

The idea of moving up to middle-school can be scary for some kids and parents. But it’s important that children understand that middle-school offers many benefits and opportunities. Be sure to check in regularly as this transition will be an ongoing process throughout the years ahead.

Teaching Social Interaction Skills to Teen Girls with ASD

For most children, navigating the teen years and the complex and sometimes frustrating social situations of daily life can be particularly difficult. For teens with with ASD, it can be particularly stressful.

The teenage years are a time when being social is the “number 1” priority for kids, particularly for girls. But for kids who have acute social challenges, these years can often be the most difficult, confusing time in their lives.

Teenage girls often have very complex relationships with each other, often competitive and contentious as well as fiercely loyal and supportive. Since most children with ASD don’t pick up on social cues or understand social rules, it’s important to find a way to teach these things in a way in which they can understand.

ASD children don’t have the same intuition as other children and they can find themselves in situations they don’t understand without knowing how to react. Having the awareness of these complicated interactions with their peers and how to handle them when they occur is an important milestone in your little girl’s transition into the teen years.

A very effective way to begin to teach your child is with short videos and movies. These present the correct and sometimes the wrong way to act in a particular situation. Kids tend to enjoy watching videos, and since children with autism are often visual learners, it is really helpful in showing your child how to react properly in any situation.

School Rules! allows parents and teachers to tailor video sequences to match each child’s individual skill level

Our Social Skill Builder video modeling software, School Rules!, presents children of cognitive age 8-18 real-life video scenarios covering those parts of school life that are not part of academic programming. The videos illustrate various social situations your teenage girl might encounter, ranging from understanding the importance of friendship, to staying calm when angry, dealing with bullying, popularity, phone etiquette, and even how to deal with last minute class schedule changes.

Armed with these tools, you can help your child find her way in what is often a very confusing time for all girls, and in a way that will offer comfort and guidance for years to come.

Summer Fun – Activities for Children with ASD

Summer is just around the corner and its time to start thinking about what activities you can plan to keep your child engaged and interested during the Summer months.

Taking advantage of the weather can provide an excellent opportunity to explore together. Go on a nature walk and collect the things that appeal to you and your surroundings. Talking about what you find, enjoying the quiet spaces, and a picnic lunch can have a great effect on your child. Reading outside, perhaps books about nature, in a quiet space can also be very calming.

Summer will bring time for free play and sports, and an opportunity for children to keep practicing their interactions with other kids in on the playground and in team games. Our Social Skill Builder My School Day App can help reinforce appropriate behaviors on the fields and in playground games. You can pause the video on teachable moments, capture it on you iPhone or iPad, and reinforce the lessons later.

For children on the autism spectrum, the opportunity to explore color, shape, and sensory experiences can stimulate attention and foster calm. Collecting and organizing materials for a craft project can make the entire experience a teachable moment. The Academic Skills portion of the My School Day App can also be used to help accomplish this task, reinforcing skills your child will need once the school year resumes.

Reading to your child is also an essential tool for broadening their vocabulary. During the quiet evening hours, visit the library and involve your child in story time, which teaches them the words they need to communicate effectively.

On days when the weather is not as cooperative, AMC Entertainment offers special movie screenings for families with autistic children. The lights remain on, the volume is child-friendly, and your child can get up, move around and talk without upsetting other movie goers.

This is also a great opportunity for families to meet and siblings of children with Autism to get to know other children as well. Our Social Skills software can help reinforce basic manners and peer interactions in these social situations.

Teaching Inference and Prediction to Children with ASD

The ability to infer or to draw conclusions given partial information is a cornerstone of our reasoning process. Predicting the outcome of peer behavior in social situations as well as inferring conclusions based on clues within social interactions can be very difficult for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Most children with ASD tend to be very concrete and literal thinkers, which means that teaching abstract concepts needs to be done in a concrete way, this is typically accomplished through the use of visual aids.

Social Skill Builder Software Teaches Children the “Rules” of Social Communication

Research has demonstrated that teaching social skills, including inference and prediction, is one of the most effective treatments for children with ASD and helps them to succeed in their personal and academic lives. Social Skill Builder has developed a curriculum of researched based, evidence-driven software programs that teach key social thinking, language, and behavior critical to everyday living for children with ASD.

Social Skill Builder Interactive Video Sequences Imitate Real Life Social Scenarios Where Children Commonly Interact with Peers

Social Skill Builder products, My School Day, School Rules and You are a Social Detective, use technology to stop the live action video and allow the child with ASD to dissect the scenario at the teachable moment when an inference would typically occur. This allows the individual with autism see what “clues” lead to the guess/inference. The Social Skill Builder software does this by asking the child to click on the paused picture to identify context, body or facial cues or to select thoughts, feelings or words to add to the social scene to make the story complete.

The difference between a prediction, which is the discussion of a future event based on the “natural course of things”, and an inference, which is a theory based on evidence and clues can be very difficult to discern for children with ASD. In order to develop successful social skills these concepts must be introduced in very clear ways that the child can understand with visual examples.

