Methods of teaching social skills

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by SuZir, Sep 17, 2012.

  1. SuZir

    SuZir Well-Known Member

    I wrote this post mostly out of curiosity and because I'm rather fascinated by the work my difficult child is currently doing in this. Next two paragraphs are mostly background. If you are in hurry you can skip them, I get to my point after that ;)

    I wrote this here because I found this more general issue than issue with an adult child. My difficult child is an adult and I'm not really anyway involved in this process other than maybe giving some mommy's advises here and there if he asks them (and sometimes if he doesn't.) But he is in the process there he is trying to learn social skills. He has always been socially clumsy and being severely bullied through almost all of his school years certainly didn't help and gave him PTSD. He is also just starting his career in pro team sport, so social skills would become handy. He is not well-liked by his team mates and most consider him to be a total a**hole. His team has hired a psychologist specialised on mental coaching to help difficult child both in sport performance related mental things but also to get a hold of his personal life and being part of the team. Bettering his social skills are very much in agenda. difficult child is smart, motivated and chronologically and legally adult, just turned 19. His biological age is around 2 or 2,5 years behind his chronological age and his mental age much more behind I think. But that of course is not as easy to measure as biological age.

    When he was young, we taught many social skills by repetition. It was easy (took a lot of repeats, but finally he did got it) for very structured situations like talking with the cashier in the shop, greeting people he met etc. How to play with peers was much more difficult. We tried to role play, tell social stories etc. and he learned some. But he was still very awkward socially and still is. And unfortunately comes easily off as very arrogant. He gets the clear cut rules mostly, but subtle things are very difficult for him. Nowadays he usually does well in structured situation, for example he gives appropriate interviews and says all the right things (and not any of the wrong things) for sport reporters. He can even handle tv cameras. But when he is spending time with his peers, he is in trouble. He can be too boisterous and intimate with people he doesn't know well (but would like to make friends with), doesn't really get boundaries and doesn't read well subtle (and not so subtle) cues of others being annoyed with him. Or over reads them and thinks everyone hates him and thinks he is entitled to lash out on them. He is also a perfect drama queen and goes from one extreme to opposite in the blink. (What a lovely child I have ;))

    I saw a 'worksheets' this mental coach is making my difficult child work with and found it quite interesting. They have categorized every person my difficult child is dealing with to different categories. Family, girlfriend, girlfriend's 'interest groups', close friends, casual friends, acquaintances, his coaches and other staff, peer team mates he is friendly with, older team mates with whom he has positive relationship with/who are trying to help him, his most direct competitor, team mates who avoid him but are not hostile, team mates who despise him etc. They are going through all these groups, what kind of interaction is appropriate with them, what he can expect from them, how to behave with them and better those relationships. Some of the advise is very straightforward like 'avoid being left alone with, greet but keep your mouth shut otherwise, only answer if asked something and shortly even then' for hostile team mates but there is also much subtle stuff how to better his positive relationships.

    This mental coach gives difficult child a lot of direct advise, but he also listens how difficult child feels about these relationships and they talk a lot about relationships in theory. He uses social stories and asks difficult child to work out a lot of hypothetical situations and brainstorm with him all kinds of possible solutions and how doing or saying this or that would affect. They have also made 'emotion charts' for these different categories and talked about how people in these categories would likely feel or react to difficult child doing this or that. difficult child also has to keep relationship diary, that they go through afterwards.

    It is very, very hands on and pragmatic and I found that interesting, because I have often felt it is very difficult to try to teach social skills without being too abstract, too idealistic or in the other hand only teaching very structured interactions. Of course I can't imagine my difficult child would had been open to this kind of teaching few years ago, because he would had been too hurt, affronted and not motivated or mature enough to work over those feelings. Of course I don't yet know if this will help him any, but it is probably most hopeful thing I have ever seen with my difficult child's social skills. And mental coach has been smart to start from most motivating and rewarding (and probably one of the easiest) parts: How to make your girlfriend happier ;)

    When difficult child was younger, counsellors, school etc. were always talking about teaching social skills, but other than we teaching him those easy, structured situations, this is the first time there has actually been something concrete teaching for difficult child.
  2. InsaneCdn

    InsaneCdn Well-Known Member

    For "most" people, the rules of social interaction are picked up "naturally", by observation, starting at a very young age.
    For the rest of us... we need to be "taught" the rules. And its very hard for most people to teach the rules, because they don't know them as "rules" - they just "know" what to do, without thinking about it.

