Wednesday, January 12, 2011

social skills

Danny's autism manifests itself in many ways; he has major sensory issues, tends to be extremely literal and the term "inflexible" seems like an understatement at times. Though those issues are overwhelming and disturbing at times, it is Danny's immature social skills that bother me the most.

For at least the last year I have been mulling over how I could best teach Danny good social skills. It's a lot trickier than I initially thought it would be. I mean, how do you teach someone skills that typically come so naturally to most people? And more importantly, how do you teach them in a meaningful way so that the child actually learns how to apply them?

Last January, when Danny was initially diagnosed with high-functioning autism, I learned about a social skills group in a town 35 miles away. I was thrilled. Finally, a group overseen by a professional trained in working with kids with autism. I thought my prayers had been answered.

Unfortunately, that was not the case. We attended the group for about three months, but in that time, Danny learned very little about social skills. He enjoyed the group meetings, but mostly because they had some cool Legos that we didn't have at home.

The group leader spent most of the time on very rudimentary skills, such as identifying different facial expressions and emotions. While that seems like it could be a great starting point, as far as I could tell, it never went very far beyond that. I know that these are definitely skills that many children with autism need help with, but Danny doesn't need much help in reading facial expressions. We've been working on that for years, and he has a fairly strong grasp of the concept. What he needs help with is knowing how to appropriately respond to those facial expressions. He needs to learn how to use his words when working with others. He needs practice in reaching out to kids and keeping a conversation going, among many other things. Basically, it seems to me he needs help with slightly higher level social skills.

Unfortunately, those are not the kind of skills he can learn from a book or from looking at magazine pictures. No, for these skills he needs hands-on experience.

After taking a break from the ineffectual social skills group, we tried a club in our town for kids with autism. Adventure Club was terrific in that it provided lots of opportunities for learning and fun.

Danny did get some socialization and learned a bit about working with others in this group even though that was not the focus. But, now that summer is over and the founder of the group has moved to another state, we are basically back to square one.

I have debated starting my own social skills group, perhaps one built around Lego building since that is Danny's passion, but many issues have held me back. I don't know if I am up to making such a big commitment. I am not at all confident that I would even know how to organize such a group and I am afraid I would get totally overwhelmed. I have so many other things on my plate that adding to it the responsibility to teach social skills to my (and other people's) kid(s) just doesn't sound like something I can wrap my brain around at this point.

After much internal debate, I think I have arrived upon a solution that could work for all of us. I think a regular social skills group is not the right fit for Danny at this time. Instead, we have decided to enroll him in the local Cub Scouts chapter. He would be interacting with kids his age on structured activities that are fun. Plus, since he is only 7, a parent needs to be there with him. So, one of us would be there to help guide Danny and remind him of proper social behavior. On top of that, we could see firsthand which skills he is most lacking in and could work on those at home.

I know Cub Scouts won't necessarily be a silver bullet for all of Danny's social skills needs, but I do think this is a perfect opportunity for him to practice the skills he does have and acquire some new ones, while having some fun.

Wish us luck!

Check out Help! SOS for Parents for more links to posts about social skills.


Sprite's Keeper said...

Good luck!
My nephew, 11, is diagnosed with ADHD, and his social skills are severely lacking for his age bracket. I know he has SPD to a degree, but socially, he just doesn't see eye to eye with his peers. My sister is constantly looking into peer groups in the area that could help him, especially with conversations, facial gestures, even body language. It's tough.

Jenni said...

I hope this is just the thing for you guys. Good luck!

Heather said...

Have you tried social stories? We have done several with Eli and they do seem to help. Teaching social skills can be so incredibly hard. I hope nothing but the best for you.

Diane said...

HI, Patty.

Our experience with social skills training has been pretty hit or miss. My son has gotten some benefit from actual social skills groups at times, but most of the progress he's made has come from real-life training. The groups have mainly given us some information and a place to start, along with a captive audience to participate while the kids work through things:) We stopped going to the last one a few years ago, because we felt he had kind of maxxed out the benefit he was going to get in an artificial setting and that his time could better be spent elsewhere.

I am SO GLAD you are trying Cub Scouts, and I really hope it works out for your family. My husband and I kind of zeroed in on that as being a group that would be more accepting, because of being faith-based and aimed at building character, and would provide more variety of activities and less competition than other things that were available. Also, structure is good.

My boys are all scouts now. My oldest has had to be pushed to keep with it for this long, because of all the ways in which it has challenged him. He's come a long way and doesn't require that level of pushing these days. And my wonderful, supportive husband has attended every meeting, campout, etc., because our boy just wasn't going to be successful doing all this on his own.

We have been blessed to have several other families with boys who joined the same year as my son and also stuck with it, and they have all been very supportive and are great friends. The boys are all taller than I am now and have become fine young men. They have all learned skills and values that will help them throughout their lives, including some very important social skills. My son is currently one rank away from being an Eagle Scout, and I couldn't be more proud.

I truly hope this works out for you. I glad you're at least going to give it a try.

BTW, did you know that Steven Spielberg didn't have any interest in film or photography until he started working on the photography merit badge? True Story. He's an Eagle Scout. I'll stop now :)

Martianne said...

Just wanted to know I nominated you at HLw#B under inspirational!

Alysia said...

I wish we lived near each other. The one thing we're totally lacking around here is a social skills group - a good one. I wish we could start one together.
I'll look forward to reading how scouts goes for you. Will you tell the scout leader about Danny's issues? That's the one thing I always struggle with, and as always, I will look to you for guidance :-)

Anonymous said...

Good luck! And I am optimistic for you - having had good experiences with Scouts. A lot of support is given to the leaders.


danette said...

Good luck with Cub Scouts! It's been a good experience so far for Cuddlebug. Bearhug is still overwhelmed by the whole thing so he rarely goes but sometimes he does and he's welcomed as if he's been there every week which is nice :).

ShesAlwaysWrite said...

That sounds like a great idea! Best of luck, can't wait to hear how it goes. I suspect something like this will be in our future - social situations are quite challenging for Bear.

4timesblessed said...

I have heard that cub scouts is great for children like ours. I hope it works out for you.

@jencull (jen) said...

Cubs is a brilliant idea, I hope it goes well. Also, just voted for you in the SPD awards, well done on being nominated and best of luck :) Jen

Stimey said...

Sometimes you just have to make things work. I think this sounds like a great idea! Good luck with it!