Guessing, implying, hinting, suggesting, and reasoning are just a few of the mental processes in which we draw inference. Learning to correctly interpret different cues and accurately assess social situations so that children can determine how to best respond can be a challenging skill to teach without the appropriate aid. Our social skill software solutions, My School Day, School Rules and You are a Social Detective, demonstrates examples with interactive videos that show situations that teach critical social thinking and model behavior which are critical so everyday living.

Working with our Social Skill Builder software in conjunction with other therapy can help reinforce very abstract concepts, such as inference and prediction, and make them a natural progression in your child’s continued development.

Let’s Go Outside … Playground Tip for Your Child with Autism

Now that Spring has arrived, its time to get our kids outside, enjoying the warmth we’ve been without for so long. Play is fundamental, not optional, but for children on the Autism spectrum, time on the playground presents a different set of considerations.

Children with Autism enjoy running and exploring, and unfortunately, when outdoors the propensity for wandering can cause tremendous stress on parents, often causing avoidance of activities that are away from home. The most important element in a playground you can visit with your child is finding one that is completely enclosed by a fence. There should be only one way in and one way out of the playground, preferably with a gate that closes.

Finding a playground that has a wide path around all of the play equipment is also very important because this allows your child to understand the dynamics of the playground from a safe distance, away from the children that might crowd around the equipment. There should also be plenty of space for your child to run and exert energy.

The Social Skill Builder CD My School Day and iTunes My School Day App can help your child understand appropriate social behavior on the playground. The video segments visually present scenarios of interactions and problem solving as it pertains to outdoors playtime.

The aesthetic characteristics of the playground should be considered as well. Finding a playground with muted colors, where the line of sight has been considered, (can you see “through” the equipment such as rope climbers, monkey bars, etc) is ideal for you to be able to keep track of your child. Also, pleasing landscape is important since it can be very calming for children.

Also, playgrounds with plenty of equipment that allows for movement: spinning, swaying, rocking and jumping are preferable, as well as playgrounds that provide a cozy place for your child to retreat, away from the action when a brief rest is required.

Outdoor playtime is essential for your child’s continued healthy development, and finding a way to do it so that you can both enjoy your time together is essential for the continued well-being of your family.

Teaching Children with Autism How to Enjoy Jokes and Idioms

Understanding-Idioms

St. Patrick’s Day approaches and so continues the decades-long tradition of the St. Patrick’s Day pinch if you’re not wearing green. We all remember a time or two when our arms stung from forgetting to wear St. Patrick’s green. While harmless on the whole, for children with autism it can be hard to understand the difference between a harmless prank and something that can physically harm another child.

Humor is important to your child’s social development

Humor is important for children because being able to tell jokes and laugh with others helps them interact and make friends. Unfortunately, children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) tell significantly fewer jokes than their typical peers. Not being able to understand humor, or inspire laughter in others can negatively affect the development of peer relationships and social participation. In ASD children, this could lead to a further deterioration of social skills and interpersonal relationships.

Studies have found that using jokes or teaching humor and laughter to children diagnosed with autism can improve social skills and relationships with peers.

Children with autism and special needs, particularly those with social or communication delays, may need more direct instruction in the skill of joke telling and the understanding of idioms. Because children may not make the connections needed to sometimes understand the abstract language that can make a joke funny, it is important to use visual tools and concrete examples to demonstrate how jokes and idioms are constructed.

The My School Day CD and My School Day App have a whole category dedicated to understanding the difference between laughing AT someone versus laughing WITH someone. In this selection we discuss teasing versus enjoying a joke together.

Simple strategies to expand your child’s sense of humor

Its important to experiment with positive and appropriate jokes, trying them out at home and perhaps even memorizing a few that are appropriate to tell in social environments.

  1. Look into visual humor: Use cartoons, comic books and slapstick comedy to demonstrate what is considered funny, making sure to remind them that the images shown are unrealistic and should not be duplicated.
  2. Memorize one or two jokes: Knock-Knock jokes are great place to start. The examples should always include the differences between a good-natured joke and doing something that can hurt someone’s feelings.
  3. Teach idioms: Gradually expose your child to idioms and explain their meaning. Use tools such as videos or flashcards to help them develop a better understanding of these complex statements.
  4. Train your child to seek clarification when they are confused. Idioms are ambiguous and often leave children with ASD confused or accepting the statement as fact yet denying the possibility.
  5. Practice, practice, practice: For children with autism humor is an ever evolving and developing skill. Have fun developing your child’s sense of humor; a family that laughs together, has less stress and grows together in amazing ways.

Making an effort to add humor to daily activities, giving your child the opportunity to recognize the funny in the every day will allow him or her to practice and develop a more sophisticated sense of humor in time.

As children get older, the ability to see and understand humor is increasingly important. Children with a sense of humor are better liked by their peers, and have more friends, higher self-esteem, and a more positive outlook on life. Perhaps most importantly, they can be more tolerant of others, and are better equipped to handle situations at school and the inevitable teasing and bullying that often accompanies childhood.

Development of Social Skills in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

By Jennifer Jacobs, M.S., CCC-SLP

For many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), succeeding academically at school is an achievement they work long and hard for. Sometimes, however, this intent focus on academic competence can lead parents and educators to overlook critical social skill development. This is most apparent on the playground and other places at school where large amounts of unstructured time leave children with ASD to sink or swim in a complex social environment.