    Glad you difficult child has a professional who knows how to break it down into RULES.
  3. Liahona

    Liahona Guest

    I am jealous. I wish husband had something like this. Here there are no professionals who can do this. The rest of the difficult children need this but are to young for it to be that structured. difficult child 2 mostly does social skills training in his Special Education. class at recess, but it doesn't do much besides teach him the rules of games to play at recess. The best social skills training he gets is from his sisters at home, and that isn't structured at all. difficult child 1 hasn't even acknowledged he needs help socially yet and would be so offended that it was offered. difficult child 3 is just barely starting to have problems socially. He thinks everyone is his friend.
  4. SuZir

    SuZir Well-Known Member

    You are so right. And it is so very difficult to try to put it in rules, when it feels there are no any. Or that at least they are so complex and changing and full of variables it is so difficult to put them into words. And even if you knew how to explain them, it is even more difficult to explain them without being too offensive, when the one you are trying to explain them is socially clumsy and you kind of wouldn't pinpoint that to him. I mean, how do you explain to a young child, that most of your peers think that things you think are awesome are totally lame. And that you would do socially so much better, if you just kept your mouth shut and would do as others tell you. I mean, that was kind of truth with my difficult child when he was young (and still is to the point.) It's just impossible to explain someone, that you are not liked because who you are and if you want to be liked you have to change yourself. And not just your behaviour but your real interests etc. Luckily as an adult it is little bit easier. While difficult child still has to get along with his team mates, it is easier to explain 'workplace rules' to that, even if relationships inside of the sport team tend to be much more complex and closer than in average workplace for several reasons (spending more time together, spending it in tight spaces, strong emotional content of everyday work, giving your everything, sharing those highs and lows, many being far away from home and moving rather often, so team is very important in every way socially etc.) I do hope my difficult child would be able to make more out of sport friends. He will be in the same town two more years. That is enough time to make friends. It's a college town with a large engineering school. He would probably find people with similar interests and his age from that direction easier than sports. And having outside friends could be very beneficial to him.

    I have to say, that I didn't know there was professionals like this either. Unfortunately it seems, that there are not many. I have heard social skills taught in workshops for young adults who have disabilities or difficult time finding jobs. But I bet those are more in line with 'you have to come to workplace in time', 'you have to do as your boss tells you', 'you have to greet your workmates', 'you should not share too intimate details of yourself in workplace' etc. My difficult child has always been kind of the misfit. Too well functioning for services that are available but not really making the cut to 'normalcy' either. He is so incredibly lucky to have this special talent and the employer that really wants to work with him. And this mental coach seems to be godsend. difficult child has been working with him just four months but he really seems to be able to make a difference. In those four months it has gone from very confusing 'difficult child is so difficult' situation to nicely organized problem areas and plans how to work or deal with those. Of course we will see how it will really work out much later, but just now it is something very hopeful. Of course it to work out difficult child has to stay motivated and willing to work hard. And I have to give him credit for him on that. He has really matured, is ready to own most of his problems and is ready to work on them. As I said, that would not had been possible just two or three years ago and I'm very proud of him being ready to that now.

    I don't think this mental coach is using any real program or outside source in this. It seems he tries to come up with ways that difficult child would get and that he is mainly doing it out of his own experience. It would be so cool, if there would be for example workbooks about things like that. For adults with social difficulties to work on their own or us parents to read and get ideas how to work with these things with our kids. But at least I have never seen anything like that. As I said, when difficult child was younger, teaching social skills was talked about a lot, but I never really got an idea that anything concrete was happening or that anyone really knew how to actually do the teaching.
  5. SuZir

    SuZir Well-Known Member

    Not sure if it's against a code of conduct to up your own thread, but doing it anyway :winks:

    I would be interested to know how exactly social skills are taught. I mean, I'm sure many of our kids have gotten more or less professional help in social skill-area, but how they exactly do teach them? Can you give any real life examples?

