Social skills are a vital part of living and functioning in our world today. Many children with developmental disabilities, such as Autism Spectrum Disorders, have problems learning the complex understanding of social interaction. Usually children pick up these “unspoken” skills through experience and interactions with other children or adults.
Children with disabilities though have more difficulty understanding, and thus learning social skills. In order for these special children to learn these critical life skills, they have to be taught by parents, educators, and therapists.
Teaching social skills is not an easy task. Language skills have to be broken into several parts (syntax, semantics, pragmatics), and without either of those parts functioning, a child can not be a successful communicator.
The social story can be a very useful method for teaching social skills to children. Social stories provide simple, concrete examples of appropriate and inappropriate behavior within a social context. Children are able to target certain emotions, relationships, and behaviors in a controlled teaching environment, but they are not always motivated by these social stories.
Pictures, on the other hand, do not teach them about body language, how to read someone’s facial expressions or movement throughout an interaction. Something more dynamic is needed to stimulate the child’s mind.
This is when you try to act out those stories with your child. Bring siblings or friends and act out certain situations with exaggerated facial expressions, which will grab their attention and may therefore result in successful imitation.
Videos of social interactions also seem to be a great alternative to stories in books. These movies can cause children to be more motivated while watching television and attend to the real-life interaction seen on the screen. Among the most useful products in this genre is the Social Skill Builder computer programs which use real-life video and require the child to watch and interact in order to obtain understanding in the discovery of social skills. These program seem to be more successful because it will engage your child through out the program, and there will be no room for distraction.
It is vital that skills taught in computer programs, or in books and videos are carried over into real-life situations. This is when you as a parent become responsible to introduce the child to these real life occurrences over and over again, so they have abundant time to practice the acquired skills and keep them as well.
Developing their social skills can result in healthy development of self esteem as well. Those two go hand-in-hand.
In addition to using social stories, I take Amin to different events. He was a first place winner at one of the Disney radio contests locally. We attend all of their road cruise events that are nearby to us.
I take him to the ZOO and all of their events as well. The Science museum too, is a great resource for engaging in different activities alone or with others. Going to the park 2 to 3 times a week allowed him to play with some kids now as little buddies. Now I am looking into a soccer team where he can develop a significant amount of social skills like being a team player.
Also, we go to Lake Shore where they have free craft every Saturday, and he has to sit side by side with other children and he can interact with them or observe how they react to certain situation. This place has a play area where they have dress up clothes like police-men, fire fighters, etc. He loves to dress up and play.
I also take him whenever I have to go shopping. Yes, I know some of you will think I am crazy and it sure feels like it at times, but this is a great opportunity for him to learn and experience so many different kinds of interaction with people. It is kind of hard at times, but very rewarding at the same time.
Also, we go to the Masjed (Mosque – Islamic worship center), where he is learning appropriate interactions with the other worshippers, and the etiquette of being in the masjed.
I ask you to please share your experiences and ideas with us.