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Group-based Social Skills Training


Article: Effects of a Group Teaching Interaction Procedure on the Social Skills of Students with ASDs (Peters et al., 2016). In: Education and Taining in Autism and Developmental Disabilities (vol 51, 4).

This study looked at the Teaching Interaction (TI) procedure for teaching social skills in a "naturalistic" school environment. TI is a group-based method that can apparently be used by professionals and paraprofessionals in the classroom. The unique element of this method is that it provides a rationale to the children about why a social skill is important or useful. Results showed positive social skill gains in all children that were maintained over time.

There are a couple things I need to comment on in this article. First, it is my opinion, based on doing social skills training for about 10 years, that group work is better than individual one-on-one work for teaching social skills. I often steer parents away from contracting me for one-on-one social skills training with their child, and encourage formal group training, or even facilitated peer interactions. I have a lot of ideas about why group is better than individual, and perhaps they are also supported by literature, but my reasoning is mostly opinion-based at this point (or until I do more deductive research).

Second, the theory behind TI (and some other group-based social skills training) is that ASD children learn through observational learning how to apply appropriate social skills. This idea of ASD children learning social skills through observational learning is popping up more and more in the literature, and is contrary to my former belief. Failure to learn through observational learning was initially my primary explanation for why ASD individuals DO NOT learn social skills the same way as neurotypical kids, and thus require direct instruction. It also explains why "mainstreaming" for the sake of getting ASD kids around "normal" kids so they can learn how to act "normal" is such a crock. I also find this mentality offensive on several levels.

I am refining my belief though. What if ASD children can learn through observational learning, but attentional issues and problems with theory of mind (both common features of the ASD diagnosis, and both help our brains figure out what to focus on in a busy environment) get in the way of paying attention to what is important in a social setting? Group-based direct instruction by an adult serves the purpose of both manufacturing a suitable instructional setting AND helping the ASD child bridge attentional issues when the teacher directs the child's attention to the appropriate stimuli. Therefor, observational learning (which may be fully intact in ASD children) can kick in and be of use to ASD children in learning social skills.

The take-aways from the article and all the pontificating are plenty, but I will try to summarize a couple points. Group is better than one-on-one training for most social skills; successful groups are those that are organized and properly run; successful teachers of social skills for ASD individuals never assume the ASD child understands anything about the lesson implicitly and is very clear and thorough in their explanation and directing of the child's attention. The other cool thing I liked is that social skill progress was maintained over time. If you are working with ASD children (or even adults) in social skills training, be sure to focus on those skills that will allow them to better engage their "natrual", every day social environment. This is how to build and maintain progress.


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© 2020 by Andrew Schlegelmilch