    As I said, when my difficult child was young, I felt teaching social skills was always talked about much, but to be honest, I never really saw much of anything concrete or any real progress other than what I tried to do at home. And with that I always felt very ill-equipped and mostly useless. Of course that can not be changed any more, but I'm curious to know, if there would had been some methods that could had worked.
  6. DDD

    DDD Well-Known Member

    the only experience I had with professional training was with #2 in elementary school age group but a Saturday program run 2.5 hours away from our town. There were eight children of similar age in the group. One therapist and three in training young adults in one conference room for 1.5 hours. The therapist, of course, was the leader. They went around the conference table saying "My name is x and I am y years old." The therapist would then acknowledge each child by saying "glad you are here today x" or something similar.

    Then he would address a few of the children and ask them by name, of course, to share information about their life.
    Some children had difficulty doing that and he would prompt as needed. After the child provided their name, their grade, their siblings, their pets, their hobbies...whatever...the therapist would go around the table and have each of the other children ask a question or make a comment on what that child shared. "Susie has a dog named Ace." They were encouraged to use the child's name and look at that child while they spoke. Some of the difficult children could not do that with-o alot of prompting. Later sessions they were allowed to bring something small to share and talk about. They played the game (??) where you add pieces to build something. Think it's called something like gingo?? and took turns.

    Each week 1 parent was allowed to sit in a corner chair silently and observe. At the end of each session the children got a little report sheet to give to their parent. It noted participation, behavior, cooperation and a personal note. I wish I had been able to sign him up for a second series but it was costly and prevented me from working on Saturdays. DDD
  7. Ktllc

    Ktllc New Member

    In our social group, so far is what the kids, parents, and therapists have done: "hello" routine and talking about the persons that are missing that night. The main activity (building a pyramid and talking about how every single cup is important to hold the structure together, just like in a group: every person is important. It was interesting how Partner just got it. V kept on saying it does not make sense to him but after several explanation and pyramid building, I think he understood the message), talking about the oher people of the group (x has brown hair, y is a boy, etc...).
    The idea is: the adults and typical kids serve as role models and the special need kids hopefuly follow suit by doing, observing and imitating.
    We also did an activity of imitating what the leader does or says (everyone was a leader at one point). What is nice to see that ALL the kids participated, even the most hyper and distractable ones.
    We also talked about why we liked the activity of the day. V does not quite get this part yet, but at least he repeated the question! lol Participation and attempts being strongly encouraged.
    And we always conclude the session by a simple good bye routine.
    Those are the few things that has been done with V.
    In real life situation, I also give him a script of what he can say to other people. This way V does not quite make me do things for him, but instead seeks guidance and then does it for himself. Slowly it becomes automatic and looks at me less and less (depending on the situations of course).
  8. Liahona

    Liahona Guest

    When I was teaching social skills as a teacher I would do a small group then do role playing. A lot of what I taught was how to behave in school. How to sit in a chair, how to follow directions, how to say "no, I don't want to play with you". It was very specific.

    As a parent I use his siblings as a small group. I turn off the games. Ann is very bossy, without her it wouldn't work, she tries to get everyone to play. And difficult child 2's social skills have grown leaps and bounds because of his little sister. He still has a long way to go, but she is helping tremendously.
  9. InsaneCdn

    InsaneCdn Well-Known Member

    Lia... I can see that working with elementary-aged kids... but how do you teach social skills to a teenager? Any tips tricks and ideas would be useful...
  10. Liahona

    Liahona Guest

    Sorry, I'm struggling with that right now too. difficult child 1 needs to learn basic hygiene and not to say things that cause others pain. I point out the natural consequences and keep reminding him. But, it doesn't seem to be sinking in. The autism specialist in the past has suggested having a picture schedule even for kids who could read. Something in the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) brain just responds much better to pictures. And we've also done a script on a card he kept in his pocket. He only needed it for a few days before he 'got it'. Thanks for asking. Now I'm going to go try out what has worked in the past on the problems of today. Should've thought of this earlier. Not sure if this would be helpful for your ADHD kids; hope it helps though.
  11. SuZir

