Every parent hopes that their child will find success and happiness along their life’s path. We strive to help them from meaningful friendships and relationships, find fulfillment in a career, and to make positive life choices. As parents, we can guide our children to take the right steps and to choose the right path along their journey, but what happens when our children struggle to understand the reasons behind positive social choices? Why are social skills so important to teach when you are a parent of a child with a social disability?
Social skills facilitate interaction and communication (verbal or non verbal) with others in a variety of environments. Social rules or norms exist in our day-to-day lives as an unwritten set of appropriate ways to engage in relations and to collaborate with others successfully. They allow us to navigate through the complex social world. Children who do not naturally pick up on our social code need social skills training, without which they may lack the ability to function independently as productive members of society. This may inhibit success in school, friendships and later relationships, achievement in one’s career, and will directly affect an individual’s self concept and confidence.
Where Can Parents Turn?
Social skills training is essential for children on the Autism Spectrum or with NLD (Non-Verbal Learning Disability). Early intervention is key but it is never too late! Social skills training is never easy to start, but always makes the long-term journey smoother. Parents may choose to seek a behaviour intervention worker, an ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis) worker, or a social coach. However, there are plenty of strategies that parents can implement at home in order to facilitate social skills intervention and to make social skills a part of healthy daily living.
The key to facilitating learning is to take a multi-sensory approach. To ensure success, you may choose to introduce social skills through:
- Table top teaching: Introducing social stories, social scripts, manner cards, emotion recognition, recognizing and accepting others’ perspectives, scales for self-regulation and emotional control, coping strategies, etc.
- Visual Draw and Wipe: Have your child participate in their own learning by drawing or writing about a challenging social situation on a white board. Then, encourage them to apply the strategies learned in table top teaching to problem solve, to wipe away the negative outcome, and to finally change the picture or story to show a happy, healthy choice.
- Role Play: Engaging in creative play in order to help your child develop imaginative play. Re-enact a social encounter that was particularly challenging in their day and then “re-do” the skit in order to make it positive and to model what a healthy social relationship should look like and sound like.
- Repetition and Explaining: Keep it short and use black and white language, as most children on the Spectrum or with NLD are literal thinkers. Discuss and review daily what they have been learning during a quiet, calm, scheduled time (i.e. before bedtime).
- Long term Goal: Having your child be your little “social skills teacher”. Generalization in social skills training is said to be the transfer of social skills from an instructional setting to the real world. Once your child has developed the skills needed to reason and to problem solve, you will begin to witness generalization.
Important Tips for Parents
- Set up a routine.
- Remember that the learner will often need an extrinsic motivator (reward system) when beginning social skills training.
- Be consistent.
- Make social skills learning fun!
- Incorporate social skills into daily activities to facilitate generalization.
- Use simple language and keep conversations short and to the point.
- Use “IF/THEN” comments.
- If needed, create a behaviour contract with your child and stick to it no matter how tough it may be! It will pay off in the long-term.
- Follow through with consequences and rewards.
Susan Mancini is a special education teacher at MindWare Academy and an Autism Support Worker in the Ottawa community. Social skills are an integral part of MindWare’s philosophy. For more information on social skills intervention or to register for social skills circles or summer camp, please contact email@example.com or call 613 882 3449.
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