Written by Irina Risteska, 1:1 ABA Therapy Team Leader
When I meet new families at the AES clinic and conduct an evaluation with their child, one of the first questions that I ask them is “what are your goals for your child?”. I get two responses: usually the first is they want their child to talk or increase their communication in some way. The second is they want their child to make friends and learn to socialise.
In previous blogs, I have spoken about communication and Functional Communication Training. It therefore seems befitting that this blog focus the second most prevalent parental concern: social skills.
Social skills may seem like an easy goal. Parents often say, “I just want him to play with his friends”, or “I want him to make friends”. Recently I had someone say to me “he has friends at school so he doesn’t really need social skills”. Having ‘friends’ and having the skills to appropriately interact with these friends, and navigate social situations are two different things.
To a Behaviourist, social skills encompass a wide range of skills and behaviours. In order for a child to play with their peers, they must first be able to make and maintain eye contact, to attend to the peer, share, turn take, wait, approach a peer, response to a peer, communicate with the peer, whether verbally or via the exchanging of pictures or computer generated pictographs (compics), appropriately deal with rejection if a peer denies their request to play together or request to share a toy, seek alternative toys or peers, dealing with winning and losing, know appropriate social interactions, for example, if I want a toy that someone else has, I need to ask for it; I cannot snatch it, or if someone bumps into me on the football field, it doesn’t mean it was on purpose, it’s all part of the game, and, know the rules of the game, to name a few.
But it doesn’t stop here. Each of the aforementioned skills and behaviours have their own subset of skills. For example, individuals with ASD have trouble generalising behaviours. A child may have good eye contact and respond when their parents, and teachers call their name, but completely ignore their peers. They therefore must be taught to respond and look at their peers when they call their name. The same applies with compliance with instructions.
As with all skills and behaviours, when teaching new situations, it is imperative that they be taught systematically and sequentially, if we are to be successful. Compliance is at the forefront of every new skill or behaviour that we teach. Certain behaviours have prerequisites, and these form the foundation upon which more complex behaviours are taught.
Often when these foundational behaviours are missing, we must first teach them in the 1:1 environment, before generalising them to social and group settings. The 1:1 environment is essential to skills acquisition. It provides the child with a safe and comfortable environment in which they can succeed. Skills are individualised and taught in a manner and at the pace that suits the individual and their learning patterns.
Generalisation takes place at every level, with the skills being practiced with different people, and in different environments such as the Social Clubs. Here, the skills are taken for a test run and further developed under the close watch and guidance of our highly trained facilitators. Lastly, these newly acquired skills are put to the test in the real world, with the kids using them at school, in day-care/ afterschool care, in the park, at a birthday party etc.
As you can see, teaching a child social skills requires more that teaching the child to play with a friend. Social skills are one of the most important skills that any individual must learn. They start when a person is as young as 6 months, and continue well into their adulthood.
If you would like further information on how our Social Clubs can assist your child, or questions regarding your child’s social skills, please contact us on 9240 5800 or email us at email@example.com