This article will provide answers to some important questions parents may have after learning that their child would benefit from social skills group therapy.
Question: Why are social skills groups important?
Answer: Social skills groups provide children with the opportunity to meet others and form relationships. Direct teaching of social skills will allow your child to gain valuable skills that they fail to detect just from observing their environment. Social skills groups will allow your child to practice skills in a safe and comfortable environment. Developing a child’s social repertoire will facilitate their future success with regard to education, career, and relationships where appropriate social abilities are imperative.
Question: Many facilities advertise “social skills” groups so how do I narrow down the choices?
Answer: Some facilities provide information about their groups on their websites. However, it is always best to call a facility and speak with the facilitator or director of the group. Although “social skills” may appear in the name or description of a group, it may not be the most appropriate placement for your child. Here are some questions to ask when speaking with a facility:
What are the age, language, and cognitive levels of the group members?
Although group members do not need to be matched precisely by age, language, or cognitive level, severe differences between members can make it difficult for sessions to run smoothly. Comfort level and motivation to participate often increase when members feel similar to those around them. It is more important that members be matched by the aforementioned areas and not solely on diagnosis as diagnoses do not typically provide enough information about a child’s overall ability level.
What is the skill-set of the facilitator?
It is important that the facilitator has a good understanding of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and the strengths and challenges of these diagnoses. If a facilitator is new at running groups, find out if they will be supervised. Many times, student clinicians may be facilitating groups but are directly supervised by licensed clinicians who have had experience running groups. Social skill facilitators can include: speech language pathologists, psychologists, and social workers
How is eligibility determined?
Some facilities may schedule a meeting with you/your child. These meetings are highly recommended as they allow the facilitator to directly interact with your child. It also gives you the opportunity to ask more questions, get to know the facilitator, and see how your child responds to him/her.
How do you determine the skills that are targeted in the group?
Goal formation will vary from group to group. Some facilities will work directly with the parents and the members to determine the group objectives. Other facilities may have pre-determined goals. The most important factor is that the goals being targeted are appropriate for your child. Also be aware that some groups may focus on one particular goal while others will target numerous goals throughout the series.
Are there peer mentors involved in the group?
Typically developing peers are ideal models for the development of social skills in children with ASDs. Peers can provide the group with opportunities to practice social skills and serve as role-models. Before joining a group peers should participate in a peer mentor training to provide them with tools for understanding ASDs. This training will also teach how to interpret the groups’ behaviors and the appropriate ways to cue members.
Question: What should I expect to occur during an actual group session?
Answer: Current research has provided information in regards to best practices to teaching children with ASDs. Some techniques to be implemented include:
- Direct teaching of skills. Skills should be broken down then modeled and taught piece by piece using different modalities (writing, pictures, movies, etc.)
- Videotaping for feedback and self-correction
- Take home assignments to allow for generalization and maintenance of skills
Question: What are some topics that can be covered?
Answer: Topics will vary based on the purpose of the group and the group members. Some areas that may be targeted based on an ASD diagnosis include:
- Perspective taking: Understanding that others have thoughts, feelings, and experiences that are different from your own and modifying your actions based on this information
- Nonverbal communication including facial expressions, eye-gaze, and body language
· Higher-level language including making inferences, figurative language (idioms), humor, etc.