Four Simple Steps to Social Skills Success Use these tips to help you meet the needs of each child in your social skills groups. Make It Work
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Make It Work  |   May 01, 2016
Four Simple Steps to Social Skills Success
Author Notes
  • Jessie Ginsburg, MS, CCC-SLP, is the owner and director of clinical services at Pediatric Therapy Playhouse, a speech and language clinic in Los Angeles. jessie@pediatrictherapyplayhouse.com
    Jessie Ginsburg, MS, CCC-SLP, is the owner and director of clinical services at Pediatric Therapy Playhouse, a speech and language clinic in Los Angeles. jessie@pediatrictherapyplayhouse.com×
Article Information
Language Disorders / Social Communication & Pragmatics Disorders / Make It Work
Make It Work   |   May 01, 2016
Four Simple Steps to Social Skills Success
The ASHA Leader, May 2016, Vol. 21, 30-31. doi:10.1044/leader.MIW.21052016.30
The ASHA Leader, May 2016, Vol. 21, 30-31. doi:10.1044/leader.MIW.21052016.30
Running social skills groups for preschool and elementary-aged children with autism can be a daunting task. When you are working with an entire group of wiggly ones, it can be challenging to meet the individual needs of each child. I have developed a four-step process that helps me stay organized when I’m designing groups and conducting sessions.
1. Assess and observe
A comprehensive assessment of each child allows you to establish baselines and determine goals. Use a standardized evaluation (such as the Diagnostic Evaluation of Language Variation pragmatic subtest) and/or informal assessment (for example, Stanley Greenspan and Serena Wieder’s Floortime Observation Checklist found in “The Child With Special Needs”) to evaluate each child’s language, social and emotional developmental levels.
Individual observation helps you establish baselines prior to placing the child in a group. I begin with a structured game, and then transition to engaging the child in pretend play.
During the structured activity, I note:
  • Does the child facilitate turn-taking?

  • What level of prompting is required to create a continuous flow of interaction?

During pretend play, I first observe the child and follow his lead, noting which skills the child demonstrates without prompting: initiation, sequencing, cohesive storytelling, dialogue between characters, perspective-taking, problem-solving, emotional thinking and flexibility.

I don’t plan every activity prior to each session. Instead, I let the group select the games, so the children can work on their negotiating, compromising and conversation skills.

After five or 10 minutes, I facilitate the play to see how much prompting the child needs to create a sequential and cohesive story and to gauge the child’s problem-solving abilities:
  • Can the child generate a logical or creative solution when presented with a challenge? For example, if I say, “I hurt my leg! What should we do?”—does the child say to get a Band-Aid?

  • Can the child generate alternative solutions if the first one won’t work? For example, if I say I’m out of Band-Aids, does the child suggest I go to the store or to the doctor?

I then identify the child’s breaking point, and how the child displays it: avoidance, resistance, or showing signs of disregulation.
  • How many problems can I present before the child reaches his breaking point?

  • If I increase my affect and become very emotional during play, can the child play along or does he become disregulated? For example, I say, “I’m eating pizza. You can’t have any! Get away from my pizza! It’s mine!” How does the child handle this type of heightened emotional situation? Does it overwhelm him, or can he continue in the play and reason with me?

2. Immerse the child in a group
During the child’s first group session, I focus on establishing baselines by trying activities that are similar to the games I played during the child’s individual session. The group initiates each activity and I follow their lead. After I observe the children for about 10 minutes, I facilitate the play, noting:
  • Differences in the child’s ability to initiate and respond in the group session.

  • Differences in the child’s problem-solving skills and emotional regulation.

3. Generate goals
With established baselines, I can write goals for the child, which may focus on a number of skills:
  • Conversational skills (initiating, responding, commenting, asking questions, topic maintenance).

  • Emotional thinking.

  • Generating novel ideas.

  • Problem-solving.

  • Sequencing and cohesion.

  • Turn-taking.

  • Answering “wh” questions.

The ultimate goal is for the children to participate in group activities independent of any adult facilitation.

4. Conduct sessions
Flexibility is key! I don’t plan every activity prior to each session. Instead, I let the group select the games, so the children can work on their negotiating, compromising and conversation skills. I follow the group’s lead as much as possible, keeping in mind that the ultimate goal is for the children to participate in group activities independent of any adult facilitation.
  • When a child asks me a question, I refer him to one of his peers. For example, if a child asks, “Can we play pirates?” I answer, “Go ask Johnny if that is OK.” I try not to give the child the specific language unless he needs the model, so the child formulates his own question.

  • When the group is involved in pretend play, I choose a character for myself so I can play with the children instead of directing them. I step out of character only if necessary to provide additional support.

  • Asking open-ended questions allows the group to generate ideas during play (for example, “Where should we go?”). If a child is feeling pressured to provide answers and reaching his breaking point, I mix in yes/no and choice questions (“Should we go to school or the park?”). I challenge each child as much as possible without reaching that child’s breaking point. It can be very difficult to get a child back on track and processing language after he is emotionally disregulated.

  • I keep parents, teachers and therapists informed of each child’s goals and how they can work on them at home and in school. Giving parents ideas about games that their child can play during play dates with friends helps the child generalize new skills.

This four-step process has yielded great results for my social skills groups. By performing comprehensive assessments of a child in both individual and group settings, I can identify each child’s areas of need, establish goals and create dynamic treatment plans. Through flexible and fun group sessions, I have seen tremendous progress in children’s social, emotional and language development.
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May 2016
Volume 21, Issue 5