    SuZir Well-Known Member

    I find this very interesting. What you have told me seem to aim to noticing other people and acknowledging them. I think I did something similar with my difficult child. I was a stay at home mom when kids were small and our kids start school late (Kindergarten at age of six), but we did attend different type of clubs or groups. There was a club there both kids and a parent attended together and there was some organized activity and then free play for kids and coffee and chatting for parents and there were those were kids went by themselves. And of course there was also play dates with kids on neighbourhood and trips to playgrounds. So also difficult child had changes to practise social skills. Before the groups and clubs we always talked with difficult child who would likely be there etc. Kids were often allowed to take one of their own toys with them and we did plan how difficult child would show the toy for some kid and ask them to play with him with the toy etc. And afterwards we talked who were there, what did they do or say etc. He did learn to be aware of others and also say hi etc. but it took a lot more time and effort than with easy child who was always spontaneously talking about those same things.

    With difficult child the biggest problem, and the one I never was able to help him with, was joining the play and keeping up with the play. When he was small, adult always needed to help him in joining the play. And when the play changed (either kids changed place or the scheme of the play changed), difficult child was unable to follow and was left behind and outside of the game and unable to join back in. And he did try, but somehow all his efforts were somehow slightly wrong. He was too boisterous or bossy or timid or whatever. He actively tried to change tactics but never got it right. When he got little older bullying made things much more difficult. He wasn't a popular kid and even if he had done it almost right, he was not accepted any more.

    At school things changed again, because the plays played changed. No more so much imaginative play and more playing games with rules. That solved most of his problems on staying in play, but joining was still a problem. Of course he also was totally out of it with politics of school yard (and was severely bullied), but in his elementary school there was two playing fields were kids played mostly soccer during recesses (our schools have lots of those), other for smaller kids and other for bigger kids. difficult child is a natural athlete and he was a good soccer player and could mostly work out also a social side of being in the field, even without referee there. But still it was huge difficulty for him to actually get in the game. Even though school had a strict rule that everyone who wanted had to be included to certain group activities like soccer or tag or skip rope during recess. But still difficult child often ended up standing next to playing field and not knowing how to get in the game. He did get in at times but apparently not usually by his own efforts but because some more competitive kids wanted their team to win and difficult child was certainly an asset so they actively took him in to the game.

    In fact this still seems to be one of his big problems. He doesn't know how to join the group, activity or conservation. He either stands there dumb and waits if someone is nice enough to invite him or tries to join and does it somehow totally wrong and gets excluded or irritates others. And this is something I have never been able to explain how to do even though I can do it myself.
  12. OTE

    OTE Active Member

    Mine is almost 18 and has been doing social skills work formally since it came to schools. I don't think there's one way to do it since every Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) person is different. I think the first thing is to notice the problem area at the current age. That's pretty much how we've done it. eg when mine was little he couldn't stand to lose at a game, he'd have a good cry if he did. So we worked on rewards for tolerating the loss, congratulating the winner, assuring the other players that they'd win next time, etc. For awhile kept track of how many times he won or lost so he could understand that everyone "took a turn" at winning. Took a few years but he improved consistently and eventually got it so no problems now. When in middle school had trouble cause he gave everyone hugs, even strangers in stores. Teacher drew concentric circles of different colors. Each circle was a relationship, stranger, acquaintance, someone you see every day but don't know (eg schoolmate or neighbor), ..... down to family in inside circle. Similar to what you describe as a "worksheet". Works for Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) because they're usually totally visual learners. There used to be a member here named Kat who always gave the best advice. She said that it took daily family coaching as a child and one on one daily coaching by her husband for her to learn to function as a NT. That is, her husband would stand next to her and nudge her to shake someone's hand. My son is still learning, sometimes I find that he needs brutal honesty from myself or his bros to understand that forgetting deodorant is not acceptable, etc. Hints are just too subtle. He already knows that brutal honesty is only acceptable in that inner circle.