Social Skills Training

Socialisation is the child’s ability to relate positively to people in society in a manner appropriate to his or her age. Pro-social skills give the child viable tools, to have power over his emotions and make good choices about his behaviour. These tools open up the number of choices that the child has available. Children who have a larger number of alternative skills to draw from have more self confidence in handling stressful situations.

Social skills training offers tools and techniques for individuals to use to become happier human beings. Social skills are positive abilities that help the child to interact with others in different situations in ways that are valued. Social skills are those actions, which are acceptable by society and are beneficial both to the person and to others. Friendship is the pleasant and rewarding result of human interaction.

Though making friends seems natural, children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD’s) may not always be able to make friends; they often have problems in self-regulatory behaviours, social perceptions, and social interaction. One of the central diagnostic criteria for ASD’s is a failure to develop peer relationships, and clinicians examine how the child conceptualises and demonstrates friendship skills. Normal children’s conception of friendship changes over time and it is notable that children with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome often have an immature and unusual definition of friendship.

Researchers have shown that even though the social behaviour of children on the Autism Spectrum (ASD) may improve somewhat after age 5, deficits in co-operative social skills with peers, limited peer friendships and difficulty in recognising the feelings and responses of others remains. These deficits may sometimes have long term negative consequences and limits the child’s overall social development.

The steps to teaching social skills are similar to teaching academic subjects except that role play, group activities and discussion play a stronger role.

The trainer will usually go through the following steps in working with small groups of children.

  1. Identify the skill that needs to be learned.
  2. Introduce the skill through discussion and modelling of the desired response.
  3. Cue the child what to say and do regarding the new skill.
  4. Have the child cue himself through self talk and / or visual prompt.
  5. Provide practice of skill through modelling, games, puppet and doll play, and role playing.
  6. Reinforce the new skill during practice.
  7. Teach the child to reinforce himself using self talk for using the skill and visual prompts such as visual scripts.
  8. Provide opportunities for generalisation and reinforcement of the skill in daily play.

Teaching non-verbal language is the foundation before you can teach appropriate social skills. The deficits need to be assessed through observation of the child in their ‘natural’ environment and through interviewing adults who know the child well.

Specific skill areas need to be identified. Students who are poor at meeting and greeting new people may need to be taught something as simple as ‘smile and approach the person’. The teacher could model walking up to someone with a smile on his or her face. They may also need to be taught to introduce themselves, to say their name and to ask the other person his or her name. Visual scripts and reminders may be placed to remind the child to look at the person and smile.

Students should practise this while approaching a peer within the social group. When working with older children we often also use video feedback to assist young people to clearly understand our feedback and comments. Parents may be encouraged children to watch TV and videos with the sound turned off and to then focus and comment upon behaviours observed

Specifics of the programme carried out in Schools

The objective of this programme is to teach children how to approach and respond to others, including how to initiate and maintain co-operative play and respond appropriately to social initiation by other children using the above techniques. A vital portion is including typical peers in the training with the target child.

Typically developing peers are taught to initiate social interactions with target AS/PDD children and the ASD children taught to respond and initiate appropriately.The value of inclusive training is that it occurs in a natural integrated setting which facilitates structure and skill generalisation.

Basically the programme involves 1 target child with ASD and 2 or 3 typical peers participating in a guided training programme together for 15 or 20 minutes. The children practice the learned skills in an open play session while receiving feedback and supervision. Sessions will place once or twice per week.

The fee for the sessions is paid by the target ASD child’s parent. The peers are volunteers whose parents have given permission to participate.

All direct training is carried out by Dr. Caleb Knight , an Educational Psychologist or a Speech Therapist supervised by Dr. Knight.