Social Skills and the Things We Do to Thwart their Progress in Therapy

I love social skills. I appreciate teaching social communication and seeing brain sparks fly in the twinkling of eyes of little and big people alike…when they get that they don’t have to so polite.

There are some things we do when we work on social skills as therapists that further hinder our client’s ability to relate to their peers and doesn’t narrow the social divide.  Listen, I understand teaching social communication, social behavior, social skills, and social cognition is tough.  In fact, it is an art and the data collection requires discrete finesse.  Still, there are some things we do that don’t help even with our best intentions.

Here are the top 6.

1. Watch your Intraverbals. In ABA, the focus on general information “how old are you? What’s your name?” does not often mirror the parent request for age and name. Socially in the community, parents will say ( in an effort to coach their children) “tell him how old you are” or “tell him your age” .  This is more often  the standard statement  used. The solution here would be, especially for socially based questions, to vary the Sds and change the partners in intraverbals as much as possible. In fact, make these part of the home practice. Why? Because from a neurotypical child’s perspective being able to say your name within one second and age is entry into the social circle…and the party invitation.

2. When teaching board games, therapists should refrain from being part of the play. In other words, let your social skills group participants open the box, pull out the pieces, and begin the play. In typical households, the adults are there to explain the game, read the rules, and referee (if needed). When we position ourselves as the person who does the work, we lessen our client’s ability to dig in to the play. Remember, in board games it’s not always how well you play (because there will only be one winner), it’s about how well you hang out and have fun.

3. Watch the neurotypicals and use therapy to bridge the real social gap. Watching real kids is that unpaid professional development without CEUs. It is the observation of children in social settings and really seeing how they engage; the soft skills used; the language expectations; the body postures. This means that you will be purposeful in your TV watching by including PBS, Universal Kids, Kids TV, and Little Big Shots. These shows help me to understand those social nuances that are age appropriate and interrupt my tendency to create tiny therapists with social politeness that gives my client’s absolutely no juice on the playground.

4. Teach sarcasm. Teach protesting. Learn popular social phrases. If your social teaching does not include the phrasing “on fleek” and the associated body movment(s); and your client’s are in the third grade or higher, they will be polite board game players and examiners of social skills wihout the social savvy. Don’t want social savvy?!? And think awkwardness comes with the territory? Not necessarily, we all have socially awkward moments, but we can “come back” from them with our sarcasm, finesse, and personality. The point here is to make sure that you are tuning into what is new, current, and socially on tap for your client’s age range.

5. Stop making your client’s talk so much! Social skills is not founded in how well someone speaks or the most talkative kid in the room. When you see neurotypical children together are they talking as much or are they doing? Perhaps depending on the age range and topic there is a combination or speaking and doing. Often times in therapy, we want our clients to talk about the ‘red block, blue block, yellow block” or ‘going up the ladder, down the ladder” or the cards in their hands. When real people interact in games; they play the game and talk about something else. This means we need to teach our clients to play the games with flexibility and learn to be social mulit-taskers in the sense that they will be talking about something else (food, fun, last night, tomorrow’s excitement) with intermittent short phrases about the game “aww man; gotcha; you had that card the whole time!”

6. Stop teaching your turn- my turn. Turn-taking is a state of being. It is a rhythm. Game playing is not verbal urging, but the feeling of knowing it’s my turn. When we teach your turn-my turn we are making our clients prompt dependent on their peers for life! How do the neurotypicals use these words…they use it when their peers are slowing the game down or when there is confusion “YOUR turn!”

~Landria Seals Green, MA., CCC-SLP, BCBA

Founder and Executive Director of Momentum Therapy Services

@SLPGURU (on twitter, instagram, and facebook)







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