Social skills is a common area that we tackle within an ABA program. Why is ABA the right approach to use when teaching social skills? Because in an ABA program we use behavioural objectives that are:
- Very specific in their content. For example, a goal might be “reciprocates greetings from peers” and not “greetings”
- Definable and measurable. For example: “When greeted by a peer, the student will turn his body towards the peer, wave and say “hi””. Each time this happens can be seen and measured.
- Individualized. Not everyone has the same goals, skills vary and so should program goals.
Behavioural objectives help determine if change has occurred through measurement and whether or not the treatment is effective. The only way to know if an intervention has been successful is if we collect specific data from before, during, and after the intervention. If the behaviours increase or decrease as desired, we can attribute it to the intervention (assuming that there are no other confounding variables).
Pre- and post- assessments are an important indicator of progress and should be be used to determine individualized goals. In order to conduct social skills assessments, the term “social skills” needs to be operationally defined so that the behavior is observable and measurable. Because social skills encompass a wide range of skills from giving and receiving items from others, to turn taking with games and in conversations, to continuing a conversation, to saying only appropriate topic matter when having a conversation, it is difficult to do this. Psychological tests address social skills, but few are comprehensive in scope. There are some that exist within the field of ABA which are evidence-based. We like to incorporate ideas from these assessments into our own which is tailored to our learners.
Social skills classes, by their very nature, are not as intensive as one-on-one ABA therapy. Therefore, just like inclusion settings, it is recommended that children develop certain pre-requisite skills before joining social skills classes. These skills should be demonstrated with proficiency in various situations. Children should be able to:
- Communicate needs and desires
- Follow one-step instructions from adults
- Imitate one-step actions of adults
- Imitate one-step sequences with objects
- Respond to delayed contingencies (i.e., reinforcement is delivered following a period of time, rather than immediately following the target behavior)
- Wait quietly
- Transition from one activity to another and from one area to another with minimal assistance
- Keep disruptive behavior at a minimum in a controlled environment
Skills that you choose to teach should be selected and adapted according to the individualized needs of the learner. Use the pre-assessment to determine the skill level of your learner and implement goals accordingly.
SKILLS TAUGHT IN A BEGINNER PROGRAM
- Requesting items from peers
- Reciprocating greetings with peers
- Giving and receiving items from peers
- Imitating simple and complex actions of peers (both from close up and from a distance)
- Imitating peer play
- Following peers’ directions
- Taking turns with toys and simple games
- Tolerating toys being shared
- School readiness skills (e.g., attending, waiting, transitioning, complying, following group instructions, raising hand, etc.)
SKILLS TAUGHT IN AN INTERMEDIATE PROGRAM
- Requesting assistance from peers
- Requesting attention from peers (e.g., “Look.” “Watch me.” “Check this out.” etc.)
- Eye contact with peers
- Interactive play (involving commenting to peers, etc.)
- Sharing toys and other items
- Pretend play
- Joining in play already in progress
- Peer games (e.g., Musical Chairs, What Time Is It?, Mr. Wolf, throw and catch, etc.)
- Offering toy items to peers (e.g., “Which one do you want?” “Do you want this?” “Here you go?” etc.)
- Initiating simple conversation (e.g., “Do you like this?” “What’s your favorite…?” “Guess what?” etc.)
SKILLS TAUGHT IN AN ADVANCED PROGRAM
- Initiating and maintaining conversation
- Staying on topic
- Using appropriate transition statements to change the topic
- Talking about appropriate subject matter only
- Interrupting appropriately
- Role playing appropriate social behavior in a variety of situations (e.g., at a restaurant, on public transportation, in a grocery store, etc.)
- Initiating play (e.g., “That’s so cool, can I play?”, “Check this out”, “Can I see that?”, etc.)
- Personal space
- Co-operation skills (e.g., sharing ideas clearly, accepting/incorporating others’ ideas, commenting on others’ ideas, etc.)
- Identifying and dealing with teasing
- Telephone skills
- Perspective taking (i.e., making inferences about others’ likes and dislikes during conversation, showing empathy, etc.)
Watching and commenting on a movie and/or video game
Social skills classes break down specific complex social skills (such as: taking turns, conversation, sharing, joining a group, working with others towards a common goal, understanding facial expressions, tone of voice, etc.) into smaller components and then teach those components systematically. Small class sizes allow the development of friendships and teach skills necessary for the inclusion into classrooms and communities. A comprehensive curriculum based on key elements of teaching social skills to students with ASD includes:
- Structure, routine, and predictability
- Explicit and individualized instruction
- Visual presentation of topics
- Repetition of key concepts and vocabulary
- Guided practice during the learning process
- Role play and discussion
- Contingent reinforcement
- Ongoing assessments to analyze and adapt teaching and test for learning
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