The topic of social skills is complex. Social interaction requires more than just applying basic skills or general social norms. It requires applying one’s knowledge about the situation in which the interaction occurs. People change their behavior to align with social situations. Making jokes when working with a classmate is okay but is not okay during a formal assessment. Even a basic skill such as a greeting is not as simple as it appears. What a student does to greet their teacher in the classroom is different from what they do to greet their teacher in a grocery store.
Many children with autism spectrum disorder need help learning how to act in different types of social situations.
A large number of interventions and programs have demonstrated improvements in social understanding and functioning of children with autism and other disabilities. One of the most common evidence-based interventions is developmentally appropriate social skills group training. Social skills group training is a well-established intervention shown to be effective for children with autism spectrum disorder and those with intellectual disabilities without autism.
Components of evidence-based social skills training groups:
Identify the social skills focused on in the intervention: Reference the student’s IEP to identify social skill weaknesses or social goals to target for two or more students with ASD or other disabilities. Discuss those goals with the students and those who know the students, including family members. Discussions should focus on how the skills could be targeted during instruction in a group context. Ensure that the goals are both observable and measurable. Once the goals have been identified, group the goals of two or more students for instruction. Finally, write goals for the target behaviors that are observable and measurable. For example, “Luis, Alex and Ryan will improve their conversation skills,” is not a measurable goal. Our TeachTown Social Skills solution outlines a measurable goal as follows: “Luis, Alex and Ryan will initiate a conversation appropriately with 100% accuracy during 4 out of 5 opportunities.” If appropriate, break the social behavior into smaller, teachable steps. The steps for initiating a conversation may be: 1. Express an appropriate greeting (hi, hello, etc.) 2. Address the person by name. 3. Ask an appropriate question to initiate the conversation.
Form training groups: Form an appropriate group with members who have similar goals. Usually, social groups consist only of students with ASD or other disabilities. You may not want to group students with ASD with typically developing students who have limited social skills because students with ASD have a unique social and communication profile that typically developing students do not share. It’s ok if the level of skill across group participants differs. For example, some students may be able to initiate conversations while other students are not as proficient. They can still be grouped together. A student with a higher skill level in one aspect, such as initiating conversations, can model appropriate social behavior to other students with a lower skill level in that aspect.
Collect baseline data: Create data sheets and record data for each student. A data sheet may be developed to capture data on the skills targeted for each student, or one data sheet may be used to record data on all target skills/behaviors for all students. Collect sufficient data to recognize students’ current skills.
Schedule group meetings: Select an appropriate time and place for group meetings. Plan for a minimum of 12 weekly sessions per semester.
Create a training structure for the group: Format a group structure that is clearly structured so that students know what to expect. For example, start with a beginning circle where introductions are done, and students feel comfortable. Then move on to game time or outside time, followed by lessons, then movie and snack time. Round out the meeting with practice and role play, and lastly joke time. Activities where children work in pairs or small groups with cooperation and partnership should be encouraged.
Organize topics for instruction: Break large skill areas (e.g. conversation skills) into teachable subskills (initiating a conversation which can be broken down into smaller steps: express a greeting, address the person by name, and ask an appropriate question). Sequence the subskills so they are taught in a progressive manner.
Specify embedded instructional strategies/materials: Identify evidence-based practices (e.g. video modeling) to embed in the training to add interest and increase the quality of the learning experiences.
Train helpers prior to the start of the group: Train helpers on instruction, data collection and strategies that will be used. Be available for mentoring and questions that may arise.
Implement the social skills training group: Carry out the social skills training group.
Collect and use data to inform instructional decision-making: Collect data, including baseline data, on target behaviors/skills. Make sure to collect data on the type and number of prompts needed to elicit the correct demonstration of the social behavior. Collect data on generalization of the target behavior to other settings and with other people.
Then, summarize or graph the data. Schedule time outside of group time to review the data and discuss student progress. Finally, use the data to make decisions about beginning, continuing, changing or discontinuing group instruction.
Social skills group training has been used to target a wide variety of skills. Although there are a variety of approaches to social group training, they will all share common features that can help to achieve student social goals and objectives.