(Courtesy of Friendship Solutions) People often ask us, when they come to our Hackensack-based Friendship Solutions office for the first time, “So, how do you exactly teach social skills?” Truthfully, the answer is not so straightforward. The key to running successful and productive group sessions is to truly understand the challenges of each of our clients. To start, we meet with parents or caregivers as well as the child or teen. Through an interview and a thorough assessment, we identify the social gaps and create a hierarchy of social-skills goals that we will target throughout our sessions. Importantly, we do our best in matching our students based on age and skill level. Our groups are kept quite small so that we have the ability to truly customize our sessions based on the needs of the groups. We meet for one hour in length and we want to make that time well spent. Parents are entrusting us with their children to make a difference in their lives, and that’s what we strive for.
What really goes on during our sessions is really dictated by the ages of our kids. For our younger groups, we offer a lot of activities that may start on the floor, move to the table and then back to the floor. One hour is a lot for them, so we like to keep them alert by switching up not only the activities but also the location of activities. In some instances, initiating engagement with peers is a priority for many of our younger students. At the table, we may pair students up to converse with each other with predetermined topics. Typically, we will start with highly preferred topics. Over time we will ask them to transition to topics that may be less interesting to them as they learn how to engage in conversation. At first we may give them a goal of three exchanges with a peer, and over time, as we observe mastery, we will expect more exchanges. On the floor, we may pair the kids up and ask them to build something with Legos. One person is assigned to be the builder and the other child is the helper. The helper holds on to all the Legos and waits for the verbal requests of the builder. In this situation, we make sure that the builder is requesting from the peer by gaining attention appropriately. In turn, the helper is required to attend to the requests, listening to the details of the request and responding accordingly. In both of these exercises, students have the opportunity to develop skills in listening, playing with a friend and showing interest in a friend. Multiple skills are addressed at the same time. And throughout these exercises, our students are positively reinforced each time they exhibit a socially adaptive behavior—the goal being that over time, the positive reinforcement (through the use of tokens and verbal praise) will no longer be necessary.
Sessions for older students will look different. Often, they are part of their goal setting and become responsible for self-monitoring behaviors throughout the session. For example, a student may need to address his or her excessive interrupting in social settings. The student will be taught how to identify the appropriate time to enter a conversation. In this instance, the student will be positively reinforced when it is observed that he or she entered a conversation appropriately. If the student does interrupt, there are a number of ways the behavior would be addressed; one way may be that the dialogue will be redone and the student will have to correct the behavior.
While some examples have been provided, whatever skills we teach at Friendship Solutions LLC are utilizing the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA). ABA is a science-based discipline that focuses on decreasing maladaptive behaviors, increasing positive behaviors and teaching new skills. ABA focuses on assessment of deficits and current skills, goal selection, data collection and analysis in order to increase socially significant change on an individual basis. Increasing eye contact, sitting in a group, turn taking, sharing and conversation skills are just some of the skills that we work to increase in the clients we work with each week.
For more information about our programs or to sign up for one of our groups starting in January 2018, please contact us at [email protected], or call us at: 201-390-8017 or 214-701-2744.