What's so important about social skills for children?

January 09, 2018

From listening to others to taking turns in conversations….. from staying calm with others to asking for help when we need it….. from apologizing to saying “thank you” and “you’re welcome”…..what’s so important about social skills?  Especially when there are so many “important” things, like addition and spelling to conquer. After all, aren’t social skills simply picked up from regular daily activities? They’ll come naturally, right?

It’s true that many times children learn skills through their experiences, “picking them up” as they go through their days. It’s great when that happens, but it’s not always how it goes. For the majority of the children we serve, there is a need for more attention to targeted instruction of social skills.

Frequently social skills are directly taught. So all of the classrooms set up play and social activities to provide the scenarios and opportunities that will help the skills to be “picked up”.

“Combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought.”― Albert Einstein
  It’s easy to see the connection between social skills and skills in other areas of learning. Social skills can be seen as building blocks for other domains of life and learning. 
Wikipedia defines a social skill as “any skill facilitating interaction and communication with others. Social rules and relations are created, communicated, and changed in verbal and nonverbal ways. The process of learning these skills is called socialization”.  

Of that definition, the morsel about the process of learning social skills is pretty important here at Crossroads Center for Children, since we aim to help children prepare for success in life. From research and almost 20 years of actual experience with children for we know that time spent teaching social skills has benefits in all areas of their development. Social skills are no small part of life success.

Online, it’s easy to find articles, (both scholarly and otherwise), on the topic of social skills development. Searchers can find abundant reading material specific to children with Autism, children with developmental special needs, and children in general.

While there are variations on the theme of which particular social skills are most important for success in life, most would agree that there are levels or stages that children move through, and that in teaching social skills, parents and teachers wouldn’t expect a higher level skill from a child who hasn’t yet achieved an earlier one. It would be like expecting an infant who hasn’t yet held his own head up to demonstrate the physical control over his body to run a race or play a game of soccer.

Since we have children across the autism spectrum as well as across the even larger spectrum of child development, our teachers and therapists are experts at assessment and evaluation. They are ingeniously able to pinpoint what skills their students have mastered and what needs to be addressed next.  As an ABA school our teachers go about teaching social skills with precision in planning and articulation of what skills are being targeted and what activities, including materials and location as well as other details, will help to bring about those skills for their children.

Here at Crossroads, a few resources are utilized to drive social skill instruction. The Individualized Goal Selection Curriculum by Raymond G. Romanczkk, Ph.D., Stephanie Lockshin, Ph.D. M.ED., and Linda Matey, M.Ed. has been a staple guide and goal bank for Crossroads since its first publication in 1982. In more recent years Crossroads has begun using additional sources, such as the VB-Mapp developed by Mark Sundberg, Ph.D., BCBA-D. Teachers also look to the progression-based curriculums that we use such as Learning Without Tears  and Touch Math for goals and milestones to help children with, as well as to the goal banks that are developed by the many school districts that we work with on their websites for IEP (Individualized Education Plan) development.

 No two children are exactly alike, and students may be working on skills in more than one level or stage at a time. This is true for kids with Autism and also for kids without disabilities who are typically developing peers here for daycare and nursery school.

With that in mind, some of the non-verbal social skills that are targeted here include acknowledging close proximity of another, tolerating physical contact and stimulation of senses, and initiating contact physically, and verbal skills including those of etiquette or manners, as well as conversational skills.

  Another big area here is teaching skills around relationships, such as recognizing emotions by name, in order to learning to become aware of the student’s own emotions and those of others. Students learn about and develop relationships with family and friends. They learn to self-regulate and cooperate and think of the feelings and needs of others.

Kids are also working on play skills. Teachers implement opportunities to help students develop play skills, to progress from isolate play to parallel play to cooperative play, dramatic play, and general play.

So a child who learns to tolerate the proximity of others and later learns to ask for a turn can eventually learn to sit in a classroom with peers and attend to a story, or sit at the table for dinner with her family. And a child who learns to say “thank you” might later learn to spell those same words, to write them and draw a picture for his grandmother who sent him a birthday gift. A child who learns to ask for a Lego may someday learn to askfor a break or some space when he needs it. 

In every classroom and therapy area, amongst many things students are working on social skills. We know they’re important in life.

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