Written by Jeff Siegel, M.A., BCBA, LBA
“Social skills are the tools that enable people to communicate, learn, ask questions, ask for help, get their needs met in appropriate ways, get along with others, make friends, and develop healthy relationships. Social skills enable people to interact appropriately with those they meet in their journey through life.” – Erin Green, MS, Boys Town National Community Services Operations
Social skills are arguably the most important skills one can learn and master in life. While academic skills such as math, reading, studying, etc. are of course critically important, one could argue that without meaningful relationships with friends and family, they contribute little to happiness and fulfillment. Additionally, academic, work, and professional skills offer little benefit without the social skills needed to navigate the complex social world. Social skills are required for things like obtaining a job, interacting appropriately with co-workers and supervisors, providing quality customer service, building a professional network, and managing and training others. A robust repertoire of social skills and prosocial behaviors is directly connected to the quality of life and reduced conflict and suffering.
When considering which social skills to teach your child/student, there are many lists of social skills that can be found with a quick google search. There are also various direct and indirect assessments that help identify deficits and sequence social skills developmentally. However, for the purposes of this blog, we will make a few simple suggestions with regards to identifying which social skills to target first.
- Talk to your child or student and ask them what they care about and value most
- Identify what social skills are needed to move in that direction
- Start with skills that will most quickly connect them with what they care about
An Applied Behavioral Approach to teaching social skills always includes some basic components such as modeling, practicing, and feedback. This structure is referred to as behavioral skills training. The Teaching Interaction Protocol (TIP) outlined in the book Crafting Connections by Leaf, Taubman, McEachin and Driscoll expands on this tried and true approach using the following six steps:
- Label and Identify
- Description and Demonstration
- Optional External Consequence
Label and Identify
- Clear and encompassing (a name for the skill that can be easily remembered and can be prompted quickly and without any confusion)
- Age and culture appropriate (think about whether other kids that age use that skill or not)
- Focused on what, when, and where (clear expectations as to what to do, when to do it, and in what settings)
- Related to personal history (when in the past has using or not using the skill made their life better or worse)
- Natural outcomes (what are the benefits of using this skill)
- Meaningful to the learner (how will using this skill make your child/students life better? The younger the child, the more immediate these rationales should be)
- A thorough description of the skill or learnable component (break down each step of the skill into discrete steps)
- Description can include what is said, how it is said, and which facial expressions and body language are appropriate
- Description can include external action and internal (e.g. cognitive) elements
- Modeling can be in vivo, pictorial, or video (demonstrate the skill by acting it out and point out as many examples as possible of others demonstrating the skill)
- Discrimination training may be included (if your child/student has difficulty recognizing opportunities to use the skill, create many opportunities to practice just this)
- Practice is essential for learning
- Practice what is described/ demonstrated
- Initially practice the skill in contrived role-play
- Arrange role-play to ensure student success (plan ahead and provide help/prompts right away to avoid practicing errors)
- With mastery, what is practiced expands over time (once a step can be demonstrated independently, then focus on completing the first-second step independently, and build this way towards demonstrating all the steps independently)
- Positive and corrective (make sure to point out all the things your child/student does correctly and correct errors by briefly demonstrating and prompting)
- Specificity is key (describe exactly what your child/student did correctly)
- Skill performance and “learning how to learn” are targeted
- Cycle back to other TI Components as indicated
- Ties into the student’s motivational system (use whatever reinforcers or system of reinforcement works best for your child/student)
- Might involve either positive or corrective (for problem behavior) consequences
- Strengthens motivation
- Bridges to usage outside of teaching
- Enhances Feedback
- Individually applied
- Practice with different people whenever possible
- Come up with as many examples of when to use the skill as possible
- Once mastered in practice, find as many opportunities throughout the day to practice
- Find opportunities to practice in all of the settings that the skill will be used
Tips for success:
- Stay on the look-out for natural opportunities to model the skill. Point out that the opportunity is present, demonstrate the skill, then review the steps.
- Make sure reinforcement is provided as immediately as possible.
- Provide praise right away that includes a clear description of what they did right.
- Start small and set your child/student up for success, then use that momentum to move on to harder and harder skills.
- Make it fun!
Social skills deficits can show up in many ways and they are not unique to those with autism spectrum disorders. All children benefit from improving their social skills. Some children might isolate themselves to avoid social interactions. Others might seek out social interactions, but they then often end in tears or someone getting hurt. Regardless of the deficits or how they manifest, the Teaching Interaction Protocol offers an effective tool for parents and educators to improve the quality of life of the children they care so much about.
To learn more about the Social Skills Groups that are currently being offered by Ally Pediatric Therapy, please get in touch with us today!
Taubman,https://allypediatric.com/events/social-skills-groups-ages-3-5-8-10-young-teens/ M. T., Leaf, R. B., McEachin, J., & Driscoll, M. (2011). Crafting connections: Contemporary applied behavior analysis for enriching the social lives of persons with autism spectrum disorder. New York, NY: DRL Books.