Over the last twenty years, much research has indicated that social impairment is a common feature of ASD, and a common misperception is that these children lack interest in relating to others. Kids with ASD do not choose to alienate themselves – they are simply missing skills that are essential for developing meaningful peer relationships. You may have noticed some of these common social deficits:

  • Opening and closing a conversation
  • Initiating peer interaction and joining play
  • Decoding facial expressions and body language
  • Observing and mimicking appropriate social behavior in specific situations
  • Predicting and understanding the emotions and reactions of others

If you stop and think about it, these are not easy concepts, and in fact, most children succeed socially at recess or in the locker room because they’ve acquired these skills automatically through repeated exposure to real-life scenarios. Children with ASD, however, don’t have that ability. In fact, it is notoriously difficult for these children to acquire social skills that come to many of us naturally. In order to master social skills, children with ASD must be taught them explicitly, and have the opportunity to practice them again and again and again. This last point is a key one, because many children with ASD don’t master social skills simply because the adults in their lives arbitrarily decide that a certain number of trials should be sufficient and give up on the effort too soon.

It’s critical, however, that caregivers and educators make a concerted effort to teach social skills to children with ASD despite the challenges. Otherwise, they may find it impossible to interact with peers one-to-one, or in an informal group. Instead of eagerly anticipating unstructured play periods like other children, they might dread them. Over time, they might become anxious and depressed, and might purposefully avoid the very social situations in which they need to become competent. They’ll carry their deficits into adulthood and may spend their lives feeling lonely and rejected.

That desire to belong that propels most people to learn whatever it takes to fit in is not something that’s necessarily implicit in children with ASD. For some, this type of “social sense” may never be fully achieved. But in order for a child with ASD to grow into a well-adjusted adult, he must learn basic social functioning, even if he never gets to the point of emotional relatedness. Social skills are the entryway to all relationships that involve two or more people, from friend/friend and teacher/student to boss/employee and salesperson/customer.

For this reason, it’s unfortunate that social skills acquisition is not automatically included as part of most children’s school curriculum. However, with our guidance and persistence and the right training program, even the most emotionally challenged children can master effective peer interaction at every stage of the game, from the moments just before class starts and conversation in the lunchroom to locker room changing sessions and afternoon recess.

Teaching Social Skills

Social skills or “pragmatics” are a vital part of living and functioning in our world today. Many children with developmental disabilities, such as Autism Spectrum Disorders, Down’s Syndrome, hearing impairment, and others have problems learning the complex understanding of social interaction.

Parents, educators, and therapists are challenged to teach these children the “unspoken” rules of social behavior. Usually children pick up these skills through experience and learn from interactions. Children with disabilities sometimes lack the understanding to learn from their life experiences and have more difficulty with social skills. In order for these special children to learn critical life skills, essential to living, they have to be taught.

So how do we teach social skills?

Many parents, educators and therapists have difficulty instructing children on social skills. It is different than teaching the ABCs or naming colors. There are so many components that make the task overwhelming! Language skills are broken into several parts, including syntax (the rules of language – verbs, nouns, etc.), semantics (the meaning behind language – vocabulary), and pragmatics (the social use of language). Without each part functioning, you cannot be a successful and complete communicator.

The role of social stories

The concept of the social story makes great sense when teaching social skills to children. The speech pathologists at Social Skill Builder have found that social stories provide simple, concrete examples of appropriate and inappropriate behavior within a social context. Children are able to target certain emotions, relations, and behaviors in a controlled teaching environment. The only problem is that social stories don’t always motivate the child. Pictures in books cannot relate all the components of social relationships or situations, such as body language, facial expressions and movement throughout an interaction. Something more dynamic is needed.

The role of social story in video

Through concrete trials, the speech pathologists at Social Skill Builder have found that videos of social interactions seem to provide a more dynamic alternative to stories in books. Children are motivated to watch television and attend to the real-life interaction seen on the screen. Educators can point out key elements found in appropriate interactions and provide an accurate model for functioning. The only problem is that the child can sometimes become distracted, because there is nothing required of him/her but to watch. Something more interactive is needed.

The role of social story videos embedded in an interactive computer program

Finally the speech pathologists at Social Skill Builder have developed the concept of combining social stories and live video into a computer program. Social Skill Builder programs use real-life video and require the child to watch and interact in order to obtain understanding in the discovery of social skills. The child is drawn to the video sequence (and of course the computer!) and then asked to respond in a game-like atmosphere to appropriate social behaviors. The child then gets a positive or negative response to motivate and teach the skills targeted. The child is excited by not only watching the interaction, but then responding and engaging in the situation himself/herself.

Carrying over skills learned in the program

It is vital that skills taught in the computer programs are carried over into real-life situations. After playing “My School Day” on the computer, for example, teachers can get a group together and practice waiting in line or interacting on the playground. The therapist, educator, or parent must use the computer program as a stepping stone to carry over skills into the natural environment. The program provides a dynamic interactive tool, but then the skills must be practiced and used in real situations.