Teaching social skills

Social skills are critical for long term success. Sometimes referred to as Emotional Intelligence, it is a combination of the ability to understand and manage one's own emotional state (Intra-personal Intelligence in Howard Gardner's Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences) and the ability to understand and respond to other people. Although social skills include understanding and using social conventions, it also includes the ability to understand the "Hidden Curriculum," the ways in which peers communicate and interact, reciprocity and the ability to build interpersonal relationships.

Social Conventions

Difficulty with social skills, and deficits in social skills, are found to different degrees across abilities as well as disabilities. Both children with disabilities and children from low socio-economic groups may not have extensive understanding of social conventions, and may need instruction in conventions such as:
  • Appropriate greetings depending on relationships: i.e. peer to peer or child to adult.
  • Appropriate and polite ways to make requests (please) and express gratitude (thanks.)
  • Addressing adults.
  • Shaking hands.
  • Taking turns.
  • Sharing
  • Giving positive feedback (praise) to peers, no put downs.
  • Cooperation

Intra-personal Social Skills.

Difficulty managing one's own emotional state, especially tantrumming or aggression in response to frustration, is common in children with disabilities. Children for whom this is the primary disabling condition are often diagnosed with an emotional or behavioral disorderswhich may be designated as "emotional support," "severely emotionally challenged," or "conduct disorders." Many children with disabilities may be less mature than their typical peers, and may reflect less understanding of how to manage their own emotions.

Inter-Personal Social Skills

The ability to understand others' emotional states, wants and needs is critical not only for success in school, but also success in life. It is also a "quality of life" issue, which will help students with and without disabilities, to build relationships, find happiness and succeed economically. It can also contribute to a positive classroom environment.
Appropriate interactions: Children with disabilities, especially Autism Spectrum Disorders, often need to be taught appropriate social interactions, such as making requests, initiating interactions, sharing, exercising reciprocity (give and take) and turn taking. Teaching appropriate interactions can involve modeling, role playing, scripting and social narratives. Successfully learning and generalizing of appropriate interactions requires lots of practice.

Building and Generalizing Skills

Students with disabilities have problems both with acquiring and applying social skills. They need lots of practice. Successful ways to learn and generalize social skills include:
  • Modeling: the teacher and an aide or another teacher enact the social interactions you want students to learn.
  • Video Self Modeling: You videotape the student performing the social skill with lots of prompting, and edit out the prompting to create a more seamless digital recording. This video, paired with rehearsal, will support the student's effort to generalize the social skill.
  • Role playing: Practice is essential for maintaining social skills. Role playing is a great way to give students an opportunity not only to practice the skills they are learning, but also teach students to evaluate each others or their own performance of skills.

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