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Teaching a child social skills


Ask the Experts


July 15, 2010
Q. What are social skills?

A.Human interaction is comprised of both verbal and nonverbal communication. Children and adults are expected to navigate their social world successfully. This means accurately interpreting and understanding the expectations of others, communicating effectively, delaying gratification and managing their own needs and behaviors.

Children lacking social skills may demonstrate difficulty following rules, making and keeping friends and managing their emotions. Without support, these children can have life-long challenges which may impact not only relationships, but post-secondary education and employment.

Q. Why do some children benefit from formal social skills instruction?

A. Most people learn how to navigate their social world by modeling others, making mistakes and being corrected. Parents are usually the first and most important social skills teachers. While some children may not have effective social skills models, others lack the ability to interpret, learn and generalize social skills without formal instruction. Children with autism, Asperger's Syndrome, cognitive deficits, mood or attachment disorders, or even AD/HD may have social skills weaknesses.

Q. Do schools teach social skills?

A. More schools are recognizing the importance of formal social skills instruction. While teaching English, math, social studies and other academic subjects continue to be the primary role of schools, social skills instruction is also vitally important for some children.

Ultimately, parents will need to express their desire and support for formal social skills instruction before school districts and state legislators require changes in curriculum. Currently in Michigan, goals and objectives for formal social skills instruction are only mandated as "best practice" for students who qualify for special education under the state and federal guidelines for autism.

Q. How can I help my child improve his or her social skills?

A.Parents can model appropriate social skills at home by being cognizant of their own verbal and nonverbal communication patterns. Do family members routinely interrupt each other? Are siblings texting while talking?

Children are influenced more by what we do than what we say. Parents can also be their child's "social barometer," guiding them using role play or discussion about social interaction, manners, behavior and expectations.

Lastly, parents who believe their child has significant social skills weaknesses can discuss their concerns with their school social worker, speech language pathologist or counselor and determine if a school-based intervention may be indicated.

JoEllen Cumpata is a certified speech language pathologist and works at Brownell and Parcells middle schools with students who have autism and other types of language-learning disabilities. She can be contacted at joellen.cumpata@gpshcools.org.

The Family Center, a 501(c) 3, non-profit organization, serves as the community's centralized hub for information, resources and referral for families and professionals.

To view more Ask The Experts articles, visit familycenterweb.org.

E-mail questions to info@familycenterweb.org. To volunteer or contribute, visit familycenterweb.org or call (313) 432-3832.

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