We’ve all been there. We’ve worked with a student on their social communication skills for lengthy periods and we have not seen improvements. Why? There are lots of reasons that your student/client might not be improving. Here are six ways to get more out of your social skills interventions.
1. Distinguish between skill acquisition and performance deficits. (Elliott & Gresham, 1991). Acquisition deficits refer to the absence of knowledge these students need to be taught the skills! Performance deficits are when a student has the knowledge but for some reason, doesn’t perform the skill. If the student has a performance deficit and you are only providing the knowledge piece, he/she may not improve until role-modeling, group work and/or feedback are included in their therapy sessions.
2. Ensure that competing problem behaviors are being addressed. The student may have internalizing (depression, anxiety) or external (aggression, impulsivity) issues that are hindering their progress in the social skills arena. Consult with your school psychologist or counselors for strategies to reduce any mitigating behaviors for your aggressive or impulsive students. Students that are anxious (internalizing behaviors) often know what they need to do but benefit more from the rehearsal of the skills and gentle feedback on their performance.
3. Match your treatment to the type of social skills deficit. The success of your social skills interventions hinges on the ability to distinguish between your student needing the knowledge or the practice and feedback…or both! This is why a thorough social skills assessment is necessary before deciding on an intervention. If I’m still unsure after my assessment, I will provide both the teaching and the practice opportunities in my sessions until I have a clearer idea of the needs of my clients.
4. Incorporate teaching of the vocabulary of the skill. For example, if you are working on conversation skills, make sure that your students understand the vocabulary you are using to teach the skill. Think about all the vocabulary surrounding conversation skills, including “topic, interrupt, monopolize.” This is why I include vocabulary activities in many of my social language products. Be sure to include explicit teaching of the vocabulary and opportunities to define, provide synonyms/antonyms, categorize words and other strategies for vocabulary development.
5. Provide opportunities and challenges for generalization of the skill. This isn’t always easy and requires some planning and creativity on the part of the SLP. Enlist the help of school staff, family, or clinic/hospital staff to give skill reminders. At the end of your session, give clients a challenge to perform outside of the therapy room and have them report back on their success!
6. Persuade your students to use specific and meaningful emotion vocabulary in your sessions. When adolescents describe their emotions using words like “happy, sad, mad” or my least favorite “good” and “bad,” I guide them to find a word that more accurately reflects the meaning of their feelings. I often write alternatives to these words on my white board and keep them up all school year!
Interested in learning more about social skills interventions? Check out the links below: