Posted by Kelley Prince, M.A., BCBA, President of Behavioral Consulting of Tampa Bay, Inc.
As the summer winds down and the school year approaches, it is important to ensure that your child is ready for the new school year. For a child with autism, in addition to the basics such as notebooks and pencils, ensuring they are prepared socially is also essential.
When identifying a social skills group for your child, there are a few key components that are critical to ensure your child is getting the most benefit from the group. First, confirm that the group group is led by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, Psychologist, or a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. These professionals are trained in teaching new skills, can address problem behaviors, can identify and set goals, and understand age-appropriate social expectations. They should also have specialized training in leading social skills groups as well as with your child’s specific condition.
Secondly, the social skills group should include typically-developing children or children who have a wide-range of social skills in order to serve as peer models. This will allow your child to see the appropriate social interaction including the verbal and non-verbal skills. It will also decrease the likelihood that other members of the group will engage in problem behavior which your child may imitate.
Third, an initial social skills assessment/interview should be conducted to determine your child’s specific needs. The group also should have a specific lesson plan with established goals for each session including a way of measuring the progress on these goals using a data collection system. Once goals are met in the social skills group, generalization training should occur to ensure that the skills are generalizable to other social settings.
Finally, the social skills training should involve the following 4 components: providing instructions, modeling the desired behavior, rehearsal of the desired behavior, and feedback (both positive and constructive) on the child’s response. There is a substantial body of research to support this approach for teaching new skills.
If each of these components are met, there will be a better chance that you child will gain the age-appropriate social skills that are so vital in developing and maintaining lifelong friendships.