Friday, April 6, 2012

Social Groups for Teaching Social Skills

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I have said before that my kids are system based learners, so I need to give them systems to learn.  The randomness of some social interactions still puzzles them. Heck, some social interactions puzzle me. With kids on the autism spectrum they need systemic ways of learning social rules and manners.
Let's look at a systemic way of teaching some of these skills, social skills groups.  Random Guy has been in a social skills group at school since kindergarten. SensiGirl has her own social group with the Girls' Club at her school. Lunch buddies or peer mentors at school have been helpful too. Some schools don't have these programs, or your kids are at a developmental stage or of an age where they need more help than a school pull out once a week, and you need to find resources for them in your community.
Our community has several venues for teaching these skills, look for similar groups in your area. The Autism Society of Minnesota has several groups now under the umbrella of the Eagle's Nest, divided by age to teach what it means to be social and instrumental social skills. They start at age 8 and go up to age 19 now. There has been a lack of community social outlet services for that older age group, but I am starting to see that change.  Our neighbors in Highland Park have the inclusive Highland Friendship Club for typical and special education teens ages 14 and up. The Jewish Community Center of the Greater St. Paul Area is very inclusive with programs for children and teens. We also have the City of St. Paul Adaptive Recreation, and Special Olympics Minnesota which teaches confidence and team work, as well as a venue for making friends and getting the kids involved in sports. The sharing of interests can open up opportunities for friendships.

Some parents have pointed out there is a distinct lack of social skills groups for ASD girls.  They have said that the American Girl publication A Smart Girl's Guide to Starting Middle School has been extremely helpful in explaining social situations the occur in school.
You must teach your children what is a friend and not a friend, as bullies will try to make light of aggressive behavior by trying to pass it off as friendship when caught. Random Guy and I have been having lots of discussions about what kind of behavior is that of a friend since he started reading the Wimpy Kid books.  The main character has displayed poor behavior towards his friends on several occasions.  He has blamed his bad behavior on his "best" friend, broken his friends hand and pointedly ignored another classmate and got the other kids to go along with that game. We have talked about how those actions are not those of a true friend.  The fact that the Wimpy Kid is so concerned about popularity also is a teaching tool;  I have told Random Guy that it is not how many kids like you, it's how well you are liked by your friends. If you know a series of books that is in the style of the Wimpy Kids books but shows good friendship behavior, let me know.  I need all the help I can get.

A special thanks to SensiGirl's teachers, Random Guy's school social worker, and Marsha Baer of the Autism Society of MN
resource: Kay Burke, Ph.D., Hierarchy of Social Skills

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