I read an article today posted on the web about teaching social skills. The authors of these articles are correct: We cannot leave the teaching of social communication to the teacher.
I’d like to add some other lessons as we enter the school year
1. Magic is magic and only left to the magicians. With this, we cannot put our kids in social situations and expect them to just get it…it’s like putting me in a football field and expecting me to make a tackle, touchdown, and win the game. Sure I would run..but have no idea about the purpose, whose team I’m on, and what I should be getting from this game of football. So yes, teaching the why, the how, and giving practice (scrimmage..for you football fans), and then getting in the game makes much more sense.
2. Tolerance must be taught to the typicals. Therapy and social groups are always for the people with social language deficits. May I suggest that those without social language challenges need some support too! Not support to be fake friends, allowing our kids not to get the real social experience they need…but support to be real people…not hand holders with gentle voices, with a bombardment of questions. Tolerance is teaching the difference, what to expect, and how special doesn’t mean treat so differently that real relationships cannot be cultivated. But tolerance teaching emphasizes how this experience is a win win for everyone.
3. Some things happen because its what kids do…not because he’s autistic. One of my therapists had this fabulous conversation with a mother. The mother was saying that her son was not telling her everything that happened at camp. She wanted details. Instead she was getting one word responses. The therapist gently reminded the mom that her 13 year old son may be like most 13 year olds…they don’t have much to say about their day and an increase in questions may result in a decrease in the length of the response.
4. Let’s focus on talking and not the Q&A. One of my greatest pet peeves when observing a social group (not the Keep the Conversation Going groups run by our staff) is the barrage of questions and the responses by our kids versus teaching them to have statement to statement communication. If you listen to the typicals talk, watch Nick or Disney..you will see there is more social commenting and opinions rather than the questions. Questions are only asked if the statements are not informative enough.
5. Motor patterning or Role Playing. Excuse my small yell of encouragement…GET UP FROM THE TABLE! If we want our kids to be social…we have to get up from the therapy table. We need to have social postures: sitting, walking, playing, sports, hanging out and all those physical postures in between. Role playing is crucial as embedding social thinking does not mean thinking in solitude and the quiet…true social thinkers do this on the fly. They are walking and talking. They are dribbling the basketball and thinking and talking. They are gesturing and talking. We have to teach our kids to read and understand social information (using static pictures and short snippets of movies) as well as inhabit the motor pattern of what it means to participate socially.
6. Social therapy is just not for those with high functioning or Aspergers. Everyone needs to understand social information and be social. Social interaction is at least 60% nonverbal…40% talk. So those who are nonverbal or use AAC systems should be participating in social groups and social therapy too! There was a study by Kuehn and Weiner that discussed how those even with low IQs had the ability to be more social despite the IQ number. BUT their social IQ was dependent upon opportunities. This means, that going to the one time a week social group or lunch bunch is not enough opportunity. And being included without appropriate and faded support is not opportunity. Systematic teaching, systematic coaching is opportunity.
Let’s get in this school year and BE SOCIAL!