Not an Ordinary Social Skills Group
Written by: Ann Aron, MS, BCBA, LBA
Clinical Director, ABA Connect
Social skills are some of the more challenging behaviors for learners and families living with autism to conquer. Many individuals who have autism are not able to learn social skills from observation alone. Satisfaction, happiness and community participation success often depends on social behavior. Families often depend on structured, safe, supportive environments for their children to learn these skills.
Researchers at the University of Utah and U.C. Davis MIND Institute reviewed five commercial social skills curricula and identified the elements of an effective social skills group*:
- Provide structure and predictability
- Break down abstract social concepts into concrete actions
- Simplify language and group children by language level
- Work in pairs or groups with cooperation and partnership encouraged
- Provide multiple and varied learning opportunities
- Foster self-awareness and self-esteem
- Provide opportunities for practice so that skills are used beyond the group in real life settings
ABA Connect believes that every learner has the capacity to learn social skills. These skills are targeted across the day for our all-day and half-day learners. Skills like polite language, greetings, offering assistance, turn-taking, co-operative play, small group instruction (just to name a few) are embedded in every learner’s treatment plan and practiced multiple times across the day. Why is this not enough?
Let’s look at our terminal goal – to be happy, fulfilled and independent as possible; across the life-span, individuals, environments, contexts. Isn’t this the real reason to teach social skills? The above skills are just the starting point. The real challenge lies with the “Hidden Curriculum” which is targeted during our afternoon social skills group. What is a “hidden curriculum? The hidden curriculum is essentially the unwritten rules and customs of an organization or a social situation that is primarily learned indirectly through observation.
So, how does ABA Connect teach the hidden curriculum? We provide a “Challenge of the week”. This could be “How to respond when you receive a gift you don’t like?” or “What do you do if someone says or does something to hurt your feelings?” or tougher yet, “What do you do if you see someone else being hurt?” We practice these skills up to five afternoons a week through direct instruction, sometimes video modeling, role-play, social stories. We keep it interesting, fun, and supportive with the learners assessing and helping each other with an instructor’s guidance. We practice sharing, direction following, meal-time conversation directly through making a snack once a week with our friends! If a friend is having a less than stellar day, their friends address it and offer solutions! We tell jokes and laugh a lot.
This is just a quick taste of what we learn in social skills.
Come join the fun!