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.

Review of My School Day CD from All4MyChild


    Find out more about the My School Day CD on our Products Page           


Thanks to All4MyChild for reviewing our My School Day CD. Their comments include, “We are thrilled with this product and are looking forward to many more opportunities to explore and use this valuable teaching tool.”  

The goal was to eliminate pushing to be first in line. Zeroing in on pushing to be first in line, the therapist reviewed the Lining Up video sequence with the class. As we all know, this is a desire of many kids, but usually they naturally develop flexibility around the understanding that we cannot ALWAYS be first. They watched the videos, talked about them, and practiced lining up. The observed and practiced skill was reinforced by explaining that pushing in line meant less time to play, and the kids were motivated to line up correctly.

Check out All4MyChild’s full blog to see how Social Skill Builder’s My School Day CD and video modeling helped to finally achieve this social goal!  http://all4mychild.com/blog/?p=912


                                                                                                                 Social Skill Builder - Leesburg


3 ways 3 says-A Fun and Easy Way to Target the Invisible Meaning Behind the Words


After being back from the American Speech and Hearing Association in Atlanta GA, I had heard from a great speaker Ashley Wiley, MA CCC-SLP,  from Speak LA.  She is a SLP who uses drama with her clients to develop social thinking and understanding with children with autism.

One of the ways her program works on prosody or intonation to inject meaning into what we say is called 3 Ways 3 Says a fun and important part of reading what people are really saying…

1.  This exercise should start out with the definition of what intonation or prosody is and why we use.

2.  After the child has a firm understanding of these terms start to introduce the recognition of what word is inflected for emphasis on its meaning using simple phrases such as:

“You think I did it” or “You think I stole the money

Using different prosody for the first word in the phrase YOU think I did it, then You think I DID it and finally You think I did IT and see if the student can identify the emphasized word.

After the student can identify the emphasized word, take it to the next level and see if the student can attach meaning to this emphasis…What does it imply when a person says the words like this YOU think I did it etc.

This practice makes students aware of a very invisible but crucial social cue that people give with their voice and allows them to then practice using this prosody or intonation in their speech as well.

Here is a great video that demonstrates ways to make this invisible cue more visual for students

If you have the Social Skill Builder products My Community or School Rules! CDs, these types of intonation are addressed and can be practiced with your students as well.  All of Level 4 in each of these educational software tools is dedicated to the understanding of what others are thinking feeling or saying.


As a therapist, I add another layer to this great level by asking my students to “say” or “act out” the speech bubbles that are presented with each picture.  This allows them to match intonation to the meaning behind the pictured people.  So, if the person in the picture is commenting on someones clothing and says “nice shirt” I ask the student to say it they way they person in the picture is meaning it.  This really gives me insight to how well the student is matching facial expression, environmental context, and meaning behind the words.  If they say it with no inflection I know that the student has not gotten the full picture and if it was a true compliment or a sarcastic remark.  “Nice shirt” with the inflection on Nice can indicate a compliment whereas inflection on the shirt could indicate more of a sarcastic remark about the shirt.

In middle school and high school and beyond it is critically important to read these invisible meanings behind words and our kids need the practice!

Till Next Post Keep Socially Building!  Laurie